Tag Archives: Scooter Braun

Look What She Made Me Do: Notes on my scholarly journal article about Taylor Swift

Screen Shot 2020-03-06 at 1.13.01 AMThis week, I’m thrilled to say that Communication, Culture and Critique has published my article “From ‘Mine’ to ‘Ours’: Gendered Hierarchies of Authorship and the Limits of Taylor Swift’s Paratextual Feminism.”

Abstract

This article analyzes paratextual strategies deployed by Taylor Swift in her transition from country to pop in the context of her articulation of her authorship as a female songwriter. This was a transition complicated by the gendered hierarchies of pop music, wherein male producers carry significant discursive weight. The article frames the “Voice Memos” included with her 2014 album 1989 as a form of paratextual feminism, reiterating the authenticity she developed as a country star and pushing back against claims her collaboration with male producers like Max Martin and Ryan Tedder threaten her autonomy as a female voice in the music industry. However, the article goes on to consider how these and other paratextual feminisms are inherently tied to neoliberal values of post-feminism, demonstrating that their potential as a gendered critique of the media industries is limited by the lack of actualization within Swift’s broader star text and industry practice.

The article—which is trapped behind the paywall of academic publishing, but if you’re interested reach out and I’ll do my best to get you access—was nearly six years in the making. It began with my observations during her 1989 album cycle in 2014, which I developed into a 2016 conference paper focused on the “Voice Memos” included with the deluxe version of that album. But the subsequent years—her controversial silence during and after the 2016 election, a tumultuous reputation album cycle—provided new context for that analysis, testing how the feminism of her efforts to assert her authorship of her own songs while collaborating with male producers during her transition to pop music failed to manifest within other areas of her career.

As the paper entered into the final stages of peer review last summer, Swift entered into her latest album cycle for Lover, and I spent a lot of time lamenting that I was past the point where I could address everything that was happening (a peril of scholarly publishing). I was never afraid that my argument wouldn’t be relevant, as all scholarship must ultimately “stop” at a certain point and create a foundation for further analysis. But a lot has happened in Swift’s career in the six months or so after the article finished the peer review process, and I want to take a bit of space here to identify a few instances where the article’s argument connects with the discourse surrounding Swift’s recent activity.

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Go Away, Justin: Carly Rae Jepsen, “I Really Like You,” and the Business of Bieber

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In January, Scooter Braun—the head of Schoolboy Records and manager to Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, among others—gave us our first indication of how Carly Rae Jepsen would be following up “Call Me Maybe.”

True, she followed it up with a really great pop album that got unfairly ignored, but this is different. This is the follow up to a song of the summer, an earworm on a scale we rarely see from a “debut” artist (the quotation marks referring to her previous success in Canada, typically erased in her media narrative following her breakout success). And as Braun’s comments to Billboard indicate, there was pressure on Jepsen to recapture the success that started it all:

“Her new single is coming in March. I told her that she couldn’t come out with anything unless it was on the level of “Call Me Maybe.” And, now we have a new one that is on that level.”

That’s a lot of pressure for a new single, and I would argue that “I Really Like You” delivered as best it could: it’s not “Call Me Maybe,” but nothing can recreate the sense of discovery that came with that song. The narrative of an unsung artist being elevated to the status of sudden stardom through the help of some famous friends was not just about Justin Bieber/Selena Gomez lipdubs—it was that the song was something people discovered, and then shared, and then acted out themselves and shared again. It became, for lack of a better term, a “cultural phenomenon” in a way we rarely see, and in a way that makes creating something on the same scale nearly impossible.

“I Really Like You” succeeds in being catchy, and got the type of attention it deserved: lots of headlines debating whether or not it lives up to “Call Me Maybe,” with none of them being able to definitively claim the single lacks the same DNA musically. The issue is that there’s no way to recreate a cultural phenomenon, which is a big part of why my personal interest in Jepsen’s followup has more to do with the album—packed to the gills with interesting producers and collaborators—than with the single, which based on Braun’s comments is engineered to tap into a vein that I would argue was a product of a specific time and a specific set of circumstances.

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