Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Review: Taylor Swift's 'Me!' is a charmless romp that disappoints

The singer misses the mark with her newly released lead single from her forthcoming seventh album

With her abruptly released new single Me!, Taylor Swift’s transformation from credible country songstress, via envelope-pushing cultural icon, to anodyne pop princess seems complete.

Glaringly stylised in capitals as ME!, one might hope razor-tonged Swifty is swooping in with a timely pastiche of selfie-era narcissism, but instead regurgitates a brash synth-pop wallop concerned with nothing more than the singer’s desire to score a hit.

It’s hard to fathom Me! is by the same zeitgeist-grabbing star who made carefree couplets and smug self-involvement fresh and fathomably felt. Who made the gymnastic vocal flourish of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together the most quotable romantic rejection since Casablanca. Instead Me! is a cloying, throwaway bubblegum duet with Panic! at the Disco’s Brendon Urie which is certain to be the audio irritant of the coming summer.

And it wasn’t what we were expecting. The lead single from her forthcoming seventh album, all the pastel-hued teasers suggested Swift would follow up 2017’s gossipy, reflective Reputation with a return to her humble, acoustic-strumming Nashville roots. Instead Me! is the candyfloss culmination of the synth-pop reinvention hinted at on 2012’s breakout Red, and realised on 2014’s 1989 — Swift’s most successful outing critically and commercially, and the source of six platinum-selling singles, including Shake it Off and Blank Space.

But where those two earworms served as witty put-downs to detractors — the latter playfully making fun of the media’s preoccupation with Swift’s “long list of ex-lovers” — there’s zero trace of such perspective or wit in Me!, a charmless romp of nursery school rhymes proclaiming “I'm the only one of me / Baby, that's the fun of me” over brash beats and cartoon brass.

Co-written and co-produced alongside Lorde hitmaker Joel Little, there’s a studied laziness to Me!’s innocuous cheer, swathes of the chorus left aside for meaningless air-filling syllables, crowing “eeh-eeh-eeh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh”.

Co-directed by Swift and music video veteran Dave Meyers, the Disney-styled promo is a whimsy-wrought kiss-and-make-up fantasy, painting a pouting Swift and inoffensive Urie as star-crossed lovers enduring a minor tiff.

In cringey subtitled French. Played out like a helium-fuelled teen musical, after umbrella rides, unicorns, paint-bomb fireworks, Beychella-aping line dancing and more candyfloss than a kindergarten could consume, the nadir comes when Swift turns part-time holiday camp tutor, declaring “Hey kids, spelling is fun!”, seemingly only to serve the clunky kicker “you can't spell ‘awesome’ without ‘me’.”

Self-preoccupation may not be an entirely new theme for smirking Swift, but her winning wryness has always been measured by a sense of the soul-bearing and sincere; In the relatable details of a forgotten scarf (All Too Well) and traded necklaces (Out of the Woods).

A Swiftie’s favourite pastime is playing “spot the muse”, with at least a dozen celebrity ex-partners purportedly finding their legacy etched into song — Calvin Harris retort Look What You Made Me Do and John Mayer takedown Dear John among the most stinging attacks. Such stunts may be tacky and tasteless, but they sure encourage a listener intrigue lacking in Me!, a cheap confection which feels more like egoism than empowerment.

Me!’s delivery, too, was unapologetic — debuted amid the testosterone-fuelled, sponsorship prime time of the NFL draft — which may have added additional spice to the American media’s widespread cynicism.

“Taylor Swift’s ME! Is Everything Wrong With Pop” blasted The Atlantic, in a piercing drop kick Swift herself would be proud of. “A showcase for the worst and weakest aspects of Swift’s work,” said Pitchfork, “two steps away from a corporate jingle.” Stereogum’s headline concernedly asked: “What the hell is she doing?”

Misjudging her audience might be the obvious answer. Turning heads and ruffling feathers is Swift’s forte, and she has made a habit of gamely confounding expectations with the lead single from her past three albums — Look What You Made Me Do was widely razed, but then later understood in the context of Reputation’s bitter, snipey whole. It’s nauseating however to imagine a cycle of songs saccharine enough to consume Me! into its core.

Updated: April 27, 2019 04:11 PM

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