Trouble Songs

Back in August of 2011, I wrote about the song, “Trouble is a friend” by Lenka. I’m surprised that I haven’t devoted more posts to troublemaking songs. Oh well. Better late than never. Today I’m briefly writing about two songs that I recently heard on the radio (one on The Current; one on KDWB…I bet you’ll be able to guess which song was on which radio station): Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” and Elvis Presley’s “Trouble.” It’s interesting to put them beside each other and to study the contrasts and parallels in how they perform gender, sexuality, class and race. 

Taylor Swift

I must confess, I like this song. I imagine it as a great running song, when I’m about halfway done with my workout. But, I don’t like Taylor Swift and her strange mixture of good girl purity and scorned woman vengefulness. I can’t quite figure how she manages to maintain her virginal innocence image even as she has apparently dated and sang about a huge swath of male singers and actors. Why does the media let her off the hook, yet slut-shame so many other twenty-something female singers/actors? Is it possibly because she continues to dress modestly and wax romantically about the virtue of being in love and finding the right boy? Here’s what Camilia Paglia writes about Swift in an article for The Hollywood Reporter:

Despite the passage of time since second-wave feminism erupted in the late 1960s, we’ve somehow been thrown back to the demure girly-girl days of the white-bread 1950s. It feels positively nightmarish to survivors like me of that rigidly conformist and man-pleasing era, when girls had to be simple, peppy, cheerful and modest. Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee formed the national template — that trinity of blond oppressors!

As if flashed forward by some terrifying time machine, there’s Taylor Swift, America’s latest sweetheart, beaming beatifically in all her winsome 1950s glory from the cover of Parade magazine in the Thanksgiving weekend newspapers.

I am not a fan of Paglia’s, but I did have to chuckle a little at her over-the-top commentary on Swift here. The title of Paglia’s article is Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Hollywood are Ruining America.

I want to think (and read) some more about Swift’s song before writing more. I wonder, can we read her vision of trouble in this song, as the boy who “flew her to places she’d never been” but left her “lying on the cold, hard ground,” as a metaphor for something else? With her constant emphasis on boys and dating and falling in love, it’s hard to find room for other interpretations.

Here are a few things I want to read about Swift:

Note: I didn’t even try to analyze the Swift video. I’ll have to save that for another time. One thing: anyone else think that Swift looks like a slightly (more) unhinged Avril Lavigne here?

Elvis Presley

Is Elvis Presley the “trouble” that Taylor Swift sings about? It’s interesting to watch this extended movie clip (even if the image is annoyingly squashed) and see the context of Presley’s performance. He’s the busboy who is forced on stage by the fancy club owner (or VIP…I haven’t seen the whole movie yet). The trouble he represents is classed.

I like this line at the beginning of the song:

If you’re looking for trouble
You came to the right place
If you’re looking for trouble
Just look right in my face
I was born standing up
And talking back.

Sidenote: This morning, I heard NWA’s “Fight the Power” on the radio. I’ve heard it before, but never really listened to the lyrics. Here are some that pertain to Elvis:

Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant —- to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother—- him and John Wayne
Cause I’m Black and I’m proud
I’m ready and hyped plus I’m amped
Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps

Wow. Powerful stuff.

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