Humans can be resistant to change. Look, I’m sorry if you think that you’re adaptable and calmly flexible, but when plans or people change we freak out. It’s a fact of life. And yet, there is always a direction in the wind, so what better way to live than to adapt to all of that?
Escapade number 12402 of my life’s relationship with music led me to Taylor Swifts’ new album 1989. I’ve been a fan since I realized about five years ago that all of her songs were four chords (D, A, Em, G), and, thus, that I could play them fairly effortlessly. I’m not going to write about her album- it’s been done, and it has been done very impressively. I will say this: she’s changed a whole lot. The Taylor that I knew (or thought that I knew) when I was 14 was soft-spoken, confused, honest, clever, and legitimately country. Her songs were sweet and mildly catchy; there were no hidden messages or electronic drums. If the line she’d written took up more syllables than the strumming allowed, she would sing it anyway. No compromises. This worked pretty well, but she was blossoming. Cut to here and now: I’m 19 and have progressed in my musical skill to take on the horribly complicated bar-chords, and Taylor has gone COMPLETELY pop. Her new album sold 1.287 million copies in it’s first week on the racks. She sounds absolutely nothing like she did when she began her career, yet her 0° to 90° album had the largest sales week since 2002 (with The Eminem Show). She changed, and she changed so very well.
She changed her genre, an aspect of a musician’s life that seems almost too crucial to mess around with. We know why. She had been leaning towards it for a while but the most important part is how well it worked; it was necessary to adapt.
Swift’s change was not the first of it’s kind and hopefully will not be the last. Among Taylor Swift in the ranks of productive adaptation in the music business are Fleetwood Mac, Muse, The Black Keys, Katy Perry, and Michael Bolton.
Fleetwood Mac was originally blues-based and only transitioned to rock when Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the band after Buckingham impressed the manager as a fill-in guitarist for recording. The second that change happened, they went from mildly well-known to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (give or take a few steps along the way). Muse and the Black Keys developed their taste for what the recording studios could offer, leading to them to changing their sound not just once but rather many times throughout their career.
Katy Perry went from singing church hymns to singing about her intimacies with women; Michael Bolton went from opening for Ozzy Osborne to covering R&B songs and writing ballads. None of these changes were either completely positive or negative, but all were necessary and all felt natural to the artists themselves.
We live in an era of digital music, of sharing and choosing one song to listen to instead of an entire album. We are picky about the concerts we go to, and place high praise on music made entirely on a computer with sound bites collected off the Internet. We spend more time on Facebook than our entire attention span lasts. Things are different now. Not better or worse. Just different. We need to be ready for artists to pull a switch on us, to adapt and change the same way that we should be adapting and changing. The same way that life does.
I’m not saying that the first time you try and change something essential about your way of life you’ll sell more records than Eminem, but something great might happen….or not. Just a thought.