After turbulent year, who has more staying power? – Fort Worth Star Telegram

McClatchy Newspapers


As she accepted her award for favorite female country artist at November’s American Music Awards, Taylor Swift said, “I only want to thank the fans.”

What on the surface sounded like noble appreciation for the people who buy her records and concert tickets — as opposed to those who are behind the scenes and on her payroll — was also a jab at her critics: If you don’t like me, you don’t understand me.

Swift was also just named entertainer of the year by Entertainment Weekly magazine — at 20, its youngest winner ever. That caps a whirlwind year for Swift, who has navigated and survived some steep ascents and one precarious free fall over the last 12 months:

Her third album, Speak Now, sold more than 1 million copies the first week of its release in October, the first album to accomplish that in almost six years. Last month, she announced her first stadium tour. Last January, she won four Grammy Awards (she was nominated for eight), including album of the year.

But that Grammy show was also her moment of infamy: During Swift’s duet with Stevie Nicks, she gave the world an earful of her naked singing voice.

In September 2009, Swift was martyred during another bit of live-TV infamy when Kanye West interrupted her acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards. He was vilified, even by the woman he’d rushed to defend, Beyoncé. West retreated from the spotlight, and Swift seemed to bask in the sympathy and support.

Which brings us to the end of 2010, a year of rebuilding for Swift and West. Both have emerged from their low points in better but different places. One question for now: Who appears to be better off in the long run?

West just released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, his fifth studio album. It has already turned gold (more than 500,000 sold), and it tops a lot of end-of-year best-of lists.

Critically, it has been hailed as another brash, compelling work from one of the true and few provocateurs in popular culture — a guy who transcends the music world.

But he also rocked a lot of boats this year. He backed out of his tour with Lady Gaga. He spent much of the year on a Twitter rampage/campaign designed to give him unilateral control of his image. Among those tweets was an apology to Swift that began, “I’ve always been at the mercy of the press, but no more.”

As if to prove that point, he came out of hiding to appear on the Today show recently. He wanted to respond to what President George W. Bush had said and written about West’s televised remark after Hurricane Katrina: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Bush said it was the lowest moment of his two-term presidency.

But even that good intention went awry when West got politely defensive about footage broadcast while he was speaking.

Swift’s tactics after her Grammy pratfall were to hunker down with her fans and friends and ignore the part of the world that looked at her only as an industry concoction. Swift responded in song; the track Mean appears to be written directly to someone. Swift typically sings about girlhood from the perspective of an outcast.

She writes about puppy love and romance and crushes and school politics and the boys and friends who ruin them. But no matter what part of this generation she speaks for, like every other, it will grow up and move on to heavier issues like, say, marriage, divorce, death, even politics. Can Swift move on with it? Few transitions in music are harder to ford than one from “teen phenom” to adult star.

West seems poised to remain a vibrant, defiant contributor to music and pop culture for a while. He has expressed remorse for his worst transgressions but not exactly regret or deep contrition, which can be taken as a sign of weakness or retreat. All that comes from the pit of his firebrand personality, which, artistically, is his best friend.

For a guy who has collaborated with some unlikely bedfellows — most recently nouveau folkie Bon Iver — it’s not illogical to think that West might one day work with Swift. He has already confessed to writing a song for her.

As unlikely as that seems right now, when Taylor Swift is as popular as anyone in pop culture, it seems reasonable to imagine a day when she or her career could use another intervention from Kanye West.

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