« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

On the Taylor Swift defensive


Taylor Swift's Grammy appearance continues to provoke debate, this time with her label manager chiming in to defend the vocal talents of the young star. "Maybe she's not the best technical singer, but she's probably the best emotional singer," Big Machine head Scott Borchetta told the Tennessean late Wednesday night.

Pop & Hiss was especially critical of Swift's duet with Stevie Nicks, noting in our live blog that pairing Swift's good-natured charm with the distinct Nicks wasn't the best showcase for the young star. Times critic Ann Powers went further, writing that "Swift gave a strikingly bad vocal performance at Staples Center on Sunday, sounding tinny and rhythmically flat-footed."

The Tennessean asked Borchetta to respond to such criticisms. He told the paper, "The biggest message is (the critics) are not getting it. Because the facts say she is the undisputed best communicator that we've got. When she says something, when she sings something, when she feels something, it affects more people than anybody else." 

Borchetta's Taylor-as-punk-rock defense would hold a little more weight if she didn't sound relatively perfect on record. Yet anyone who was surprised hasn't been paying attention. In hindsight, Swift's Grammy appearance wasn't all that different from all her other live television performances, as the video below should prove.

Yet when Grammy voters gave her the gift of album of the year, Swift was no longer just a genial country-pop star with a penchant for crafting arena hooks. Overnight, the star now represents the highest class of the industry.

Swift has torn down the boys club that has been mainstream country the last few years, and become the genre's biggest female star since Shania Twain, if not the biggest female pop star in the universe. At such a young age, and with only two albums of teenage tales of heartbreak under her belt, Swift may now have the misfortune of having to defend the trophy, and the artistry it supposedly represents.

-- Todd Martens. 

Read the Tennessean: Taylor Swift's label chief responds to Grammy criticism

Photo: Taylor Swift and  Stevie Nicks. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (80)

I'm a grownup with a 'tween daughter who listens to rock and plays electric guitar. She doesn't like Taylor Swift, but I do. Swift is honest and genuine. She has a good work ethic. She writes her own songs, plays her own guitars, and sings live. She does not, as many other 'tween and adult performers who do awards shows and giant concert venues with a bazillion costume changes, mouth the words to her records.

Anyone who has recorded vocals in a studio has taken advantage of the technology that makes vocals sound better. But it's more than that. When you sing live, you move. You fight to be heard over drums and other instruments. You shake. You strum. And you don't get any do-overs.

Cut the kid a break—not because she's a kid but because she is not competing against the Disney Channel's fans. Their parents are buying her records because Swift's songs are good.

I enjoy both of their talents and I find it hard to believe anyone could criticize any singer who sings with Stevie Nicks. If there's any vocalist around who was marginal, at best, it was Nicks. I can't imagine Swift, who probably had to rearrange her vocals to suit Nicks deficiency, was really all that bad. In this age of technology, does anyone really think any of these singers is that good anyway? Very few actually have the instrument to sing on-key, without backup in a clear, fluid melodic sound that is both technically perfect and with heartfelt interpretation.

What's the suprise?

Twain can't sing either

They both are eyecandy marketing vehicles for the cheezy faux-country pap the Nashville churns out like cowpies

I'm sure she's very talented but this grammy snafu was not a one time thing. I saw her perform on SNL and couldn't believe how off-key and terrible it was. Yes, terrible mistake to put her next to Stevie Nicks - who sounded amazing!

She is a great songwriter... However her vocals are very lacking... at times painful.

Taylor winning a Grammy speaks to the joke of the award itself. The Simpsons parodied this very well years back when Homer tosses his Grammy into the garbage can, only to have the pimply faced kid find it with delight, only to then toss it back into the garbage since it's "only a Grammy."

Simply put, Taylor can't sing and she fakes it on her albums. Let's not try to defend her lack of singing by saying she's a heartfelt artist who sings from his/her soul ala Dylan or Tom Waits or Neil Young or Nico. She's yet another teen pop sensation whose image has bedazzled her fans and fooled them into thinking she's a talent. Brittany Spears anyone? The only credit I will give Taylor is that she supposedly writes her own songs. I say supposedly because she also supposedly sings on her own albums...but the live versions haven't exactly proven that point.

Long live rock-n-roll, even if it's being led by artists who can't sing or play their own instruments.


Taylor Swift has no talent whatsoever. She just a generic face that some record company churned out to sell albums. They could have had the same success with a thousand other girls.

I tuned into the Grammy's just in time to catch Stevie Nicks and Taylor Swift's duet. I had not heard Swift sing before and I thought her singing was so awful that I was embarrassed for Nicks. The argument that Swift may not be "the best technical singer but she's the best emotional singer" is a lot of baloney. There are tons of people out there who can sing with great emotion. Most of them do it in the shower and don't get paid a dime for it. Taylor Swift is supposed to be a professional who has mastered the emotional AND the technical side of her craft. That's why she is a millionaire. During her performance with Nicks, she exposed herself as a rank amateur.

She got a grammy but terrible vocals really.

let taylor alone. all her fans we already know she does not have a diva voice what we don't care she is engaged to us .

beyonce and ladygaga have strong voice but for me they are not do anything they are not make us feel nothing.
ladygaga is so bad influence she is so weird no good role model.

now i love even more taylor swift and i will go to 10 of her concerts next month .

one more all you old people attack a taylor make us love even more taylor swift we hate haters .

it's not fair to single out Taylor Swift for her ability or inability to carry a tune in a live performance....most arena acts these days finesse the "live" part of their show, with many singers singing along with a prerecorded vocal track and mixing the live performance into the mix...and literally everyone in the music biz uses auto-tune to dial in their tracks (vocal and otherwise) in the studio....and, while it's true that she's young, it must be noted that Clapton was seventeen when he joined the Yardbirds, and the Beatles were all approximately Taylor's age when they first came to America.....she may a great communicator, but as i am no longer attending high school, i have no interest in her narratives.....
but, i think the real point to make here is that nothing she does resembles country music....so to make her the Queen of Country shows how far off-course country music has strayed...

Lady Gaga was better. Lady Gaga was cheated of best album of the year!

Taylor had full control over her songs and her albums, she needs to take control of her live performances. This girl is a SINGER/SONGWRITER and her performances are being so over produced. You would never see James Taylor or Carly Simon perform like that. KEEP IT SIMPLE TAYLOR.... YOU AND YOUR GUITAR.

I watched the video of the grammy performance a few times and it sounds just fine to me???? Now her SNL performance, that was another thing--yikes!! Still like her songs tho.

People get very passionate defending this young woman and feeling connected to her because she comes across as innocent and charming. I, however, had a very different experience with her. I met her when she was dating a member of a teen band whom I was working with and she came by the set for a visit. She was rude to the staff and unfriendly and indifferent to me. When I was introduced to her she didn't look at me but instead took her phone out of her purse and began texting, completely ignoring my "Hello nice to meet you". Her boyfriend apologized with a roll of his eyes. She is not the sweet girl she purports to be.

This young thang is ALWAYS off key. And the Grammys show was evidence. This is constant with her -- usually flat and very grating when you like things on pitch.

I have seen her live and just hated it, compared with the true talent that is everywhere.

She is a beautiful girl and should stay an Abercrombie & Fitch model. Try and sell songs to REAL singers. She might not even make it through an American Idol audition except for her looks.

I haven't listened too much to Ms. Swift, but what I've read and heard points to a talented songwriter whose work obviously touches a lot of people. The quality of her live singing may vary widely and may not be technically perfect, but this actually points to the larger problem of singers using Auto-Tune software to sound good in the studio where they otherwise might not.

There are lies, and there are *lies*. Live performing is harder now, when artists have to sing, dance, look good and not break a sweat. But lip-syncing kind of defeats the whole reason for going to a live concert; much more so with Auto-Tune, which in the end is merely a more clever trick, harder to detect.

I credit Ms. Swift for being honest in her performances, despite her flaws. As long as her fans and concert goers are happy, I say leave her be. At least she's not relying on technology to sound perfect.

Everyone has a bad performance...... sheeze..... that was really bad on Swifts part. I've heard her sing really well. She will learn from this. Never blow a grammy gig. :-)

I used to love Taylor's music, but I've come to realize that if she wasn't famous she'd be that "crazy ex" guys talk about and avoid. Think I'm joking, read the lyrics to Forever & always, Should've said no,picture to burn . She also has a habit of writing fairytale songs and , I'm sorry, that schtick has gotten boring an tired. the truth will come with her 3rd album, does she stick to her current formula of fairytales & evil boyfriends or grow as an artist and writes new better music.

I would love to see Taylor appear in front of Simon Cowell.. haha.. I've heard karaokee of Taylor's songs that are far better than her own live performances! Wake up, she does not deserve these awards! If you want to hear a really talented country artist, listen to Carrie Underwood live on your favorite internet video site and then switch back over to Taylor.. Judge for yourself..

The defense of Taylor Swift just proves that most people are tone-deaf. She's off key, and it was even worse when paired with Nicks. The nice thing is that they can correct these things in the studio, but you can't hide it live.

Lets all be honest here., Yes she is a good song writer and a role model but face the facts, the girl can't sing. It doesn't matter who they pair her up with to sing, the result is the same: "sounding tinny and rhythmically flat-footed". It pains me everytime when she wins an award over excellent singers like Carrie Underwood, Beyonce, Keith Urban, etc (whether it be Grammys, AMA's CMA's, whatever). Not to bring up old news, but I must agree with Kanye and what he said (not the way he did it though). Frankly, there's just too much hype concerning a singer who just can't sing. I miss the days when a singer got credit not just for his or her good work but also his or her voice. As for the Grammy's, I was way dissappointed that certain singer didn't get nominated when produced excellent work.

Interesting. I hadn't paid all that much attention to Swift...this video, though, had me wondering if she could even win American Idol? Not with that kind of singing.

I suppose she's a perfectly competent pop-singer, and probably quite good technically on her records...but 20 years from now, what would you rather hear: Joni Mitchell's Cactus Tree, or Taylor Swift doing anything? Mitchell was not much older than Swift when she recorded *Song to a Seagull* one of the more brilliant albums by a female vocalist ever. She wrote her own songs on that one..and even painted the album cover.

Mitchell's hardly the only one, I just pulled her out of the elite crowd more or less at random. I submit Taylor Swift couldn't even find her way to the club where Mitchell would have performed.

All by way of saying that our standards are badly degraded at this point.

It's really funny that there is no middle ground on Taylor Swift-but the plain truth is when the concert or facilities are right (and nobody was happy with the Staples Center set up) she is a very good singer and interpreter of both rock and pop-country. I get more out of her music then Lady GAGA's gargling or Rihanna's hysterics or Miley Cyrus's slutting around-and obviously the Grammy voters do so too. Chill out and let the girl get some seasoning before treating her like a Beyonce!

I'm not a particular fan of Taylor Swift, but I was genuinely impressed by her performance at the Grammy Awards and only wish she'd been allowed to do one of her own songs complete instead of being saddled with over-the-hill Stevie Nicks as a duet partner. I liked the fact that Swift didn't try to bolster her appeal with acrobatics, pyrotechnics, videos of rolling seas and the other accoutrements in which most of the Grammy performers indulged. She trusted her voice and her song to communicate her message, and that made me feel far more kindly towards her than I have before and made me glad she won Album of the Year.

1 2 3 4 | »


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Recent Posts

Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: