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Hashtag Pop: Taylor Swift – “I Knew You Were Trouble”

on January 23, 2013, 12:30pm

 Hashtag Pop: Taylor Swift   I Knew You Were Trouble

Hashtag Pop is a new column that explores the relationship of Top 40 hits and their presence in culture and the internet. First up is Taylor Swift’s song, “I Knew You Were Trouble”.


If pop music isn’t as taken seriously as a genre anymore, it’s only because its disposability leads to irreverence, as if the fleeting nature of a pop song somehow reduces its cultural impact. The mass reaction to a pop song may be short-lived, but it’s also explosive. Songs that dominate the Top 40 last no longer than the average Redditor’s attention span, but you can find rich– or at least entertaining– histories in the infinite .gifs, retweets, reblogs, and memes that appear as a result of these songs. Both pop songs and their e-phemera have a half-life, but together they make each other stronger, like driving a new Maserati down a never-ending street.

This is the Internet: Someone with 30 million YouTube views and a verified Twitter account that I’ve never heard of highlighting the contrasts between Taylor Swift and Chief Keef.

This is also the Internet: It’s not at all crazy that someone would listen to both current Billboard #4 track “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift and the laconic trap drawl of Keef’s “I Don’t Like”. This is mostly because of the Skrillex-sized drop that dominates the chorus of “Trouble”.

That brostep drop is new to Swift’s toolbox, and it’s kind of amazing that it plays nicely with the rest of the standard head-bobbing lighthearted pop fare that surrounds it.

Diving into the rabbit hole that is the Tween Internet’s feelings on Taylor Swift is, in a word, terrifying. Maybe this is just because I’m a dude in my late twenties, but the sheer loyalty that marks the True Believers of Swift — any pop superstar really — is entirely unrelatable. Look, here is a thread on the TaylorSwift.com message board with people apologizing for liking memes lightly mocking Swift.

tumblr lselt920lh1r2fg58o1 500 Hashtag Pop: Taylor Swift   I Knew You Were Trouble

“No offense to Taylor!” and “I’m sorry Taylor!” and “I mean no harm to you by [liking] them!” and “Not to be mean to Taylor…!” all show up on the first page of replies. Ye,  you know what to do.

 Hashtag Pop: Taylor Swift   I Knew You Were Trouble

The accompanying video for “Trouble” may be the most Taylor Swift thing that Taylor Swift has ever done. Everything on display during its five-minute run time are totally at odds with everything actually happening in the song. If the video for “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was a too on-the-nose interpretation of the song it represented, then “Trouble” is a video implemented by someone who might have never heard the song at all.

What is going on here? There’s a dramatic, string-laden intro with Swift speaking cryptically (let’s face it, nonsensically) about a random “him” who, from “his” appearance in the “Trouble” video, seems like he stepped off the lyric sheet of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games”. Can I get 1,500 words on Swift’s “Trouble” video being a response to the entirety of Born To Die? Thanks.

When the intro ends and “Trouble” starts in earnest, you’d figure that the video would lighten up a bit. Instead, it ends up soundtracking a three-minute retelling of Blue Valentine, except nobody’s makeup is out-of-place.

“Trouble” — hell, all of Swift’s songs — pull off this trick of sounding insanely autobiographical while containing almost no specificity whatsoever. This means everyone can shove every relationship issue they’ve ever heard of into Taylor’s music. Such a talent is akin to voodoo. But the consequence of this, especially when you’re as public of a pop star as Swift, is that everyone gets up in your business.

I’m having a hard time trying to parse out just from Twitter whether Taylor Swift and Harry Styles, one of the guys from new school boy band One Direction, are still together or on a temporary break or split up for good. Either way, anyone with more than a passing interest in Swift or One Direction is talking about it. And “Trouble”, which according to Perez Hilton of all the trustworthy news sources is about Styles, serves as this beef’s “Who Shot Ya?”.

taylor swift funny basketball hit in the head goofy Hashtag Pop: Taylor Swift   I Knew You Were Trouble

Why is Swift — maybe the most unassuming pop star of this generation — the one who draws such divisive battle lines? Well, because she’s both easy to love and hate. To the teen legions that comprise the majority of her fan base, this makes her a fantastic girl-next-door superstar (and so does her fractured love life). To anyone that stands firmly anti-Swift, that simplicity and lack of forceful perspective makes her incredibly easy to mock (and, uh, so does her fractured love life).

 Hashtag Pop: Taylor Swift   I Knew You Were Trouble

 Hashtag Pop: Taylor Swift   I Knew You Were Trouble

>”Trouble” is interesting, mostly because of the disconnect between its song and its video. The prior suggests that Swift is listening to the pop world at large and wants to pander to it, focusing on a fad-chasing element just for temporary success. But the video suggests either that she’s unaware of the strangeness in positing a pool table bar fight with one of the cheeriest chord progressions of all time (if you guessed I, V, vi, IV, you win!), or she just doesn’t care Either way, the reason “Trouble” has captured cultural traction is the same exact reason “Never Getting Back Together” did: because Swift has a supreme talent for making silly breakup songs– and by proxy our silly relationship problems– seem vitally important.

 Hashtag Pop: Taylor Swift   I Knew You Were Trouble

And, just because of course: