Music

Can America Cope with Ferguson With Taylor Swift Abandoning the Fight for Justice?

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I have the greatest sympathy for journalists who need to fill our ever-expanding commentary holes with something that seems relevant (feel free to point out the metairony yourselves). But Randall Roberts at the L.A. Times pulls together the two most important stories in American culture this week—the unrest in Ferguson and Taylor Swift's new single and video "Shake It Off"—to direly point-missing effect. Is Swift's peppy, encouraging song and video, he asks,

Tone deaf? Maybe a little, even if it's not her fault that she can't (yet) control the news cycle. Still, for anyone who agrees that what's on the popular charts is a reflection of where we are as a society, "Shake It Off" can't help but be partially viewed through another lens.  

Certainly I'm not the only one who's been jumping between Web browser screens, performing split-second juxtaposed alt-tabs from shouts of "Shake it off!" to protests of "Hands Up, Don't Shoot!" Heard in that context, "Shake It Off" feels like a missive from the outer ring suburbs, where Ferguson may as well be on the other side of the world—one big white whine from an artist who's shown herself in the past to be way more thoughtful and savvy than this……

Hits seldom perfectly mirror the times or match skin color. During the Watts riots, the No. 1 song  in America was "I'm Henry the VIII I Am" by Herman's Hermits, as thematically removed from the drama as could be….

The harshest juxtaposition in "Shake It Off" comes with the song's takeaway verse:  "While you been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty dirty cheats of the world/ You could have been getting down to this sick beat."

That's sage advice when your biggest problem is whether to date a millionaire or billionaire. But when lives are at stake and nothing seems more relevant than getting to the Actual Truth, liars and cheats can't and shouldn't be shaken off.

Dude, there is really no need to make Taylor Swift and her fans stop everything to participate in your freakout over tyrannical policing. Tyrannical policing is bad, and needs to be opposed. Good pop songs are good, and can be appreciated or ignored. No one needs to bring them together–certainly not Ms. Swift who we should remember wrote and recorded this song anywhere from weeks to months before Ferguson started.

If someone did manage to bring pop and opposition to tyrannical policing together, that would also probably be cool. But, man, if you genuinely believe it is worth saying that great pop doesn't speak to the grimmest and worst aspects of modern politics, Shake it off! Dance! Or shout with gusto, "I'm her eighth old man, I'm Hen-er-y!" if that's more your speed.

My judgment? Song is undeniable and great, video a bit corny and clunky but still a bit on the charming side of that. It will make your life better, or it won't affect it at all. The world is full of politics and misery. None of us are under any obligation, nor would it make the world better if we were, to focus all our mind and attention on the politics and misery.

So, dance along with Taylor, or ignore her and complain about or do something about bad cops. The choice is yours!