From afar, at 26, Taylor Swift – the youngest woman to make Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list, and well on her way to becoming the best selling artist of all time – seems to have grown into a strong yet sensitive woman who is unafraid to be vulnerable, even sophomoric, as her understanding of the world slowly starts to deepen past the innocence of Love Story, You Belong With Me, and dozens more girl-meets-boy chart-toppers.
But a deeper dig suggests that this maturity is innate, not developed. Swift’s ability to tough it out among the big players as she transitioned from the world of country to the world of true-blue pop reveals the same grit and determination that drove her parents to move to the Nashville area to support her career while she was still in middle school, got her a development deal from RCA at the age of 14 – and led her to walk away from that deal later that same year, concerned that the industry would eat her alive before she had a chance to capture her early years authentically, while they were still fresh in her mind.
As Ryan Adams showed in his recent reinvention homage to Swift’s album 1989, Swift’s lyrics go much, much deeper than their pretty face. And unlike other pop icons who started out in the industry before adulthood, including several we’ve featured here in our Covered In Folk series (see, for example, our recent feature on Justin Bieber), the youngest songwriter ever signed by the Sony/ATV Tree publishing house has always written her own songs, trusting the production process to transform them into the crossover countrypop gems that have dominated the airwaves for the last decade or so.
Though Swift has a healthy understanding of the industry she serves, in other words, she is clearly a songwriter first. But she also knows coverage matters. She has recorded few of her own in the studio – a trend that surely stems from both artistic and professional concerns, and tepid reception to both a 2007 Christmas cover of Last Christmas and a 2009 take on Tom Petty’s American Girl that was, at best, merely a retread – but she does songs from all over the genre map in concert, and has good taste in those of others, too; indeed, one of the choice cuts below was featured on her Twitter feed, a high praise she has reserved for less than a score of other interpretations.
Others in our Taylor Swift mix today come from the usual wide assortment of sources: amateur uploads, tribute sessions and albums, b-side and deep cut delights. As is our wont, they span from delicate to disturbing, from joyous to somber, though they certainly trend towards the slow, the soft, and the stripped down cover; taken as a set, they are, indeed, greater than the sum of their parts. So join us as we celebrate through coverage the well-sung songbook of a woman who at 26 has already won 10 Grammy awards, recognition from the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame, a fierce independence in an industry more prone to destroy young talent, and the hearts of a nation.
COVERED IN FOLK: TAYLOR SWIFT
- The Man Who Fell In Buffalo: Blank Space
- Radiochaser: Blank Space
Raw and wry like a live Barenaked Ladies-meets-banjo rarity, our first transformative cover comes from Portland, Oregon-based multimedia art, music, and fiction experimentalist The Man Who Fell In Buffalo, who turns upbeat pop into a sinister oldtimey collage, abuzz with fraying edges and the fraying urgency of the stalker’s mind. For contrast, turn to NYC underground artist Radiochaser, first introduced to us via fellow coverblog Cover Me; the layers here are wistful, mooth and airy, with an undercurrent of urgency too deep to touch – apt for an enigmatic Soundcloud cover artist who claims that his work represents an imaginative foray into what the souls of pop songs would sound like if pop songs could die.
- Lucy & La Mer: Bad Blood
Slower, quieter, and both more subtle and more haunting than the Tainted Love cover we shared from Lucy & La Mer back in March, this 2015 track only reinforces our appreciation of the LA-based indie/folk/pop goddess’ high, astute sensitivity to songcraft and setting.
- Savannah Outen: I Knew You Were Trouble
The streaming services are stuffed full with wannabes who use coverage of Taylor’s radiopop hits to leverage a career. But Savannah Outen‘s cover stands out for vocal purity, a restrained, polished sense of tonal consistency and control, and a masterful, slippery, articulate way with lyrical articulation that makes every word meaningful. Similar prowess, if a little more percussive pop flourish, typifies covers of Everything Has Changed and Out Of The Woods recorded alongside YouTube boypop sensation Jake Coco.
- Julia Sheer and Tyler Ward: Sparks Fly
- Strawburry17: Sparks Fly
A country duo lullaby with light twang, lighter guitars, and a echoing reverb that lingers, or a solo indiepop turn with innocent voice and rich synth overlays slowly drowned in that same echo? We couldn’t decide, so you get both, from ubiquitous YouTube success stories Julia Sheer and Tyler Ward (like Outen, she also does a decent cover of Ed Sheeran/Taylor Swift duet Everything Has Changed) and prolific self-professed nerd and culture vulture Strawburry17, who generally shares themed vlogs, not music, on her YouTube channel. Not bad for a song originally recorded by Swift as a bootkicking rocker.
- Jesse Will: Shake It Off
- Jenny Owen Youngs: Shake It Off
Angsty acousticpop vocals, ringing guitar, and simple, soaring fiddle accompaniment typify this in-studio cover from Kiwi alternative soul singer-songwriter Jesse Will, recorded in 2014 for London-based YouTube channel Reload Sessions, a potent acoustic coversource in its own right. Meanwhile, Jenny Owen Youngs’ Folkadelphia session cover offers a hushed and fragile counterpoint, switching the determination of the original for an intimate, almost internal monologue infused with doubt.
- Radiant Life Perspective: Love Story
No set of Taylor Swift songs would be complete without Love Story, a reframing of the Romeo and Juliet story which I have been know to utilize in the classroom when discussing the text. Here, Trenton, NJ indie rock duo Radiant Life Perspective – a pair whose covers are twee and grungy and delightful, as heard on Gray’s Anatomy and elsewhere – pull back to a hipster acoustic urgency, complete with hollow percussion and dreamy, layered vocals, that reveals a hazy sheen of wistful uncertainty on horizons back and forward.
- Laura Zocca: Begin Again
- Laura Zocca: Safe and Sound (orig. Taylor Swift ft. The Civil Wars)
First shared here last year in our come-back feature after a few months off the blog, prolific YouTube cover artist and rising star singer-songwriter Laura Zocca‘s stunning turn on Begin Again is the perfect way to feature both song and singer, a lovely turn on a wistful piece. Add her equally sweet-and-potent version of Safe and Sound, which Swift originally recorded with now-defunct duo The Civil Wars, to the mix – and note that it was recorded just 24 hours after the original release of the song.
- Sumeau: Fearless
Hollywood’s boy/girl duo Sumeau creates slowcore psychpop like you’ve never heard it before – in this case, a lazy, hazy heroin dream in which Bert Bacharach meets the summer of love. Framed around Fearless, the title track from Swift’s country-to-pop crossover sophomore album, it lends an unreal aura of mist and memory to the first date it depicts, trading innocence and hope for something deeper and more mystical.
- James Bartholomew: Everything Has Changed (orig. Taylor Swift ft. Ed Sheeran)
We don’t usually post covers without lyrics here at Cover Lay Down – and by definition, a cowritten duet is an unusual choice for the voiceless version. But we already shared our favorite acoustic pop take on this track way back in 2013. And this delicate delight from fingerstylist James Bartholomew fits in perfectly in the folkstream, reminding us that if John Renbourne’s masterful acoustic instrumentals count as folk, then so do covers that echo them so exquisitely.
- Nick Mulvey: Never Getting Back Together
A tense acoustic take from a BBC Radio Lounge session with London-based world-beat-jazzman-turned-singer-songwriter Nick Mulvey, set only with harp-strung latin guitar and longing vocals. Unsettling and unsettled, in Mulvey’s hands a song once overripe with determination and teen angst becomes tiny and dear, a baby bird struggling against the hand that holds.
- Ryan Adams: How You Get The Girl
Though we’ve hewed pretty closely to the amateur and underground in today’s set, we’d be remiss if we didn’t close today with something from Ryan Adams’ 1989, which garnered top honors in our Best of 2015 series. Since we shared Blank Space then, we’ll go for his cover of album deep cut How You Get The Girl now – a bit grandiose for folk, with a Springsteen-esque vibe and no small call to Adams’ early work with alt-country band Whiskeytown, but as anthemic chamberpop goes, a true tour de force, mostly overlooked by press and promotion alongside his covers of the more popular tracks from the album.
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