Regarding Tayor Swift’s song “Exile”.
Okay, I should probably get this out of the way first. I am not a Taylor Swift fan. Nor am I a Bon Iver fan, possibly less of a fan than I am of Taylor Swift. However, I am not a hater, even if it seems to me that Taylor Swift appears at first glance to be the anti-Madonna, the anti-Lady Gaga, possibly the anti-post-Rihanna. At any rate she does not strike me as revelation of pure pop annhilation. Yet, it would appear she is, at least in the current moment.
So, this may be an odd place to start as I begin to offer praise toward the end of elevating a simple song to the pantheon of things beyond…just beyond. Still, let’s go down this path a little further. Just a few steps.
The first time I heard “Exile” I was cruising down Central, late at night, returning from a late night of work. I heard another gruff male voice, complaining about a lover doing him wrong, and wondered if I had accidently landed on a country channel. It was late and I was too lazy to change the channel, and I figured I’d get some entertainment unpacking this tune for the last few minutes of the drive.
Then, things changed. I know enough to know Taylor Swift’s voice, and within the first notes of her opening stanza I felt something very different was happening in this song. By 1:44 I could see the turns the song was taking with the obvious original conceit. Honestly, I felt a little embarassed to be so engrossed in both a Taylor Swift and a Bon Iver song. Damn.
We Have Seen This Film Before
We have seen this film before. They have seen this film before and they have something to say about it. The complete expectedness of the whole opening scene is the point. The point of departure.
At the 2:00 minute mark, the dialogue begins and the song spirals into echoes, whispers and a delicate call and response that is masterful. Voices merge and seperate and through the remaining two plus minutes and we can feel everything, everything in the relationship as it approaches nadir/completion. There is some amazing technical work making this all happen. Listen closely.
Everytime I hear this song I feel the full scope of the emotional apocalypse, one I know very well, but also a feeling that I have held close with some of the gems of my personal sonic mythology; Hallelujah, Running Up That Hill, Comfortably Numb, San Jacincto…songs that rest in a hermetic vault despite their ostentatious origins in dusty pop.
There is something happening in this song.
I am so glad to hear these voices, and yet still not be a fan.
While there are plenty of technical things to appreciate in the production of “Exile”, consider also the performances in this video.
Unfortunatley, consider this much broader performance which strips the song down to it’s most bare elements and in so doing reveals the true magic of the recorded version above.
Anyway, here’s a version of Hallelujah.