Title: Shake It Off
Artist: Taylor Swift
First, an admission. I don't really know Taylor Swift's entire catalog or history or much of anything about her. So, if you're a big fan, you may find my comments and, especially my generalizations, to be off-base. I'll try not to do that! Second, you should know that I like Taylor Swift, at least what I've heard, which is often just bits and pieces. I've said before that I just barely exist on the periphery of pop culture. I know it's there—I just don't pay much attention to it. Usually, when I write about a current pop song in this space, I am hearing it for the first time in its entirety. I know, it seems impossible, but it's true.
For example, I didn't know this little cheerleader section existed in the middle of "Shake it Off." Like, why is that there? It adds nothing to the song except time (although it does set up that nice little vocal run into the high note at 2:43) and interferes with what I think is a superb example of what you can achieve with three simple chords and some imagination.
I also thought this album was going to be more 80s-influenced. I get it, she was born in 1989. And she was supposedly influenced by the music from that period while writing this song, but the fact that she uses so many current (and soon to be retired) phrases like "haters gonna hate" and "this sick beat" tells me she's not very interested in this music having much longevity. Which is fine but unexpected.
But I digress! As I mentioned earlier, this song has three chords: Am C G (ii IV I). That's it. You can play it now. You just learned it. It also has a killer beat and clocks in at 160bpm so you're going to bop around to it whether you like it or not—it's in your DNA. That's just science.
But back to the harmony. Once again, my friends the major 7th and major 9th show up in a modern pop song. Can you believe this? Check out the verse. The entirely pentatonic melody lands on a B each of the first two times it's sung, the first time creating a 9th against the Am and the second time a major 7th against the C. It only becomes consonant at the end of the verse when sung over the tonic G Major. Maybe this happened all the time for the last 50 years and I'm just noticing, but I don't think so.
I really like Swift's voice in this upper register. Maybe she's hung out there before (remember what I said at the outset!) but I don't think I've ever heard her in this range. Lyric quibbles aside, I think this is a great song and anyone who doesn't like it is, well, you know....haters gonna hate.