In Defense of Taylor Swift's Voice

Yep, we like her. A lot.
  • Yep, we like her. A lot.

You probably know I'm a huge Taylor Swift fan. No apologies. I loved her self-titled debut the first time I heard it in 2006, and 2008's Fearless was one of my favorite albums of the year.

But she has a little trouble singing onstage. Swift's first appearance on Saturday Night Live last year was terrible, marred by her flat, off-key voice (and a douchebag band member who bounced around like he was auditioning for Korn). She doesn't have a big voice, and she caught a lot of shit for that after Sunday's Grammy performance.

I've been defending Swift against these attacks for months. But it's not about how big or technically "on" she is. There's an aching vulnerability in her voice that fully complements her songs. She's still in that awkward stage of life — not a little girl anymore and not yet a woman. Her songs reflect this. And so does her voice.

So it kinda sucks that the president of Swift's record label had to come to her defense. Scott Borchetta told The Tennessean:

“The facts say she is the undisputed best communicator that we’ve got. So when she says something or feels something it affects more people than anybody else. Maybe she’s not the best technical singer, but she is the best emotional singer. Everybody gets up there and is technically perfect people don’t seem to want more of it. There’s not an artist in any other format that people want more of than they want of Taylor. I think (the critics) are missing the whole voice of a generation that is happening right in front of them. Maybe they are jealous or can’t understand that. But obviously the people that she talks to are engaged with her. No one is perfect on any given day. Maybe in that moment we didn’t have the best night, but in the same breath, maybe we did.”

Borchetta didn't need to say what Swift's fans already know (and for the record, I am not a 15-year-old girl but an adult male who regularly praises Animal Collective records): She's one of the era's best singer-songwriters, as honest as they come.

It's the same argument that's plagued Bob Dylan for years: He can't sing. So fucking what? He doesn't sound like Sam Cooke, but he's a great rock 'n' roll singer. You know Celine Dion? Technically, she's pretty good. But you know what? Her songs suck. She has no emotional connection to the songs she sings. Dylan does. And so does Swift.

Besides, performing live is overrated. Twenty years from now, what's going to matter? Fearless or some concerts where she tore through a 90-minute set of songs that were hammered to perfection over many months in the studio? Go back and listen to her records and you'll hear a great pop singer — one who's aching with very real hopes and fears. —Michael Gallucci