Taylor Swift’s “ME!”: Too much candy, not enough soul

Taylor Swift’s new single, Me!, dropped a few weeks ago and despite being a big Taylor fan I have to admit I don’t really like it. In fact, I couldn’t even get through it on my first listen.

However, one of my favorite podcasts, Switched on Pop, featured it recently so I thought maybe I’d give it a second chance. After all, Nate and Charlie have successfully changed my mind about other pop songs I’ve hated disliked, including the last Taylor Swift album Reputation. As usual, their podcast lived up to my expectation, breaking down some of the lyrical and musical choices that go into the song and highlighting aspects that I might have missed (had I bothered to listen to the song in full the first time).

But you know what? I still don’t like this song.

Yes, it has a lot of the sounds I would associate with a Taylor Swift tune: a danceable beat, some very identifiable Taylor riffs, and a potentially ‘after-school special’ takeaway message about embracing your uniqueness.

Unfortunately, musically it doesn’t really have much to say. To me, it feels like a generic Taylor Swift song without the magic she often brings, and with the most incredibly cheesy bridge I’ve ever heard outside of a movie soundtrack. In fact, when I first heard this song I assumed that it was from a children’s movie soundtrack. Had I missed a new Minions movie?!? Nope.

Which is a real shame. Taylor Swift is known for reinventing herself and coming up with an exciting new sound on each of her recent albums (1989, Reputation), one that somehow still contains key elements of the Taylor her fans know and love. But this time her first single does not signal any exciting departure from the last album. It sounds like Taylor just put together all of her hit-making signature sounds, added in a few musical references to Brendon Urie’s Panic at the Disco sound, and sung it to some generic ‘love yourself’ lyrics.

This would be bad enough, but then I made the mistake of watching the music video for “Me!”. Where clever musicological analysis had brought me around to a grudging acceptance of the song, this video had me doing an abrupt 180 and running for the hills. The surrealistic pastel backdrop combined with the over the top musical dance numbers reminds me of Dr. Seuss’ book Oh, the places you’ll go, and tipped what was already a sickly sweet bubblegum pop song over the line into ridiculous. Rather than play down the sugary song the video doubles down on it, emphasizing all the things I dislike about the song and playing up the saccharine.

Despite a widely panned start, it’s still possible that the full album will be just as awesome and groundbreaking as the last two have been. But I sure wish Taylor had chosen to launch it with something that sounded less like the musical equivalent of an inspirational poster in a high school guidance counselor’s office.