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Bad Blood: Damon Albarn’s condescending Taylor Swift comments are old-fashioned indie tribalism

The Independent
The Independent
 2022-01-25

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Given the current vogue for Nineties nostalgia, it was perhaps inevitable that 2022 would deliver a news story about a Britpop star involved in some needless musical beef. Step forward Damon Albarn , frontman of Blur and Gorillaz , who has whipped the internet into a frenzy by baselessly accusing noted songwriter Taylor Swift of not writing her own songs. I know it’s been a while, but isn’t Albarn supposed to realise when he’s sounding like a charmless man?

Swift, understandably, quickly took to Twitter to point out that she very much does write her own songs. “Your hot take is completely false and SO damaging,” she wrote. “You don’t have to like my songs but it’s really f***ed up to try and discredit my writing.” In response, Albarn offered a half-hearted apology that complained his comments had been “reduced to clickbait”. This would be an easier excuse to swallow if the exact back-and-forth hadn’t been printed in the LA Times.

A recap in case you’ve had better things to do today: Albarn was being interviewed in Los Angeles to promote his forthincoming piano concert at the city’s Walt Disney Concert Hall when he made the claim that “not much modern music” could stand being stripped down to play on piano. When the LA Times interviewer Mikael Wood gently pushed back on this assertion, Albarn challenged him to name an example of a contemporary songsmith who doesn’t rely on “sound and attitude” to make a statement. “She may not be to your taste,” said Wood, “but Taylor Swift is an excellent songwriter.”

Albarn replied simply, and inaccurately: “She doesn’t write her own songs”, a bizarre claim given how well known Swift is as a songwriter both for herself and others. When Wood pointed this out, Albarn seized on the fact that Swift sometimes co-writes songs as reason enough to dismiss her work entirely. “I’m not hating on anybody,” he added, inaccurately, “I’m just saying there’s a big difference between a songwriter and a songwriter who co-writes.” To bolster this faltering argument, Albarn plucked a new name out of the ether to compare Swift to: “A really interesting songwriter is Billie Eilish and her brother. I’m more attracted to that than to Taylor Swift. It’s just darker – less endlessly upbeat. Way more minor and odd. I think she’s exceptional.”

Now, at the me risk of stating the obvious, “Billie Eilish and her brother” is not a songwriter. They are in fact a perfect example of songwriters who co-write all their material, the same supposed crime for which Albarn was so ready to dismiss Swift. This cognitive dissonance helps explain where Albarn is really drawing his line in the sand: Swift makes “endlessly upbeat” pop music, therefore she must be the product of nefarious industry control. Eilish makes cool indie music, therefore she’s a legitimate artist worthy of praise. It’s old-fashioned indie tribalism, an element of Nineties culture that really didn’t need to be rebooted.

Speaking of reboots, even this latest beef feels uncannily like a retread of a slanging match from last year featuring Albarn’s sometime nemesis Noel Gallagher and Jade Thirlwall of Little Mix. After Little Mix won Best British Group at the Brit Awards, Gallagher complained to The Sun that: “Little Mix, with the greatest respect, are not in the same league as Oasis. Not even in the same f***ing sport.” Thirwall shot back, saying: “Noel did [slag us off]. Something about that we were undeserving of the Brit Award because we’re women and don’t – well, we do write music – but he thinks we don’t write music.” Proving she can write insults as well as tunes, Thirwall added: “Shame really, because you know, we are definitely the most successful girl group in the country, but he’s not even the most successful performer in his family!”

As for the bad blood between Albarn and Swift, there seems like an obvious solution if they’re still seeking closure: Albarn’s original point was that contemporary songwriters wouldn’t be able to rework their music for a stripped-down piano performance. I have two words for him: Dueling pianos. He plays his songs, she plays hers, and the watching public picks their favourite. My money’s on a Swift victory.

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