Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credits: Far Out/Linda Browntree/Alamy)

Music

Damon Albarn vs Taylor Swift: The right, the wrong and the point we're missing

@TomTaylorFO

When Taylor Swift emerged with her debut album in 2006, she quickly established herself as an industry trailblazer. Since then, she has written over 180 songs. As a proficient multi-instrumentalist, writing poignant anthems that millions of young fans have identified with, many have cited her as one of the leading songwriters of her generation. The one thing she isn’t, however, is an adept studio wizard. Thus, naturally, she has had many collaborators along this prolific journey to help hone her songs into polished pop pieces.

This long list of co-writing credits, however, has led Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz to claim that she does not, in fact, write her own music. This claim has since been widely debunked since it was first published in the LA Times yesterday. Those who have worked with her and received co-writing credits quickly pointed out that she arrives with fully formed songs, and they simply gild them with wider arrangements and production—much like Daniel Lanois would with Bob Dylan in years gone by, for instance. 

In fact, one of the first people to respond to Albarn was Aaron Dessner of The National who produced Swift’s latest album, Evermore, and received a co-writing credit on 11 of the 15 tracks on the LP. The musician and producer who has also collaborated with the likes of Justin Vernon and Sharon Van Etten, took to Twitter to write: “Not sure why you [Damon Albarn] would try to discredit Taylor’s brilliant songwriting but as someone who has gotten to press record around her… your statements couldn’t be further from the truth… you’re obviously completely clueless as to her actual writing and work process.”

While there are many ins and outs when it comes to the current situation regarding songwriting credits—it would appear, overwhelming so, that based on the assertions of those who have worked with Swift, producing records and with industry knowledge, Albarn’s comment was highly misguided. The whys and wherefores of his flippant assertion come down to indie tribalism, undertones of sexism and a thousand other corroborations, all of which prove highly nebulous when you try to dig into them. 

The fact of the matter is, that when discussing the current state of songwriting, Albarn made a passing comment that when redacted read as damaging. But, ultimately, Albarn said little more than he wasn’t much of a fan of Swift’s “endlessly upbeat” work. 

Swift was quick to respond to his claim which, notably, formed a very short part of an extensive interview and was only Tweeted by the LA Times. In fact, it was only released as a secondary by-line implying that even the publishers didn’t think there was much substance to those specific comments. Swift, however, was rapid in her retort owing largely to the fact that she has often faced similarly derogatory comments in the past. 

In fact, amid previous widespread speculation that her songwriting credit was overstated on her first two albums, she took to the studio in 2010 and wrote all of the songs on her Speak Now album in a solo capacity. She was the sole credit on the album. Thus, it is understandable that she would respond to Albarn with haste, given the damaging falsehood that she has faced in the past. In doing so, she amplified the discussion, which, up until that point, had been minimal at best. 

What happened thereafter seems far more striking. Take, for instance, the highest comment underneath Dessner’s Tweet reads: “The folklorians [a moniker seemingly attributed to Swift collaborators Dessner and Antonoff] have united to end him.” Other comments posted publicly include: “Damon Albarn can literally die now, who can ever survive this much embarrassment.” And what’s more, Albarn’s prompt and personal apology message to Swift was also shot down as “fake”. 

How the rapid rise of social media is affecting music

Read More

In short, the internet’s response to the matter far outsized the substance. Albarn’s comments were wrong and some of the implications were certainly damaging, but it is noteworthy that they were merely implications and any over examination without a firm asterisk would be just as baseless as his own contention. The furore surrounding the incident rapidly took off and amplified the issue. It should also be noted that Albarn was asked specifically about Swift as opposed to initiating and engineering the comments, adding to the notion that they were made in an off-hand fashion as part of a wider discussion. When Albarn apologised and admitted his mistake, it was not accepted, if anything, it only made things more hostile.

Therefore, it would seem that even in the immediate aftermath, the bigger talking point is the response of social media and not the wider and hugely necessary debate regarding songwriting credits. There are massive issues in the industry, for instance, the blog ‘Poor F—king  Songwriter’, recently lifted the lid on the disparity between those writing music and the labels producing it.

As the blog, penned by a songwriter with a platinum plaque on the wall of a small flat, explains: “In today’s current streaming environment, record labels are making more money than they’ve ever made… yet Poor F—king Songwriter is seeing the lowest returns ever. Roughly $800 per million streams for publishing.” Creditability should’ve been the debate sparked by Albarn’s remarks, but as ever with social media, reaction and posturing outstripped substance. 

Albarn comes from an era when inflammatory comments and glib interviews were par for the course. He was once on the receiving end of a wildly inappropriate comment made by a feuding Noel Gallagher, who stated: “I hate that Alex [James] and Damon. I hope they catch AIDS and die.” Gallagher was quick to retract the comments and has always expressed remorse over them. Albarn, likewise, accepted the apology and the pair, despite continued jibes, have established something close to a friendship. 

While the fact that Albarn comes from a different era certainly doesn’t detract from his accountability regarding the false claims he has made, it does show how markedly different the handling of indiscretion is in the social media age. In the past, what would’ve been a page six comment about not being a fan that might’ve led to a mildly awkward apology and an ‘I was misinterpreted’ explanation backstage at some festival, is now a public feud with rampant condemnation and very little empathy regarding how an admittedly misinformed but otherwise passing comment in an interview could be misconstrued. 

Like many before him, this will be a message that Albarn learns quickly and in a damning fashion. It will then, no doubt, wane away to nothing and the pertinent debates about industry disparities, and even the nebulous undertones of misogyny will dissolve into internet background noise along with it. It’s not so much that the whole thing was much ado about nothing, but it was a lot to do about a little and the only outcome is that Albarn stands corrected and then some, with a lot of angry cynicism and very little empathy, and almost nothing else.