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Jack Antonoff calls Damon Albarn "Trumpian": What does it tell us about society?

The recent fury that engulfed Damon Albarn after he made some flubbed comments about Taylor Swift were indicative of the times that we live in. This was one of music’s old guard versus a contemporary musical heroine, a clash between an age long gone and the new cultural epoch. Or was it?

In reality, the answer is no. Albarn simply made some ill-informed comments in regards to a pop star at the top of her game, and like with everything these days, it all got a little out of hand.  

Swift emerged with her debut album in 2006 and established herself as an industry heavyweight shortly after. A multi-instrumentalist with a knack for penning a pop anthem, it’s no coincidence that millions of young fans identify with her work and, as a result, that she’s one of the biggest-selling musicians of the past two decades. 

Aside from her numerous hits, and off-stage personality, it is also well known that Swift has employed an extensive list of collaborators over her career, helping her refine the raw materials she brings into the studio. It is this factor that led Albarn to incorrectly believe that Swift does not write her music. During a now-infamous interview with the LA Times, the Blur and Gorillaz frontman made the claim, which invited quick retribution from Swift stans and collaborators. 

Those who have collaborated with Swift pointed out that she arrives at the studio with fully formed songs and that their role as co-writers or producers is to simply elevate the tracks. Two of the highest-profile names who came to Swift’s aid were Aaron Dessner of The National and Jack Antonoff, pop producer du jour. 

Dessner produced Swift’s latest album, Evermore, and Tweeted: “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”.

We don’t want to get bogged in the ins and outs of Swift’s artistry because it is clear for all to see that Albarn was wrong. You could perhaps assert that his glib comment was something to do with indie snobbery rather than the allegations of sexism that were thrown his way, but, either way, Albarn stood corrected. The Gorillaz mastermind wrote on Twitter: “I totally agree with you. I had a conversation about songwriting and sadly it was reduced to clickbait. I apologise unreservedly and unconditionally. The last thing I would want to do is discredit your songwriting. I hope you understand”. But it was not enough for many fans.

The type of hate that Albarn received, as a result, is highly indicative of where we find ourselves culturally. What was lost amongst all the vitriol was that the second part of his original statement didn’t really negate Swift’s work in the way that people would have you believe. After making his initial comment that she “doesn’t write her own songs”, Albarn was rebuked by the interviewer, who said that she does write her songs and co-writes only “some of them”.

Taylor Swift responds to Damon Albarn’s songwriting comments

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“That doesn’t count. I know what co-writing is,” he replied. “Co-writing is very different to writing. I’m not hating on anybody, I’m just saying there’s a big difference between a songwriter and a songwriter who co-writes. Doesn’t mean that the outcome can’t be really great”.

So, Albarn was corrected and then made an assertion about the differences between types of songwriters. So how on earth did this end up with Tweets such as: “Damon Albarn can literally die now, who can ever survive this much embarrassment”. Additionally, Albarn’s personal apology message to Swift was criticised as “fake”. 

Things then seemed to have died down until Jack Antonoff discussed Albarn’s comments in an interview last week. Appearing on The What, hosted by Brad Steiner, Antonoff was promoting his appearance at Bonnaroo 2022. At one point, though, the conversation turned to Albarn and Swift after the topic of songwriting came up. “Obviously, it’s completely absurd and everyone knows that,” Antonoff said of Albarn’s comments. “You’re talking about one of the greatest songwriters of our generation who has her name as the only name on many songs. You don’t need me to explain it – it’s fact”.

If calling Taylor Swift one of the greatest songwriters of our generation wasn’t enough to prick your ears, Antonoff didn’t stop there. He then compared Albarn to former US President Donald Trump, Narcissus personified, the warped mind behind phrases such as ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’. 

“I don’t like it when artists take almost this Trumpian approach of just making things up,” he said. “I don’t care if Damon Albarn or anyone likes or doesn’t like something, but to unequivocally make a statement that isn’t true… not to get to deep on it, but isn’t that kind of everything that’s wrong with our world at the moment? People talking about shit that they have no clue about?”.

Antonoff’s comments of labelling an off the cuff remark “Trumpian” is precisely the problem with the world as we see it today. Since when did a statement, which appeared to insist that no offence was intended, become indicative of some populist intent to destroy popular music and one of its brightest lights, Taylor Swift? Everyone hates it when people make things up, but being wrong and misguided doesn’t make you a liar, let alone “Trumpian”. Furthermore, when did an apology become so redundant that it gets criticised as “fake” right on the spot? Constant reliance on hyperbole is one of the reasons why we find ourselves in this mess of the culture war. Yes, Albarn was wrong, but he apologised. For him then, to have been compared to a bully who caused an insurgency and the deaths of civil servants is excessive.  

The Albarn-Swift affair evokes the old adage “a storm in a teacup”. Whilst there are minor lessons to be learnt from it, such as the fact that indie musicians tend to be dismissive of pop stars even when their own relevance is waining, it was the reaction to Albarn’s comments that was the real cause for concern.

Be it Swift’s followers on social media, or Jack Antonoff’s assertion, the readiness with which people were willing to fetch their pitchforks was more like a modern equivalent to a murderous mob you’d have witnessed during the reformation rather than a by-product of debate about popular music. If this is the way we are heading, it’s only going to end in disaster.

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