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Swift versus Albarn. The answer is in the ear of the beholder

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

Damon Albarn's spat with Taylor Swift has reminded me of a private rage I have felt about one of the greatest pop songs of this century. We will come back to what song that is and the source of my rage in a bit. A reminder though of what Albarn said:

“I know what co-writing is. 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.”

Not surprisingly Swift and her fans were quick to hit back and Albarn swiftly (sorry, couldn't resist) offered an apology, of sorts. The issue here is about music snobbery. Some artists are at genius level and can write, produce and sing their own songs. One of my favourite albums of all time, George Michael's Older, is mostly written and produced by him, but he also worked with producers on certain tracks. The greatest pop/rock band of all time - The Beatles - produced some of their finest work with George Martin as the producer. Collaboration therefore is always involved at some level. In Albarn's case, for much of his career, bandmates are his collaborators. He may be the driving force, but how songs develop is defined by working together with others.

This brings me back to what Albarn said about Swift and the song that has frustated me over the years. When I first saw Adele perform Someone Like You on Jools Holland I was entranced. It is a stunning and beautifully crafted song and her performance was sensational. Months later she performed it on the Brits and the song's trajectory went stellar. But like all of the album 21, the track is a co-write (there are at least six different writers credited across the ten original songs). Someone Like You was written alongside Dan Wilson, who is a member of the band Semisonic (check out the excellent Secret Smile if you don't know it).

When I discovered Someone Like You was a co-write, I got increasingly annoyed with Adele's PR around the track and its very personal story. At no time did I hear her praise Wilson for his work in developing the track into the classic pop song that it is. So bothered was I, that I even mentioned it to a songwriting colleague of Wilson during an interview. Jerry Messersmith was a mentee of Wilson's but told me not to worry, replying; "I have been to Dan's house, I think he's getting all the credit he deserves for that song".

Still my anger simmered though because it's not the financial reward I was bothered about, it was giving someone credit for their work. Their contribution. But I have told this story a few times and the general feeling I get, especially from Adele fans, is that they are not moved or bothered in the way I am. This is the issue with Albarn's rather superior take on songwriting. Taylor Swift has produced some great pop songs - All Too Well is close to Someone Like You in my mind - and how those songs germinate and eventually emerge isn't important to her audience. They care about whether the song appeals to them. Are songs by Blur or Gorillaz 'better' because an outsourced professional songwriter wasn't used? I don't think so. So just like Albarn I need to let go of my rage about the process and just enjoy the music.


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