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First take: Taylor Swift accents new single with hint of dubstep

October 09, 2012|By Randall Roberts | Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
  • Taylor Swift is changing things up a bit.
Taylor Swift is changing things up a bit. (Christopher Polk / Getty…)

It’s official: Taylor Swift has, at least for the moment, forsaken country two-step for the bottom-end bluster of electronic dubstep on her new single, “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Another teaser from her forthcoming album, "Red" (out Oct. 22), "Trouble" sees the erstwhile country-politan pop starlet go full throttle – relatively speaking.

A song whose lyrics coyly suggest a mystery fling just enough to prompt idle speculation, “I Knew You Were Trouble” sees Swift offering a terse track that climaxes with a bass drop, the current stylistic signifier of choice among pop stars looking to expand market share and stay relevant.  

Just as Pat Boone adapted the energy of Elvis Presley and Little Richard’s version of rock 'n' roll, and Creed targeted grunge fans looking for a Nirvana-lite alternative, Swift on her new single adds the stylistic flourish de jour in the form of a light and intensity-thin bass drop (a bass float?).

It’s unfair to criticize a 22-year-old for adapting with the times, though, especially considering the sound in question is merely one part of a precision-built machine that is “I Knew You Were Trouble.”  After all, Swift is the pop moment, and the ways in which she and her peers adapt new sounds and vibes into their work is the lifeblood of pop innovation. Even if the bass drop in question is a conceit – it’s not like the song is going to be a hit among dudes rocking to Rusko – the Max Martin/Shellback collaboration is made better by the bass (as is usually the case).

That something such as a dubstep accent can wend its way through musical culture like a virus, sneaking into tracks, becoming codified while being harnessed by American producers such as Skrillex and Zedd for its dizzying intensity, is one of the joys of tracking pop music. A sound forged in testosterone-filled British clubs a decade ago in the wake of the drum & bass 1990s, the dubstep bass drop prevails because of its tension-release thrills.

It’s for that reason that Swift’s use of it has prompted so much discussion. Pop has been sonically conservative for the past half-decade (at least). Any hint at evolution or surprise from the upper echelons of the charts is a welcome development. And even if said surprise is little and relatively inconsequential, it serves as a reminder of pop's fluidity.

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Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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