Spoiler alert: This song is just an excuse to talk about Taylor Swift. Sorry, it’s Lover release week—everything is just an excuse for me to talk about Taylor Swift. (Not that I really need an excuse to talk about Taylor Swift…)
So. Anyway. Taylor Swift.
“Fast Slow Disco” was apparently her idea. At least, that’s Annie told Matt Wilkinson duing a Beats 1 interview. Taylor heard “Slow Disco,” told Jack Antonoff that it would make a great pop song, Jack told Annie, and, boom, “Fast Slow Disco.” Because what Taylor Swift wants, Taylor Swift gets. And, also, because has a real knack for hearing the untapped pop potential in other artist’s songs.
It’s been awhile since she did a cover, but, back when she did them regularly, it was fun to hear her edit other people’s music; tweaking melodies to be catchier, adjusting pacing to be more dramatic. She didn’t always make adjustments—there was plenty of stadium-sized karaoke—but when she did, it was a window into her songwriting process/a burnishing of her #reputation as a pop savant.
In 2010, she covered “Ain’t Nothin’ About You” as part of Brooks & Dunn’s televised “retirement” send off. She was Country’s favorite daughter—just a few months out from winning Album of the Year for Fearless and years away from meeting Max Martin—and, accordingly, she got to sing Brooks & Dunn’s biggest hit. “Ain’t Nothin’ About You” spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Country charts in 2001. It was the biggest country song of the year and it peaked at No. 25 on the Hot 100, which is impressive considering it’s just two old-ass men with mustaches leisurely crooning over a distinctive guitar riff. But Taylor’s cover is different. And, in retrospect, an omen. Taylor’s cover is spirited, transcendently hormonal, and pop. It sounds like the type of song that crosses over; the type that cracks the Top 10 and hangs out there for months and months; the type song she was about to start writing. She managed to imbue the song with the energy of a youthful, wide-eyed crush by speeding it up just a touch and really digging into the chorus (the way she rushes through “there ain’t NOTHIN’ bout you” to decelerate into “that don’t SOMETHIN’ for me”... magic!).
A year later, Taylor dug up “Nashville” an obscure album cut by David Mead, an indie singer-songwriter with ties to collaborator-slash-ex, John Mayer, to perform at one of her Nashville Speak Now tour shows. The original song (which only has about 500K plays on Spotify) sounds like one of those twee, mid-’00s Grey’s Anatomy ballads. No real drama… but lots of acoustic guitar and a soft, sensitive male vocal. It is… fine. Unless you’re Taylor Swift. Then it’s the first draft of an epic, stadium-sized power ballad. She slows the whole thing way, way, way down; stretching out each word and adding a full minute to the song’s runtime. It’s all slow-burning rumination and regret until the three-minute mark, when everything picks up and she starts building to big, dramatic “NAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-HAAA-shville.” It sounds nothing like the original and every bit like a superstar contemplating life as “A fast train/Blowin' through a valley.”
In conclusion: Taylor Swift. Stream “Cruel Summer.”