[Every weekday from Nov. 9 to Nov. 20, Song of the Day is surveying the past decade, one year (and one song) at a time, with an emphasis on America's most popular music. These picks don't exactly qualify as musical discoveries, but they do have something to say about the 10 years we're about to leave behind. Song of the Day will return to new music on Monday, Nov. 23. --ed.]
On Nov. 11, Taylor Swift, 19, was named the Country Music Awards' Entertainer of the Year. As the youngest artist ever to win the award — and only the seventh woman — Swift certified her country-pop star status. Her quick rise began in the fall of 2007 and carried well into 2008 with the success of "Teardrops on My Guitar," the second single from her debut album. The song crossed over to the pop charts (after the banjo was replaced with a drum loop, of course) and helped make Swift the best-selling artist of 2008.
In "Teardrops on My Guitar," Swift tells a common story. She likes this guy named Drew; he likes another girl; she fakes "a smile so he won't see" how much she hurts. Simple enough, but what differentiates Swift from other teen pop stars is that her songs impart viscerally what it feels like to be a teenager, when hyper-real emotions can still be conveyed with timidity. "Teardrops on My Guitar" demonstrates painfully how loving someone who doesn't know you exist can leave you raked with insecurity ("I bet she's beautiful") and choked by obsessive thoughts ("Can he tell that I can't breathe?").
Swift captures the physicality of yearning without over-selling or over-sexualizing it: "He's the reason for the teardrops on my guitar / The only thing that keeps me wishing on a wishing star / He's the song in the car I keep singing / Don't know why I do." It recalls classic songs by The Shirelles, The Crystals or The Cookies, who sang about teenage love with the same matter-of-fact passion that validated the feelings of so many young women.
"Teardrops on My Guitar" feels authentic, in part because Swift writes her own songs based on her own experiences: "Drew" is reportedly a real-life former classmate of hers, as well as a recipient of her unrequited affection. During a decade in which teenagers learned to express the most intimate details of their lives through social media, it's nice to know that their confessions can still be universalized in an age-old tool of expression: the three-minute pop song.
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