Taylor Swift V Ryan Adams: Who Wore It Better?

Taylor v Ryan: Who wore it better?

Taylor v Ryan: Who wore it better?

Ryan Adams totally copied Taylor Swift’s “1989” album — including the title. And now there’s controversy over to who deserves credit for the “depth” and “complexity” of Adams’ cover?

Okay, Ryan didn’t merely copy her. He did bring his own style to her music and lyrics.

But really? Maybe he deserves ALL the credit for his album’s profundity?

Gender ranking masculinity over femininity

Gender ranking strikes again.

Whatever you think of the two albums, the instinct to dismiss Swift’s album as “just pop” and Adams’ version as “artistic” is likely tied to the powerful ways in which the music industry, and our own experience of music, has a thumb on the scale in favor of men and masculine genres.

So says Prof. Lisa Wade over at Sociological Images.

Jacqui Frost over at There’s Research on That! says male musicians typically get more critical recognition and are seen as more legitimate artists.

Audrey Bilger @ Ms. points to research showing that women are judged more harshly than men in a variety of fields. Like last year’s Stanford study on gender in the sciences:

When evaluating identical resumes, scientists may be significantly less likely to agree to mentor, offer jobs, or recommend equal salaries to a candidate if the name at the top of the resume is Jennifer, rather than John.

Men and masculinity are taken more seriously

Frost notes that those musical genres that are more associated with women are taken less seriously.

Can we forgive Justin Timberlake for all that sissy music?

Can we forgive Justin Timberlake for all that sissy music?

Reminds me of a 2002 Details Magazine cover asking (amidst other sexist things):

Can we ever forgive Justin Timberlake for all that (NSYNC) sissy music?

Girls like it. It can’t be any good.

I suspect that my own preference for Bruce Springsteen arose from listening to too many music critics who think that masculine music is just better.

So I was struck by how Adams’ critically acclaimed cover was described as Springsteen-ish.

And it’s interesting that we stereotype women as having more emotional depth — until it comes to male music reviewers reviewing male versus female music.

Is that because we are so shocked when men reveal emotion that the experience feels more gripping?

Valuing patriarchal suffering?

Or do critics value suffering over joy because patriarchy does? Riane Eisler (The Chalice and the Blade) points out that art in “dominance cultures” tend toward celebrating death and suffering (Jesus on the Cross; Taliban banning dancing, music and joy), whereas pre-patriarchal paleolithic and neolithic art celebrates life and joy (the Goddess giving birth — and plenty of dancing and music).

Love Springsteen, but he can be morose. And Adam’s cover has been described as:

(Holding) an underlying sadness… dripping with regret… lamenting lost opportunities… melancholic.

But Swift?

Full of excitement and joy … provided a mistakes-I-learned-from-and-grew-from hopeful reflection… celebrating her strengths and admitting her weaknesses and ultimately making them positive things.

Swift and Adams have both produced outstanding albums. Both have landed on Billboard’s Top 10, and some expect to see the two competing for a Grammy.

But how does it make sense to question whether Adam’s work deserves ALL the credit for his album’s profundity and all around excellency? When Swift created the original — and originally thoughtful and thought-provoking — work?

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 16, 2015, in feminism, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. Adam did create something new and. ProfoundER. This time around.

    • It will seem that way to someone who has a bias toward 1) men and masculinity and 2) the notion that “morose” is more profound than a more joyous “mistakes-I-learned-from-and-grew-from” perspective.

    • as “someone who has a bias towards men and masculinity” (you certainly have not seen my record collection, playlists, Rhapsody queues or been to all those concerts I have, . but you might agree that few artists w/penis’ are as profound as joni Mitchell. I regularly love looking in again on yr posts, but generalization, as you know, is the core of sexism.

      “Artists With Penis’?” AWP? got the tee shirt

      • I’m trying to get people to question whether they perceive Adams as being more profound because we value men and masculinity more.

        I see no reason to think that profound music is masculine sounding and morose versus music which sounds feminine and hopeful.

        Swift providing “a mistakes-I-learned-from-and-grew-from hopeful reflection… celebrating her strengths and admitting her weaknesses and ultimately making them positive things” sounds every bit as profound (and maybe more so) than Adam’s “underlying sadness… dripping with regret… lamenting lost opportunities… melancholic.”

        Insisting Adams is more profound seems likely due to an underlying male bias that is unconsciously affecting perception. Especially since plenty of evidence adjustment this happens all the time: valuing men or women when you have identical resumes, art, essays, and symphony tryouts and yet a male name makes it all seem better.

        As I asked in the post: how does it make sense to question whether Adam’s work deserves ALL the credit for his album’s profundity and all around excellency? When Swift created the original — and originally thoughtful and thought-provoking — work?

        It is the height of sexism to suggest that Swift lacked profundity until Adams came along and provided it.

    • In this case, I’m not sure if you can attribute it much to gender. I mean, plenty of music that dominated by male artists – e.g. boy bands, for instance, aren’t taken seriously, either. Do Justin Bieber or One Direction get much critical acclaim for anything? lol

      • But the boy bands are singing “sissy music.” And that isn’t respected.

        By the way, I see no reason why Ryan Adams couldn’t be seen as more profound to a particular person. And That can be completely legitimate. But there is a social pattern that tends to see masculine music as more profound, and that bias could be affecting people’s experiences of Adams versus Taylor Swift. So it is also completely legitimate to see Taylor Swifts album as more profound. And crazy to wonder if Adams is the one who created the profundity of his album without any help from her.

      • Not that familiar with both albums, so I can’t really make a musical critique, but I feel music is one arena where the female experience does have more legitimacy, but like in many arenas there’s still that history of being male dominated. Masculine as more profound, hmmm, interesting statement, I suppose in the general sense that more ‘male’ dominated affairs like war or politics take precedence over ‘female’ affairs, whatever that is. I think even in events like War, while I don’t like to celebrate war, it’s obvious things wouldn’t happen without women working both behind the scenes and on the front line, like the homefront during World War II and the nurses to use one example.

        Personally, there are many great female singer songwriters for instance I respect greatly, like some say Kate Bush is one of the best female/women singer-songwriters, but I think she’s one of the best (in my opinion) period. I think there are certainly many female musicians who I have just as much respect for, but of course in the early days it was a mostly a male domain. Having said that, from the earliest days of popular music women had more of a ‘voice’ (both literally and figuratively) in music than other areas, which is encouraging, since music is so tied up in the ’emotional world.’ From Billy Holiday’s melancholy tones, to the scatty and upbeat Ella Fitzgerald, more full-throated blues singers like Big Mama Thornton, and more and more later on. Rock’n’roll and rock, and indeed rap, often channeled aggression and some might say libido, in a way that some might see as very much from a male-point of view.

      • I’m glad you are able to appreciate, and find profound, many women artists.

  2. Weird, isn’t it? I see the same when it comes to male and female authors. Sad.

    • Yeah. Some female others have even changed their names to men’s names to get published and get acclaim. Also found them were female musicians are hired for symphonies if the screen is placed so that you can’t determine gender when choosing new symphony members.

  3. What are you talking about female muscians taken less lightly than male muscians. the thing that happens for female artists is they are judged more on their looks and sex appeal. But The likes of Christina Aguilerra, Beyonce knowles, aretha franklin, and so many more. As they not seen as music legends? And bigger stars and musicians than say 3 doors down and a good band but in a away underrated..Train?

    • To be taken seriously women have to really go above and beyond. Out of that list I believe Aretha Franklin is the only one who is really fully appreciated. But using looks and sex appeal to promote yourself is likely to distract from your artistry. My guess is that if Ryan Adams covered Christina or Beyoncé he would be considered more artistic.

      • There’s a duality to aguilera and Beyonce. Sure beyonce and aguiler are praised for their sex appeal and looks, but they also are tops artists because of their talent. Part of the reason they are touted is because of the many top hits they’ve had and their natural talent, meaning both women can really sing and have great voices. That’s not completely true for some main stream artists who have synthesizers aidiing their voice or not really good live. Like Britney spears I would say is an artists, because of sex and the dancing and promoting herself and not really for her voice. She’s not a good singer at all, and while many artists lip sync, britney has lip synched most of her songs. I don’t know if he would be considered more artistic.

      • Sure, but Taylor is probably considered as good an artist as Christina or Beyoncé.

    • @ Bob,

      “the thing that happens for female artists is they are judged more on their looks and sex appeal.”

      Is that not what the real problem is all about? What that means is that if you are a woman, your talent, intelligence, creativity, etc is valued less unless you are “hot” and sexy….That is just plain wrong.

      What’s really pathetic is that this view is so prevalent in so many other areas of society. I use to listen to a local conservative talk show host in Baltimore..Whenever he mentioned Christiane Amanpour of CNN, he would always talk about “very ugly” or “hideous” she was..Never anything about her achievements, skills, the fact that she spoke several languages…

      I often ask myself just why we men do this when we are born from a woman and we have daughters, aunts, wives etc. Does that mean we don’t care if the women we love are subjected to this type of treatment?

      As for the topic at hand, I am unfamiliar with either of the artist. Just do not follow hardly any musicians, etc…How is something that someone else did considered “profound?”

      • Yes, Huggy, that is a huge part of the problem.

        And men sometimes to bring this up (And thanks for doing so):

        I often ask myself just why we men do this when we are born from a woman and we have daughters, aunts, wives etc. Does that mean we don’t care if the women we love are subjected to this type of treatment?

        That’s an interesting question. I should discuss it on my blog sometime.

  4. Thank you for pointing this out- I totally missed the sexism that was inherent to the critiques. It’s amazing how this stuff still happens and so important for people like you to point it out so the rest of us can see. I haven’t listened to his take on Swift’s work but am now very curious.

    • Must admit that I’m not the first to point this out. But I have been telling my classes for years that I’ve wondered if the reason I think Bruce Springsteen is so great is partly because of music critics who hear through a bias that ranks the masculine above the feminine.

  5. I just listened to this dude, and I can understand why it’s perceived more artistic, because it’s a slower, more seriousl, reflective like beat, which could cause that from critics who don’t know better. But I’m not impressed by his music at all. From a musician myself, I like that he does his own thing and doesn’t simply cover a song, but tries his own sound. But I just listened to the shake it off cover, but then another one and they found similar, there isn’t creativity between the different covers. They have similar sound. Good musicians can have a style they incoroporate to their songs, but they can mix it up from one song or cover to the other and do different things. I have to ask as I don’t really know who this guy is and never heard of him until you wrote his name, This guy must have a lot of moeny to pay Taylor Swift and musicians to do covers of their songs and pay them or he must know taylor or something to approve, but it’s can’t be just that, as he has pay other ones as she’s not he only artist he’s done a cover song to. I know some people in bands, family and local bands and while many bands will play cover songs. Most do, it’s easier that way and plays to the crowd as bands want songs people know and will like. My brother in law is a lead singer and writes his own but does covers too. But that’s why most bands while doing cover songs, bands who try to make it big they write their own songs and have to. Because you can’t become mainstream by covering others or sell albums as it’s copyright infringement.

    Bands at local events or bars can do cover songs, but it’s a small venue and it’s not profit as in selling an album. Bands or singers can do cover songs live or even have something on fb youtube or social media to an extent. But a muscian can’t use another artists espcialy on elike taylor swfit or oasis who ryan adams did a cover too “wonderwall”. You can’t do a cover song, and sell it and make proft from it through sales. Say make a cd and it’s cover songs and goes mainstream. You’d get sued by those artists. He has these songs on youtube, which if they are live events recorded showing him play. But these are lyric vidoes which get more than a millions views, which in return he’s making profit from another artists work from. Believe it or not, people are and can make a good amount of $ from youtube, posting videos, if and when they get a lot of subscribers or get in the million views or more category. A person can make money with less than a million views. But when you get a lot ot people subscribing to your page or uploads from youtube, you get paid from the ads. It’s from ads and a person gets a check from youtube. You have to do well and have something pretty popular as far as what’s being watched. This ryan adams guy has 1 millions plus views for his taylor swift and oasis cover songs. So I’d think he’s asking to be sued if he hasn’t paid them to have the right to use thier songs and not just that but to make big profit and selling it. Which posting and having so many hits from it would equate to profiting from other artists songs.

  6. What an interesting debate ~ and I can see how people will debate this (men relate to men better and vice-versa with women). I prefer TS, just because I admire the way she approaches music, business and life…but was quite surprised by Ryan Adam’s take on it. Hmmm, depends on the mood as to which one I like best, but can see where the bias can be.

    • I’m sure that one’s mood would also affect how the experience the albums.

      But one album does reflect more masculine and patriarchal values and the other more feminine and non-patriarchal values. So since we live in a patriarchal culture that values men and masculinity, It’s not so surprising that so many think that his album is more profound, Even though looking at things with regret… lamenting lost opportunities doesn’t actually seem to be more profound than a mistakes-I-learned-from-and-grew-from hopeful reflection. In fact, the latter is a lot more complex.

  7. I had not listened to any Ryan Adams music until now, although I have probably heard him on the radio without realising it. I did not like any of the tracks that I played.

    I also read a few articles about equality in music. I came across this webpage that was interesting:

    http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/the-power-list-why-women-arent-equals-in-new-music-leadership-and-innovation/

  8. A lot of my girl friends prefer to be in a relationship with or marry someone who’s rather masculine. Some of them even show an extreme hatred towards “sissy boys”. I suppose it is partly because they just like it that way. However, giving it more thought, the root should be “[g]ender ranking masculinity over femininity”, which is a part of patriarchy. Men are supposed to be strong, to hide emotions, and to avoid anything feminine, despite the fact that some people are born to be “sissy”. Instead, I believe human beings all have both masculinity and femininity. It is just about personal identity. Some are tougher, some are more emotional, some are more ambitious while some are more nurturing, based on your gene, living background, etc. But it has nothing to do with gender.
    I just hope one day, people will be freed from inappropriate expectations and restrictions by the society. We could be ourselves without worrying about being judged or devalued.

  9. With regard to both of these albums withholding the intentions of providing an input on the artists perspective of their personal feelings, the common practice of many male artist types of music falling under the stereotype of being intended for female listeners, this practice creates a whole biased on mens general idea of women itself.Also, it is easy to see how this notion may relate to the one of how many first time listeners may interpret an artists music in a negative manner based on a common stereotype made about the artist that may be portrayed in the eyes of the media.

  10. My initial response was “whhaatt?” My thought on all art is credit goes to the original. Then I listened and I watched the interview and felt better. In today’s society, the greater population is a spectrum of ideas; therefore, some people will like the original because its the original. Some will like Adam’s for his vibe. Then, others will fall completely into constructs they don’t even realize. Women will like Adams version, because some like men and some because they don’t like her. My point is that there are a million+ possibilities. When Nora Jones did a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Cry Cry Cry” plenty of people like and hated it. Jones has done 72 covers, mostly all were previously recorded by men. So my point, anyone who likes the male version of anything especially in terms of art only because it was created by a male in our patriarchal society, I urge them to think about that.

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