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26 January 2022

Insult Taylor Swift at your peril: Damon Albarn looks sexist and out of touch

Damon Albarn is not the first man in music to undermine Taylor Swift. And he’s not the first to regret it, either.

By Sarah Carson

In 2022, you have to be a Luddite not to know that Taylor Swift writes her own songs. It is her uncanny ability to turn her most vulnerable and joyful experiences into absolute bangers that has made her such a prodigious and dominating star: not her voice, not her guitar playing, and certainly not her personal life. Songwriting is a talent she has nurtured since childhood, and she is credited as a writer or co-writer on every single song on every single one of her nine albums to date.

Swift’s achievements are so ubiquitous and well-respected that even those with only a passing interest in popular culture know about them. Even those who don’t like her are usually responding to her songwriting: whether they find her too childish, too honest or too hysterical, the reason so many people feel like they know Taylor Swift is because she has chronicled her most painful and intimate moments in her music since she was a teenager. To be unaware that she is a songwriter is to be wilfully ignorant, or – in the case of Damon Albarn – extremely out of touch.

In an interview published by the Los Angeles Times on 23 January to promote his upcoming solo album, the Blur and Gorillaz frontman was asked about modern musicians and, prompted about Swift, said that she is not a songwriter. That she is a co-writer (true in the case of lots of her songs, which she has written with the likes of Jack Antonoff or Max Martin, but this by no means devalues her talent). “That doesn’t count,” 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.”

Immediately, readers reacted by calling him “myopic”, “sexist” and “blindly stupid”. Swift herself took to Twitter, in one of her most colourful posts yet. “I was such a big fan of yours until I saw this. I write ALL of my own songs. Your hot take is completely false and SO damaging. You don’t have to like my songs but it’s really fucked up to try and discredit my writing. WOW.” She followed it up with that familiar biting wit most can recognise from her music: “PS I wrote this tweet all by myself in case you were wondering.”

The exchange blew up (never underestimate a Swiftie), and it took Albarn 70 minutes to respond (seriously, never underestimate a Swiftie). “I totally agree with you,” he wrote. “I had a conversation about songwriting and sadly it was reduced to clickbait. I apologise unreservedly and unconditionally. The last thing I would want to do is discredit your songwriting. I hope you understand. – Damon.”

The backpedalling is embarrassing. It feels like particularly bad form to blame the journalist when Albarn has previous form with this – he has also dismissed artists like Rihanna and Adele. But the immediate retraction also makes me rejoice: Albarn’s rapid response to his misfire, tail between his legs, feels like a certain kind of vindication for those of us who have long known how often Swift – and many women artists – are undermined by established, older men. It was once a badge of honour for men to claim they’d never heard a Taylor Swift song – so common she has lampooned it herself in her 2012 song “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, when she rolls her eyes at an ex who only listens to “some indie record that’s much cooler than mine”. This latest debacle proves that being ignorant about Taylor Swift and the full weight of her talent is nothing to be proud of.

Swift is a force to be reckoned with. More than once, she has challenged the music industry and won, taking on sexist execs, Spotify and, in the past couple of years, the ambitious project of re-recording her first six albums after the rights to original masters were sold to Scooter Braun without her permission. The rights to the songs that – to be clear once again – she wrote, about her own life.

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In fact, had Albarn been paying attention, he’d know that Swift not only writes her own songs, but that patronising and sexist exchanges just like this one often make their way into her music. (Highlights, if you’re asking, include “Bad Blood”, “Blank Space”, “Mean”, “Better Than Revenge”, “Picture to Burn”, “I Did Something Bad”, and “Should’ve Said No”.) Perhaps if he had heeded those warnings, and taken note of the litany of male antagonists Swift has left in her wake, he might have kept his mouth shut.

[See also: Why is Taylor Swift re-recording her old albums?]

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