In 2014, Taylor Swift released what is likely to be her defining album, 1989. Less than a year later, Ryan Adams released a track-by-track cover album (also called 1989) that seems to have already faded from public memory.…
Adams' album achieved mild notoriety because of what happened at Pitchfork, a well-regarded hipster music website. Pitchfork reviewed Adams cover album despite having not reviewed Swift's album.…
Pitchfork was accused of sexism. It definitely looked like it: here's a female pop star who is well known for writing her own songs, but deemed unworthy of even being reviewed, but when a man sings her songs he gets a thoughtful (albeit negative) review.
Pitchfork's decision to take Adams side looks even worse now that we know Adams is a sexual harasser and MeToo bad guy and now that Taylor Swift is a MeToo hero (indeed, Time magazine Person of the Year for her role as a harassment whistleblower).
Pitchfork later went back back and rated all of Swift's albums (they gave 1989 a 7.7, 5 years late)…. I assume the (valid) criticism stung them.
Another possibility is that the Swift turnabout is a reflection of the broader turn in critical thinking from rockism to poptimism. It's relevant that the rockism perspective is often criticized for its de facto sexism and racism. I think this mini-controversy exemplifies that.
Pitchfork only gave Adams 1989 a 4.0. That's consistent with an album that has become forgotten. But I think the review is unduly harsh. I think that the Adams album is artistically successful, even if it's not as good as Swift's.
To evaluate Adams' album means dealing with the question of irony. Are these covers ironic or sincere? To my knowledge Adams has only ever claimed the covers represent a sincere appreciation in interviews.
That makes sense listening to the album. The music sound very sincere. It's clearly made with a great deal of care and respect; it's not some kind of drunk joke, it's not satire. Critically, it highlights the strengths of the material.
The natural interpretation, then, of Adams' album, is that Adams is endorsing Swift's songwriting, and asking audiences who would be turned off by its pop production to appreciate its fundamentals.
Ironically, Adams' album read that way is a preemptive critique of venues like Pitchfork for ignoring high quality pop music. At the very least Adams succeeded in forcing Pitchfork to review Swift's songs.
Pitchfork claimed Adams' album is "fun to think about but not much fun to listen to". I don't understand that - the songwriting shines though, and Adams is clearly a talented musician. It's a very straightforward cover album, and it works because the material is strong.
I worry that the Pitchfork review is negative because the reviewers failed to really grapple with the implication of Adams' album - that Swift produces great writing - she's not just well produced. The Pitchfork review seems unwilling to admit that.
Many parts of the review tiptoe around the idea that Swift's songwriting is empty, and only interesting because the production is interesting.
This doesn't mean Adams' 1989 is a masterpiece. It's got many good ideas, but they are small ideas. It's mostly redundant in the way that a well-produced alternative version of a well-known song would be - there's no reason to keep both around, and the original is superior.
Since 2015, Swift has gained a lot more appreciation, including for her writing and lyrics, from music cognoscenti. A small amount of that probably comes from Adams' efforts.

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