Taylor Swift, “I’d Lie” (Unreleased, 200?)
A thing I like about unreleased Taylor songs is the way they offer glimpses into her songwriting. “I’d Lie” sounds early, and it’s clear why she never put it on an album; melodically, it includes transparent swipes from Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” (which Taylor would regularly cover on the Speak Now tour) and Saving Jane’s “Girl Next Door” (a 2005 song later covered by Julie Roberts with a similar theme to Swift’s “You Belong With Me”).
The tune is like an outline of a Taylor Swift song: there is a boy defined by a set of attributes (“And I could tell you his favorite color’s green/he loves to argue/born on the seventeenth” — note the Swift device of delivering information by funneling it through her own subjectivity: I could tell you); there’s a Tayloresque focus on his eyes (this time she’s counting the colors in them); and the lyric is built around a single phrase, which in this case is, “If you ask if I love him, I’d lie.”*
But it’s a pretty thin song, really. Its details don’t have the richness of her release material — there are no lines here that conceal entire back stories in a handful of words the way there are in “Picture to Burn” (“I hate that stupid old pick-up truck you never let me drive”) or “Mine” (“a careless man’s careful daughter”), for instance, But it’s a pleasant tune as much as it is a revealing blueprint. In another universe, there’s a less talented Taylor Swift who only lands a modest run of anonymous singles on country radio, and even in that dimension, she’s pretty good.
* Building a song by playing around with a single memorable phrase is a common country music trick and it leads astray a lot of people who listen to Swift but don’t know much about country. Because country lyrics are about stories and language, because country music is about culture and community, and because there is an accepted division of labor between the singer and the songwriter, the words in a country song belong simultaneously to the performer voicing them and the country everyperson to whom they could belong. That’s why a performer can sing a range of songs that are entirely contradictory in tone or intent or outlook across his catalogue: he’s isn’t trying to create an authentic representation of self the way an artist in the pop rock tradition does, but an authentic representation of the community he claims to represent. What’s interesting about Taylor is that she adopts the country approach, but, while doing so, creates a voice that is distinctly individual, shaped by her own personal hang-ups and oddities and biography. She is always both Taylor and anybody, her essential self intrinsically composed of a variety of contradictory voices.