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Richard Elliott

Richard Elliott is Lecturer in Popular Music at the University of Sussex. His current research focuses on the representations of time, age, and experience in popular music as well as the relationship between music and materiality. He is the author of the books Fado and the Place of Longing (Ashgate, 2010), Nina Simone (Equinox, 2013), and The Late Voice: Time, Age and Experience in Popular Music (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).

“A Blank Space Where You Write Your Name: Taylor Swift’s Early Late Voice”
Taylor Swift’s songs invite listeners to connect art and life in the tradition, if not always the style, of the ‘confessional’ singer-songwriter. From an early age, Swift has written and sung about ‘big topics’ like time and experience with a remarkable sense of self-awareness. Her songs hymn youthful experience to great effect through references to specific ages or via more general depictions of girlishness, school, first loves, summer vacations, and family. Through her lyrical preoccupations, Swift exemplifies many aspects of what I call ‘late voice,’ a way of thinking about the writing and singing of time, age, and experience. My conceptualization of lateness considers artists and listeners not only in terms of conventional ‘late’ periods (i.e. old age), but as subjects who reflect on such issues throughout our lives. In the first part of this paper, I make the case for Swift as an exponent of ‘early late voice.’

While a number of commentators have picked up on the maturity of Swift’s writing voice, comparatively little attention has been paid to her singing. I address this gap by looking at the conflation of writing/singing in the singer-songwriter’s voice. I examine tensions that have been noted between Swift’s art and her star persona. To what extent, I ask, is the denigration of Swift’s musical style (her singing as much as her move towards chart pop) a gendered attack on young women’s voices? At the same time, what strategies have been used to authenticate Swift as an artist by other critics? I conclude with a discussion of Ryan Adams’s cover of Swift’s 1989 album and the critical discourse surrounding it, arguing that the ‘blank space’ of Swift’s voice becomes legitimated and appropriated by a critical discourse focused on roots, genre, and masculinity.

“Voice, Age, Gender”
This panel explores relationships between voice, age, and gender in popular music and its attendant discourse. Subjects covered include sound recording, Auto-Tune, slow history, and youthful, angelic, and aging vocal grains. Musical subjects covered include Aretha Franklin, Pastora Pavón, Bing Crosby, Grace Jones, Taylor Swift, and choirboys singing Christmas songs. 

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