Karma police, because let’s face it: this song comes from a petty place, and for a minute there she loses herself, letting the mask slip, belittling her tormentor. Otherwise, like most of her songs not related to Boy Trouble, it’s a tremendous act of big-hearted spirit and generosity, and sounds as such. People like to talk about Taylor Swift’s accomplishments in business and monetary terms, because that’s where they’re most pronounced, but what goes missing in this conversation is how all the accolades and achievements are a direct correlation to her artistry, which is undervalued for sociocultural reasons too complicated to get into now. Suffice it to say, were she not a young blonde pretty girl who sings about love I think we’d be focusing instead on her immense prowess with words and structure, the way her gift of melody is tied to her rhythmic cadences and impressive ear, and how her sense of narrative is such that she sees the personal as universal. Because for all their greatness, have the likes of Miranda Lambert or Jamey Johnson been able to do this? To turn an experience so individually specific into something that speaks to, and for, a larger concern? In songs like this, or “Fifteen” or “The Best Day” or “Never Grow Up,” Swift becomes didactic in the best way: providing a path for those who follow her to remember to live their lives with dignity and respect for themselves and others. And for a lot of kids, that’s the exact message they need.
2. Billy Currington, “Love Done Gone”
When it begins, it’s gob-smacking. What is all this Michael Bublery? What saves its initial finger-snapping fedora’d ba-ba-ba horn section is its urgency and glee, its brazenness and pop. And then the song takes a turn, Currington describing the end of the affair as something that just happens. None of these histrionics we’re so used to getting, about the end of love as tragedy. Sometimes it’s just a shrug, inexplicable and seemingly random. A part of life, like death. And as the song winds down the horns get more joyous and drunken and alive, like Currington is having a helluva time at the wake, like sometimes a relationship’s death is a new lease on life, like the whole of New Orleans is telling you to get up and go.
3. Sunny Sweeney, “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving”
Her first hit was a thorny and controversial description of infidelity; why this didn’t catch on was it was an even more complicated take on exactly how hard it is to be true to the one you’re with, when you’re doing it because you’re supposed to and not because it’s what either of you want. A breathtaking, mournful lament about the inevitable fade of love and devotion, and being stuck with the remnants of those memories.
4. Pistol Annies, “Hell On Heels”
If Destiny’s Child were Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt, covering the Shangri-Las.
5. Zac Brown Band, “Colder Weather”
A song that fumbles with its words enough to make it sound intentionally eliding while making the sound do all the work: the stately piano shivers in conjunction with the violin, while Brown’s throaty purr tries its damndest to warm himself up.
6. Eric Church, “Drink In My Hand”
Take this job and shove it, everybody’s working for the weekend, where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away.
7. Martina McBride, “Teenage Daughters”
When Taylor Swift has children of her own, you can bet she’ll write the same gracious and loving odes to them as she does to her mother. In the meantime, we have this impeccably snarling ode to motherhood, with the love certainly there but also the fascinating resentment, the weary wariness, the hard-earned alcoholism. McBride’s wry vocal performance is a delight.
8. Taylor Swift, “Sparks Fly”
Shining like lighters in the dark in the middle of a rock show.
9. Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter, “You and Tequila”
The latest in a long tradition of country singers being seduced by Los Angeles and waking up next to the Devil, hoping for one more night.
10. Easton Corbin, “I Can’t Love You Back”
Country music has always been good with titles, and this one seems ready to be a riposte until it flips expectations, becoming instead a classic, mournful bit of wordplay that the ludicrously-named Corbin belts like his life depended on it.