Few, if any, record-of-the-year Grammy Awards during the event’s 57-year history have gone to artists who consciously set out to win what long has been considered the music industry’s most prestigious award.
On the flip side, it’s a safe bet that of the five candidates for that honor going into Monday’s 58th Grammy ceremony, Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” is probably the only one that began as a joke, a song she initially didn’t think would end up on her “1989” album.
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Swift’s cheeky hit, in which the singer salivates at the prospect of reeling in the next victim of her insatiable appetite for romantic conquests, is vying with D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s steamy ballad “Really Love,” Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars’ party anthem “Uptown Funk,” Ed Sheeran’s hyper-romantic confession “Thinking Out Loud” and The Weeknd’s ode to love’s capacity to overwhelm “Can’t Feel My Face.”
Several weeks before “1989” was released, Swift talked about the song at her Beverly Hills home, saying, “I started writing it as a joke, but it ended up being everyone’s favorite.
“I pride myself on being self-aware,” she continued, “but I’ve also noticed there’s this drastic fictionalization of my personal life in the press. They’ll write that I’m needy, that I push people away, then I pull them back. I found this all fascinating.
“I was not happy with false narrative being painted with me in the press,” she said, “and if you have a problem with what’s being written about you, it’s your choice to do something about it.
“So I started thinking, ‘What if I were this girl — this whole [damaged] starlet thing?’ I’m going to write a song as if I were,” and then she punched up “Blank Space,” which features the lyrics “Oh, my God, look at that face, you look like my next mistake. Got a long list of ex-lovers/They’ll tell you I’m insane. But I’ve got a blank space, baby/And I’ll write your name.”
Shortly after the single’s release, it shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, spending seven weeks in the top spot at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015. The “Blank Space” video, in which she gleefully smashes a suitor’s luxury sports car after a spat, has logged nearly 1.5 billion views on YouTube. (That video came with a whimsical disclaimer: “No animals, trees, automobiles or actors were harmed in the making of this video.”)
The song’s tongue-in-cheek humor allowed Swift both to revel in the genre of women’s don’t-get-mad-get-even revenge fantasies while simultaneously sending them up, something she attributed to the artistic growth process she experienced while making “1989.” The record is Swift’s fifth studio album — and her third consecutive release to sell more than 1 million copies during its first week out.
“I had always had a huge fear concerning the idea of celebrity, and the circus you find yourself in when you’re lucky enough to have some success in the music field,” Swift, 26, told The Times. “I used to worry that the scope of things that inspire me would shrink.
“As a songwriter, that’s your No. 1 fear: that you’ll become less attuned to life itself, that you’ll start challenging yourself less and that you’ll find fewer places to go creatively,” said Swift, who, at 20, became the youngest person to win the album of the year Grammy for 2008’s “Fearless.”
“What’s happened for me is that the scope had broadened,” she said. “Honestly, I can look at someone else’s life and be inspired enough to write a song, to create a narrative to what they must be feeling. That’s been the most incredible realization.”