Taylor Swift's Cover Of September Ripped Apart By Original Co-Writer
"I mean, the girl didn't kill anybody. She didn't run over your foot."
wOn Monday Taylor Swift won big at the Billboard Music Awards, taking out the awards for Top Selling Album for Reputation as well as Top Female Artist.
One person who probably won't be giving her an award any time soon is songwriter Allee Willis. Willis co-wrote Earth, Wind & Fire's iconic song "September", which Swift released a cover of last month.
While the original 1978 version is a psychedelic funk trip, Swift pared things down with a plucky banjo and some country sensitivities. Essentially she made "September" a kind of slumberous track you'd play to alert dinner guests it was time to book an Uber home.
Initially, Willis was thrilled to learn that Swift would be covering the track, releasing a statement a few hours before it dropped which said just that.
"So I got to sleep happy and excited, but by the time I wake up -- on Friday the 13th, I might add -- the Internet was already a 28-alarm fire."
Speaking at a performance at the City Theatre in Detroit on Friday Willis took Swift to task on her choices in the song but also the completely OTT reaction to it.
"On the same day things happened in Syria, the FBI broke into Michael Cohen's office... the worst thing that happened as far as the Internet was concerned on this 449th day of all of our brains feeling like they've been hurled back and forth like squash balls, the top-trending topic on Twitter was the Taylor Swift cut of 'September'. I didn't really think she did a horrible job."
Yes, I felt it was as lethargic as a drunk turtle dozing under a sunflower after ingesting a bottle of Valium, and I thought it had all the build of a one-story motel, but, I mean, the girl didn't kill anybody.
Swift also made two major changes to the lyrics of the song which Willis wasn't a fan of.
Firstly she shifted the iconic first line from the 21st to the 28th night of September.
"Everyone has a right to do with a song what they please, so go on with your own bad self, Taylor Swift. I'm honoured you'd choose to do my song and that it meant enough to you that you wanted to personalise it to the goddamn 28th night of September..."
When Swift's cover was released it sent fans into instant detective-mode, trying to figure out what the date change meant. As Vox's Constance Grady points out it's a classic Swiftian Easter Egg that is so overt, with such little impact it allows fans to add all the subtext they want.
The basic consensus was that Swift changed the lyric to honour the anniversary of her and her current beau, Joe Alwyn. Alwyn and Swift's relationship has been kept incredibly private, except for the heavy-handed nods Swfit gives to fans.
The date-shift seems benign but it essentially re-frames the song, a universal track of celebration and love, to something intimately Swift's. Or supposedly Swift and Alwyns, but due to past relationships being turned against her the pair are almost never spotted together. Their entire public relationship is built on inference, reference and these classic "Easter egg" moments.
Alwyn functions more as a ghost in Swift's life, one that she happily utilises in her music -- rarely spotted in public he merely haunts the subtext of her tracks.
The date change wasn't the only switch Swift made, rather than the iconic "ba-dee-ya" sung throughout "September", the 28-year-old sang "ah-ai-ah".
"That you wanted to cover it with banjo," Willis continued, "and that you changed the sacred ba-de-ya to the more Caucasian ah-ah-ah and make it sound more like a field of daffodils than a Soul Train line".
In an interview with NPR in 2014, Willis explained the significance of the seemingly meaningless "ba-dee-ya", a phrase Earth Wind & Fire's Maurice White would regularly use.
"So right from the beginning he was singing, 'Ba-dee-ya, say, do you remember / Ba-dee-ya, dancing in September.' And I said, 'We are going to change 'ba-dee-ya' to real words, right?'"
When Willis realised White had no plans to sub in other lyrics she snapped, demanding to know "What the fuck does 'ba-dee-ya' mean?"
"He essentially said, 'Who the fuck cares? I learned my greatest lesson ever in songwriting from him, which was never let the lyric get in the way of the groove."
Still, despite her criticisms of the cover, Willis gave Swift the benefit of the doubt.
"She didn't run over your foot. She just cut a very calm and somewhat boring take of one of the peppiest, happiest, most popular songs in history."
Featured image: Getty Images.