Innocent (Taylor Swift song)

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"Innocent"
Song by Taylor Swift
from the album Speak Now
ReleasedOctober 25, 2010 (2010-10-25)
GenrePop
Length5:02
LabelBig Machine
Songwriter(s)Taylor Swift
Producer(s)
Licensed audio
"Innocent" on YouTube

"Innocent" is a song by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, taken from her third studio album, Speak Now (2010). Produced by Swift and Nathan Chapman, the song was written in response to Kanye West's interruption of her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, feeling the need to sympathize with him after the public outrage he received. A gentle pop ballad with tender vocals, its lyrics are about a protagonist's encouragement of a man who has committed wrongdoings, claiming him to hold innocence and believing that he could redeem himself.

Following the album's release, the song peaked at numbers 27 and 53 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and Canadian Hot 100 charts respectively. Music critics gave "Innocent" mixed reviews; some viewed the song as a sympathetic message and praised Swift's songwriting, but others criticized it as patronizing and condescending. Swift performed the song live at the following year's MTV Video Music Awards on September 12, a month prior to the release of Speak Now, as a means of putting the controversy behind her and West. The debate over the message started to affect Swift's public image as an innocent "America's Sweetheart", which resonated into 2016, when her and West got involved in another public feud after the rapper released the single "Famous".

Background and writing[edit]

Rapper Kanye West performing
Swift was inspired to write "Innocent" by Kanye West's interruption of her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

Taylor Swift wrote all tracks on her third studio album Speak Now (2010), by herself. According to Swift, the album is a collection of songs about the things she had wanted to say to the people she had met in real life but did not.[1][2] In the liner notes for Speak Now, Swift explained that every song on the album is an "open letter" to someone in her life, "telling them what I meant to tell them in person".[3] She also noted that one song in particular is addressed to "someone I forgive for what he said in front of the whole world".[3] In press interviews leading up to the release of Speak Now, Swift said that the album track "Innocent" was dedicated to rapper Kanye West.[4] At the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, during Swift's acceptance speech for winning Best Female Video, West interrupted her, protesting that Beyoncé had "one of the best videos of all time". Public opinion after the incident turned against West; former US president Barack Obama called him a "jackass". West said on the social media platform that he "bled hard" because of his actions, and went into a hiatus.[5]

After the incident, Swift told New York magazine that while she knew people "expected me to write a song about [West]", she felt it was important to "write a song to him".[4] In an interview with Billboard, she said she wrote the song between February and June 2010. Swift recalled that the incident made her stay silent for a while because it was "a huge, intense thing in my life that resonated for a long time".[5] When she wrote "Innocent", she had come to a place of mind where she could talk about it.[5] As she had to take time to process the emotions ensued from the incident, "Innocent", which took her six months to write, took longer for her to finish than other tracks, which she said usually took "about 30 minutes".[6][7] She reflected that writing the song "taught [her] a lot about being able to step back from a situation you don't know what to do with, and put [herself] into somebody else's shoes".[8] As a result, "Innocent" is her expression of sympathy to West, after the public outrage he received.[9]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Musically, "Innocent" is a gentle pop ballad, in which Swift performs with tender vocals.[10][11][12] Musicologist James E. Perone remarked that it stands out from other pop ballads because of Swift's use of "a high degree of rhythmic syncopation in her delivery".[10] The lyrics of "Innocent" see a protagonist sympathizing with a man who has committed wrongdoings.[13] Although the man in question has suffered from self-doubt because of his actions, in the eyes of Swift's character, his "strings of lights are still bright".[14] The narrator tells the man, "32 and still growing up now/Who you are is not what you did."[15] The lyrics feature imagery associated with childhood innocence and simplicity, such as "lunchbox days" and "firefly catching days".[14] According to The Wall Street Journal, the track further alludes to the pitfalls of fame, "Lost your balance on a tightrope/ It's never too late to get it back."[15]

Perone summed up the track as "a statement of support and encouragement".[14] According to biographer Liv Spencer, "Innocent" is a continuation of the theme on "Never Grow Up", a Speak Now track about leaving childhood behind. In the lyrics, the narrator assures that even if one's "firefly catchin' days" are long behind them, they still carry a little bit of that innocence. The song mourns the loss of innocence, but offers a hopeful perspective that one could be "brand new" again.[8] In Esquire, Maura Johnston noticed references to the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards incident; for example, the lyrics reference the month September, which was the month the awards show took place; and mention the age of the man in question as 32, West's age at the time. Johnston remarked that for those who are unaware of the celebrity surrounding Swift–West, the track can be interpreted as "a simple lament of a lost love, or a former friend being forgiven".[13]

Release and live performance[edit]

Swift debuted "Innocent" with a live performance at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards held on September 12, 2010.[16] Addressing the West controversy at the past year's MTV Video Music Awards, the performance started with background clips showing the incident.[17] Swift then sang the track as she played an acoustic guitar and sat on a couch; she afterwards performed the song barefoot.[18][19] Time said that she sang the track with "a stormy, dreary background straight out of the tornado scene in The Wizard of Oz".[20] Swift said the performance was to put behind the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards controversy.[21] In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Swift said she was "grateful" to perform at the show because it was congruent with what she wanted to do with Speak Now: "[You] need to say what it is that you feel when you know what it is you feel – at that moment."[19] When asked why she did not choose to perform the lead single, "Mine", to promote it better, she said, "I performed a song nobody had heard before, and I'm proud of that. Because it was the right thing to say."[19]

"Innocent" is the 11th track on Speak Now, which was released on October 25, 2010, through Big Machine Records.[22] After the album's release, the track debuted and peaked at number 27 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 53 on the Canadian Hot 100.[23][24]

Reception and aftermath[edit]

The song garnered mixed reception from music critics. After Swift's 2010 MTV performance, some viewed the song as sympathetic toward West, but others deemed it patronizing and Swift self-righteous.[4][17] A Los Angeles Times critic called the lyrics "slams disguised as 'forgiveness'", and another from The New York Times referred to the song as "petty".[5] Jonathan Keefe of Slant Magazine criticized the track as a "patronizing, condescending sermon", and saw Swift as hypocritical for writing a song calling out someone else's negative remarks when her songwriting typically criticized other people.[25] Chris Willman in New York said that in "Innocent", Swift casts herself in a mature, maternal light: "she really plays mother to a baby."[4] Johnston said that it "wasn't the most gracious act of forgiveness in history" and took issue with the lyrics detailing "a 20-year-old telling a 32-year-old that he's still growing up", which she deemed a sign of Swift feeling "a sense of satisfaction at being 'the better person'".[13] The public debate started to affect Swift's "America's Sweetheart" public image and resonated for a long time, continuing into 2016, when she and West got involved in another controversy in which West released the single "Famous", including lyrical parts that Swift had not consented to.[26][27]

On a more positive side, Allison Stewart of The Washington Post described "Innocent" as a "small masterpiece of passive-aggressiveness" in her review of the album.[28] Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Chrissie Dickinson heralded the track as Swift's "greatest maturation as an artist" among the songs previewed prior to the album's release, finding it deeply sympathetic.[12] In The A.V. Club, Steven Hyden, while acknowledging the lyrical content as "a poison dart [dipped] in sugar" aimed at West, considered "Innocent" one of Speak Now's highlights: "Swift's niftiest trick is being at her most likeable when she's indulging in such overt nastiness."[29] Other album reviews from BBC Music's Matthew Horton and Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt picked "Innocent" as one of the album tracks that showed Swift's maturing songwriting about themes other than love and romance.[30][31]

Reviewing the MTV awards performance, Melinda Newman of HitFix gave it a B; Newman praised the song for balancing personal details and universal appeal with its "beautiful" lyrics, but took issue with Swift's live vocals as weak.[32] In NJ.com, Tris McCall appreciated the ballad's sympathetic message and commended Swift as the awards night's "big winner".[33] Country-music journalist and CMT editorial director Chet Flippo praised Swift's MTV rendition of "Innocent" for expressing her feelings about a real person "in an artful way" and compared her practice to other country-music legends: "Sometimes forgiveness is the sweetest revenge, and it's what she achieved."[16] Arts professor Jeff Rabhan agreed, lauding Swift for delivering her thoughts in a "positive and professional" manner, and highlighting her artistic ability.[16]

Charts[edit]

Chart performance for "Innocent"
Chart (2010) Peak
position
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[24] 53
US Billboard Hot 100[23] 27
US Country Digital Song Sales (Billboard)[34] 2

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sandell, Laurie (October 4, 2010). "Taylor Swift Talks". Glamour. Archived from the original on October 28, 2019. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  2. ^ Conger, Bill (October 11, 2010). "Taylor Swift Talks About Her Album Speak Now, And Her Songwriting". Songwriter Universe. Archived from the original on October 17, 2010. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Speak Now (CD). Taylor Swift. Big Machine Records. 2010. BTMSR0300A.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  4. ^ a b c d Willman, Chris (October 7, 2010). "Princess Crossover (page 2)". New York. Archived from the original on October 25, 2021. Retrieved September 18, 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d Roland, Tom (October 23, 2010). "Princess Superstar". Billboard. Vol. 122, no. 39. p. 20. Archived from the original on August 27, 2022. Retrieved September 8, 2022 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Bream, Jon (October 24, 2010). "'I've learned the hard way': Taylor Swift talks". Star Tribune. p. E.5. ProQuest 759828095. Archived from the original on October 9, 2022. Retrieved September 19, 2022 – via ProQuest.
  7. ^ Scaggs, Austin (November 11, 2010). "Q&A: Taylor Swift". Rolling Stone. No. 1117. p. 30. ProQuest 766164168. Archived from the original on October 9, 2022. Retrieved September 19, 2022 – via ProQuest.
  8. ^ a b Spencer 2013, p. 108.
  9. ^ Dinh, James (October 11, 2010). "Taylor Swift on Kanye West: 'It Was Important to Write a Song to Him'". MTV News. Archived from the original on October 9, 2022. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  10. ^ a b Perone 2017, p. 38.
  11. ^ Jones, Nate (January 11, 2021). "All 179 Taylor Swift Songs, Ranked". Vulture. Archived from the original on September 13, 2019. Retrieved September 19, 2022.
  12. ^ a b Dickinson, Chrissie (October 21, 2010). "Taylor Swift's intuition: Star says she writes what she feels". Chicago Tribune. p. 3.1. ProQuest 759300261. Archived from the original on October 9, 2022. Retrieved September 19, 2022 – via ProQuest.
  13. ^ a b c Johnston, Maura (September 14, 2010). "Is Taylor Swift the New Hip-Hop Mean Girl?". Esquire. Archived from the original on October 23, 2021. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  14. ^ a b c Perone 2017, p. 37.
  15. ^ a b "Taylor Swift's New Song 'Innocent': Video of Her VMA 2010 Performance". The Wall Street Journal. September 13, 2010. Archived from the original on September 20, 2022. Retrieved September 19, 2022.
  16. ^ a b c Kaufman, Gil (September 14, 2010). "Taylor Swift's VMA Performance: Experts Analyze 'Innocent'". MTV News. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  17. ^ a b Grady, Constance (August 26, 2019). "How the Taylor Swift-Kanye West VMAs scandal became a perfect American morality tale". Vox. Archived from the original on April 1, 2021. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  18. ^ Derschowitz, Jessica (October 11, 2010). "Taylor Swift VMAs 2010: 'Innocent' Lyrics Reflect on Kanye West Incident". CBS News. Retrieved September 7, 2022.
  19. ^ a b c McLean, Craig (October 30, 2010). "American Idol". Belfast Telegraph. p. 14. ProQuest 761175877. Archived from the original on October 9, 2022. Retrieved September 19, 2022 – via ProQuest.
  20. ^ Friedman, Megan (September 13, 2010). "Kanye vs. Taylor: Who Won at the VMAs?". Time. Archived from the original on September 20, 2022. Retrieved September 19, 2022.
  21. ^ Lipshutz, Jason (September 12, 2010). "Taylor Swift Deems Kanye West 'Innocent' at VMAs". Billboard. Archived from the original on October 22, 2021. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  22. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Speak Now – Taylor Swift". AllMusic. Archived from the original on November 5, 2017. Retrieved October 25, 2010.
  23. ^ a b "Taylor Swift Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved March 12, 2021.
  24. ^ a b "Taylor Swift Chart History (Canadian Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved March 12, 2021.
  25. ^ Keefe, Jonathan (October 25, 2010). "Taylor Swift: Speak Now". Slant Magazine. Archived from the original on March 16, 2016. Retrieved February 18, 2014.
  26. ^ Knibbs, Kate (August 21, 2019). "Ten Years of Taylor Swift: How the Pop Star Went From Sweetheart to Snake (and Back Again?)". The Ringer. Archived from the original on May 25, 2022. Retrieved March 21, 2021.
  27. ^ Caramanica, Jon (July 18, 2016). "Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West Reignite Feud With Taylor Swift". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 15, 2021. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  28. ^ Stewart, Allison (October 26, 2010). "Album review: Taylor Swift, Speak Now". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on August 12, 2013. Retrieved February 18, 2014.
  29. ^ Hyden, Steven (November 2, 2010). "Taylor Swift: Speak Now". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on October 8, 2018. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  30. ^ Horton, Matthew (October 25, 2010). "Review of Taylor Swift – Speak Now". BBC Music. Archived from the original on August 30, 2021. Retrieved August 30, 2021.
  31. ^ Greenblatt, Leah (October 25, 2010). "Speak Now (2010)". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on October 28, 2010. Retrieved October 25, 2010.
  32. ^ Newman, Melinda. "Taylor Swift debuts 'Innocent,' her new song of forgiveness to Kanye West". HitFix. Archived from the original on October 31, 2013. Retrieved February 18, 2014.
  33. ^ McCall, Tris (September 13, 2010). "Taylor Swift strikes back at the VMAs". NJ.com. Archived from the original on September 20, 2022. Retrieved September 19, 2022.
  34. ^ "Taylor Swift Chart History (Country Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Archived from the original on November 19, 2021. Retrieved March 12, 2021.

Sources[edit]