Comparing Taylor Swift’s “Red”: OG vs. TV

(You can access my full ranking and rating of all of Taylor Swift’s songs here!)

How does Red (Taylor’s Version) compare to the original? Taken overall, I think it compares very well. But that doesn’t mean every individual track is better. Here’s my assessment after listening to each back to back.

  • State of Grace: TV. The new version has brighter electric guitars and much clearer vocals.
  • Red: TV. It has crisper percussion (e.g., compare the intros), fuller vocals, and I like the ending better.
  • Treacherous: OG. It’s a close call, but in TV I miss the heavier guitar in the chorus; the song is more poppy and has less depth.
  • I Knew You Were Trouble: OG. The vocals in TV sound off and she sounds much less pained/upset in the bridge. She’s also softened the EDM emphasis of the song.
  • All Too Well: OG. This is my favorite Taylor song so I don’t even know if I can take off the nostalgia glasses, but in the end, I think the OG has crunchier guitars and more emotive vocals in the early bridge.
  • 22: TV. A tough call, but for me it comes down to this: The OG made “22” sound like “swimsuit,” but TV has better enunciation.
  • I Almost Do: TV. Just not my favorite song in either version but the vocals are a bit better in TV.
  • We Are Never Getting Back Together: OG. Lots of changes here. She doesn’t “perform” the vocals as well and the “whees” are weird; the spoken bit also falls flat.
  • Stay Stay Stay: TV. This track showcases how TV is a reimagining of Red as a pop album. She’s shed the country accent but retained the sense of fun.
  • The Last Time: TV. Setting aside my nostalgia for the OG track, TV is better. Gary Lightbody’s voice is more present and feels more in contact with Taylor’s vocals, which gives the song an  “Exile” vibe. The revised instrumentation increases the sense of urgency.
  • Holy Ground: TV. She’s emphasized electric over acoustic guitar, which fits the tonal repositioning of the album.
  • Sad Beautiful Tragic: TV. This is one of my least favorite tracks in all of Swiftdom, but the instrumentals are a bit cleaner on the new version.
  • The Lucky One: TV. The vocals sound less strained on the new version.
  • Everything Has Changed: TV. The OG was great, but the new version makes it feel a bit restrained and claustrophobic by comparison. Swift and Sheeran seem more comfortable and confident, and the result, combined with crisper production, is much more intimate yet also somehow more epic. Maybe the most improved track.
  • Starlight: TV. Taylor seems to bring the fictional storytelling sensibilities, honed during the Folklore/Evermore era, as she reconstructs this track.
  • Begin Again: TV. It’s a testament to the quality of the OG that Taylor made this one such a close match. For the greater maturity in the vocals, I give the nod to the new take, but these are very similar.
  • The Moment I Knew: TV. Right off the bat, the vocals are warmer, the guitar is clearer, and then the chorus hits and the new production makes it even more epic. Taken all together, the sense of sorrow and pain comes through more potently.
  • Come Back… Be Here: OG. I had high hopes for this, the song I consider to be the great sleeper hit of the Red era (not sure we can consider “All Too Well” a sleeper anymore). The TV track somehow loses the soaring passion of the OG, and it falls flat. Compare especially from the bridge on; like some other TV tracks, the emotion just doesn’t feel as raw or real.
  • Girl at Home: TV. The OG is unfairly maligned; it’s OK to have some cheesy fun, isn’t it? The new take reimagines the whole thing and dials the cheesiness up even further, which was a great choice.
  • State of Grace (Acoustic Version): TV. Another track where her vocal maturity shines, turning this into a reflective, emotional powerhouse.

So, bottom line: TV is better than OG. I’m reminded that in 2014, after Daft Punk won the Grammy over Red, Swift skipped the after-parties, “went home and… cried a little bit, and … got In-N-Out Burger and ate a lot.” And then she reflected: “You have a few options when you don’t win an award. You can decide like, ‘Oh, they’re wrong, they all voted wrong.’ Or… you can say, ‘Maybe they’re right — maybe I did not make the record of my career.’ Maybe I need to fix the problem, which was that I have not been making sonically cohesive albums.”

She’s now achieved that sonic cohesion. The original was a bit of an eclectic mix, but with Taylor’s Version, she’s effectively repositioned Red as a primarily pop album (with, yes, a few country flourishes). Yes, some of the big hits don’t land quite as well, but taken all together, they and the other tracks have given life to a more polished work of art.

“Evermore”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #9

[Note: You can access my ranking, ratings, and reviews of all of Taylor’s songs here!]

… but is this really Album #9, or Album #8b? In her social media post announcing Evermore, Taylor was quite clear that it’s a continuation of the Folklore era. And although that’s abundantly clear in the album’s songwriting and musical tone, Evermore nevertheless distinguishes itself though more mature themes and, somehow, an even deeper sense of sadness and loss. Listeners may disagree on whether that’s better or worse than the sister album, but which do I prefer? Well, I think that’s clear in the reviews below.

Evermore (released 2020)
“Oh, can we just get a pause? To be certain we’ll be tall again?

“Willow” (7.5/10): The opening guitar is great here, and although it doesn’t reach the heights of Taylor’s best work, it effectively opens the album.

“Champagne Problems” (7.5/10): This tale of a proposal gone wrong contains a confident and soft beauty, and although I’m not as enthusiastic about it as are some, I can see why some Swifties think it’s the breakout song on the album.

“Gold Rush” (8/10): One of the few Antonoff-powered tracks, the music provides a jolt of energy even if the lyrics are mushy (but I do really like the line, “My mind turns your life into Folklore…”).

“‘Tis the Damn Season” (5.5/10): Taylor Swift may not feel like she’s a natural (see “Mirrorball” over on Folklore), but she’s at her best when her music and lyrics feel effortless; here, it feels like she’s pushing too hard to craft a compelling story that, in the end, I don’t find very interesting lyrically or musically.

“Tolerate It” (6/10): It’s a poignant and heart-wrenching tale, but doesn’t quite achieve the level of pathos (or musical inspiration) as other Track 5s.

“No Body, No Crime” (8/10): It aspires to be the next “Goodbye Earl” or “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” and it can be forgiven for not quite attaining that status, because it’s still a rocking country tune that contains some of the best storytelling on the album.

“Happiness” (4.5/10): There’s just a sense with tracks on Evermore of “yeah, I guess this song is OK,” and I feel that here; the song feels ponderous and I wonder if it would benefit from an increase in tempo (and maybe a shorter running time).

“Dorothea” (6.5/10): The swinging style of the music complements sweet lyrics about friendship; I’d be curious to hear more songs about friendship from Taylor.

“Coney Island” (8.5/10): I know, I tend to be a fan of Taylor’s duets with men, and this no exception; the spare instrumentation, the hazy lyrics, and blending of Taylor and Matt’s voices creates a magical atmosphere that too often eludes this album.

“Ivy” (7/10): With no disrespect intended to Aaron Dessner, Evermore could’ve used a bit more Jack Antonoff, and this song brings a nice burst of energy, although the focus on marital infidelity (which is too much of a theme on this album, in my opinion) limits my enjoyment of the song.

“Cowboy Like Me” (4.5/10): If Folklore‘s “Betty” sounded like it belonged on Fearless, this almost sounds like it belongs on Taylor Swift; your mileage may vary on whether you think that’s a good thing or not, but for me this slow country song just doesn’t quite do it.

“Long Story Short” (8.5/10): This delightfully self-referential song contains some of the clearest evidence of personal growth in any Swift song, and it’s good advice: “Past me, I want to tell yourself not to get lost in these petty things; your nemeses will defeat themselves before you get the chance to swing; and he’s passing by, rare as the glimmer of a comet in the sky…”

“Marjorie” (7.5/10): Throughout its music and lyrics, this song is a beautiful tribute to Taylor’s grandmother that exudes both passion and honesty.

“Closure” (4.5/10): Maybe the strangest song in her catalog, filled with discordant synthesizer noises in the background, it just doesn’t “work” and feels like it is just trying too hard to be novel and cool.

“Evermore” (9.5/10): Exquisitely paced and deliciously emotional, it transcends song and expresses the raw cry of the pandemic era: “Can’t not think of all the cost, and the things that will be lost; oh, can we just get a pause, to be certain, we’ll be tall again?”

“Right Where You Left Me” (6.5/10): A bonus track that feels more like a leftover than a special surprise, it nevertheless brings a rolling beat and a sense of fun.

“It’s Time to Go” (6/10): Whereas Folklore ended with tale of longing for peace and beauty, Evermore ends with a song about respecting boundaries and sigh Scooter Braun; I know Taylor’s frustrated with him, but he’s just a bit too present across these two albums.

Evermore mean = 6.82 (standard deviation = 1.51)

So what’s next? Well, why not rank all of the songs, including those not on the main albums? Ratings are one thing, but rankings reveal the best (… and worst…) Swift songs of all time. OF ALL TIME!…

“Folklore”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #8

[Note: You can access my ranking, ratings, and reviews of all of Taylor’s songs here!]

I commented that, during Lover, Taylor seemed to be throwing musical ideas to the wall to see what sticks. Not so on Folklore, which features perhaps the most cohesive tone of any of her albums (even more so than the sequel Evermore). Here Taylor launches her artistry in new, chill directions, while both capturing the sad weariness of the pandemic era yet crafting a work that seems destined to live far beyond that moment in time. Even if some tracks miss the mark, the lofty heights here merit the album’s wide acclaim–an acclaim that now includes the Grammy for Album of the Year. That’s an honor shared with Fearless and 1989, which puts Folklore in rarefied company.

Folklore (released 2020)
“Isn’t it romantic how all of my elegies eulogize me?

“The 1” (6.5/10): Taylor doesn’t tend to lead off an album with her strongest songs, and this is no exception, although it does effectively set the reflective mood of Folklore.

“Cardigan” (8/10): This song does so many things so well, filled with regret and pain and passion and also an easy sense of ‘chill,’ all at the same time.

“Last Great American Dynasty” (9.5/10): Taylor’s storytelling emerges in full force here in a breezy, beachy tune that brings an important punch of positive energy to the album.

“Exile” (10/10): Taylor’s duets with men tend to turn out somewhere between ‘great’ to ‘awesome,’ and for my part, I think this expansive, powerful song is (so far) the best duet she’s ever done.

“My Tears Ricochet” (8.5/10): This follows the Track 5 tradition of highly personal, emotionally resonant songs that also serve as album standouts.

“Mirrorball” (10/10): There’s a moment in this song when the instrumentals fade to almost nothing and we’re left with Taylor, describing herself spinning on her tallest tiptoes, and to me it’s one of the most powerfully beautiful moments in any Swift song.

“Seven” (8.5/10): This is an achingly beautiful reminiscence of childhood, filled with equal parts sweetness and melancholy, and laced with beautiful imagery throughout (yes, I was tempted to give it a 7/10, but that’s definitely too low!).

“August” (9/10): Like “Last Great American Dynasty,” it’s a song with a breezy/beachy vibe, and it’s one of the more memorable songs on the album; when Taylor really gets into the song on the Disney+ Long Pond Studio Sessions, you can tell it’s one of her favorite Folklore tracks.

“This is Me Trying” (5/10): “I was so ahead of the curve that the curve became a sphere” is a cool line, but I’m sorry, the reverb/echoing just doesn’t do it for me on this one, especially when combined with the slow pace of the song; the Disney+ Long Pond Studio Sessions is a much improved version.

“Illicit Affairs” (7.5/10): This morality tale strives for greatness, particularly in the bridge-that-becomes-an-ending, but doesn’t quite get there.

“Invisible String” (9/10): I’m a sucker for self-referential Taylor, and this is self-referential Taylor that spans her entire career to date; it’s also an unabashed love song, which is a welcome change from the breakup-heavy themes on much of the rest of Folklore.

“Mad Woman” (4.5/10): If there’s a consistent weakness on Folklore, it might be the tendency for the lyrical ambitions to outpace the quality of the music, and that weakness is on display in this mediocre entry.

“Epiphany” (3.5/10): It sounds as if Taylor wrote this one after listening to one too many sappy pandemic car commercials back in April 2020.

“Betty” (8.5/10): Revisiting her country style was a bold choice, and it works; this is an instant classic (but sorry, James, I don’t think showing up at a party unannounced and insulting Betty’s friends is likely to win you many points, and “Cardigan” suggests it probably didn’t).

“Peace” (5.5/10): There’s artistry in the spare use of instruments, and the lyrical sentiment is sweet, but I also just can’t get too excited about this one.

“Hoax” (3/10): And by this point, if you’re going to serve up another slow, somber song, I’m sorry, it better be amazing; this one isn’t.

“The Lakes” (8.5/10): In a rich synthesis of lyrics and music, this song so beautifully and hauntingly embodies a deep sense of longing for beauty and nature, shared with someone you love.

Folklore mean = 7.35 (standard deviation = 2.26)

“Lover”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #7

[Note: You can access my ranking, ratings, and reviews of all of Taylor’s songs here!]

Lover feels like a forgotten album. Assuming we count the Folklore and Evermore as the same album era (as suggested by Taylor’s Instagram post announcing Evermore), the Lover era is the shortest one–Folklore appeared just 11 months after Lover‘s August 2019 release. And really, it feels like the bright, summery era of Lover ended much sooner than that, once the pandemic lockdowns cast their shadow in March 2020. But it would be a shame to overlook this album. Yes, the song quality varies, and sometimes it feels like Taylor is throwing musical ideas at the wall to see what sticks. Even though she misses the mark on occasion, the strongest tracks on the album are outstanding examples of Swift’s artistry.

Lover (released 2019)
“Combat, I’m ready for combat… I say I don’t want that… but what if I do?

“I Forgot That You Existed” (6.5/10): My feelings about this opening track definitely aren’t hate, not quite love, and a bit more than indifference.

“Cruel Summer” (9.5/10): The second song on Taylor Swift albums tend to be pretty great, and this one is no exception, even if the verses outshine the chorus just a little.

“Lover” (4.5/10): I’m sorry, Swiftie fans whom I can see picking up rocks to stone me, this slow and saccharine song makes me want to reach for the “skip” button.

“The Man” (9/10): Here Taylor delivers not only an energetic track, but also punchy and incisive social commentary that I’ll probably mention every time I teach muted group theory.

“The Archer” (10/10): I think I might be in the minority, but that’s OK; I’m ready for combat to defend this track, which contrasts a minimalist style that generates tension with some of the most introspective lyrics Swift has ever sung.

“I Think He Knows” (7.5/10): Sometimes Lover feels not like an ode to love, but an ode to infatuation, and it’s that sense that prevents this quite listenable track from becoming a sleeper hit.

“Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” (9/10): I love epic Taylor, and this is epic Taylor; it’s tough to write allegorical political commentary that also works as artistry, but this track strikes that balance.

“Paper Rings” (6.5/10): A fun and energetic tune, but I prefer the stronger song that obviously inspired it (Hilary Duff’s “Breathe In, Breathe Out”).

“Cornelia Street” (10/10): This is one of the most brilliant songs of the album, with the effective build-and-release of tension that often characterizes Swift’s best work; the use of piano here is particularly effective.

“Death by a Thousand Cuts” (9/10): The music on the verses goes for epic and makes it there, and I enjoy the gently unnerving rhythm of the strings in the chorus.

“London Boy” (8/10): A novelty song, yes, and another “ode to infatuation,” yes, but this one is a nice dose of pure (campy) fun.

“Soon You’ll Get Better” (5/10): I feel badly giving such a low rating to such a heartfelt song, but it just doesn’t do it for me; fans of The Chicks might get more mileage out of it.

“False God” (4.5/10): I get what Taylor was going for here with the sultry saxophone, but it just doesn’t quite work.

“You Need to Calm Down” (7.5/10): It’s one of the most quotable and memeable Swift songs ever, but there’s a bit of irony that the queen of declaring her opinion and expressing her emotions (see album #3, “Speak Now”) now takes the role of telling others to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves.

“Afterglow” (5.5/10): This bleh song screams, “Hey, in another album era, I would’ve been a thoroughly forgotten bonus track on the deluxe edition.”

“ME!” (8.5/10): I’m going to come down on the side of this much-criticized song; it’s playful, peppy, bright, and cheerful, glowing with some of the best attributes of the Lover era.

“It’s Nice to Have a Friend” (4.5/10): If this song didn’t have the high-pitched chanting thing going on, I think I’d like it a good deal better; the sentiment sure is cute and sweet (and it even mentions video games!).

“Daylight” (8/10): I’m a sucker for the “here’s what we learned today!” songs at the end of Taylor’s albums, and this is a strong one, filled with the expansive sense of hope that’s part of a new day (or new era in life).

Lover mean = 7.39 (standard deviation = 1.94)

“Reputation”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #6

[Note: You can access my ranking, ratings, and reviews of all of Taylor’s songs here!]

Of all Taylor’s albums, I’ve had the most complex relationship with Reputation. At first, I didn’t much care for it, but over time, my opinion of it has greatly improved. It’s perhaps the most consistent and most cohesive of her albums (statistically demonstrated by the fact it has the lowest standard deviation! #statsnerd), even though throughout much of it her tongue seems firmly in her cheek. This isn’t so much “Taylor Swift” as it is “Taylor Swift’s reputation“; she plays the media caricature of herself here while “old Taylor” is dead. At at the end of this epic rock opera, the final track points unambiguously toward her ‘resurrection’ on a “New Year’s Day.”

Reputation (released 2017)
“Nothing good starts in a getaway car…

“… Ready For It?” (8.5/10): Let the games begin indeed, as Taylor throws down perhaps her strongest opening track on any of her albums.

“End Game” (9.5/10): I once derided this song, but I was wrong; somehow this epic combo of Future, Sheeran, Swift, rap, and pop really works (even though it seems it shouldn’t), foreshadowing the optimistic turn at the end of the album, but first…

“I Did Something Bad” (8/10): … Taylor begins her descent into madness in an energetic track that I suspect contains more than a bit of sarcasm.

“Don’t Blame Me” (8.5/10): The “crazy Taylor” of Reputation compares her lover to a narcotic, and the explosive chorus really lifts this track.

“Delicate” (9/10): In contrast to her (pre-Folklore) tendency for big, bombastic emotions, Taylor goes for understated and a bit coy, and it pays off in what seems like the most successful single from this album.

“Look What You Made Me Do” (7/10): Musically there’s about four different songs going on here, and they work well enough together in this vengeful tune, although it was probably a mistake to release this as the album’s lead single; that crazy music video, though, is easily a 10/10.

“So It Goes” (9/10): Maybe I’m in the minority, but I think this is a hidden gem that lyrically and musically expresses the overall tone and atmosphere of the album.

“Gorgeous” (8/10): One of my rules of music is that I don’t like to hear children speaking in a song; this fun song, which begins with Blake Lively’s kid saying “gorgeous!”, is the one exception I tolerate.

“Getaway Car” (10/10): This masterpiece provides a climax and plot twist for the whole album (signaled by a rare key change no less, I think the first main album one since “Love Story” all the way back on Fearless) as crazy Taylor steals the money and the keys and drives away.

“King of My Heart” (8.5/10): And after a brief but reflective pause, this song opens with Taylor perfectly fine and alone; then a new character, the king of her heart, shows up, with the chorus and bridge so powerfully expressing Taylor’s affection for him.

“Dancing With Our Hands Tied” (6.5/10): This song is listenable enough, but never seems to achieve full liftoff; I like the light/fire/water imagery in the bridge, though.

“Dress” (6/10): This and the prior track are, in my opinion, the OKish songs on the album; they’re fine enough and fit thematically, but when I put in Reputation, it isn’t because I want to listen to these songs.

“This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” (8.5/10): Taylor strikes back at Kanye in a raucous number that was surely a crowd-pleaser as the closing song on the Reputation tour.

“Call It What You Want” (9/10): As Reputation draws to a close, Taylor lays down her weapons and her armor, seeming to turn away from relational drama and toward a quieter and stronger expression of romantic affection.

“New Year’s Day” (9.5/10): It’s mostly Taylor and a piano in this brilliant final track, a song that is both totally like and totally unlike “Long Live” that closed Speak Now; her synthesis of both songs in the Reputation tour serves as a powerful illustration of her musical genius.

Reputation mean = 8.37 (standard deviation = 1.13)

“1989”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #5

[Note: You can access my ranking, ratings, and reviews of all of Taylor’s songs here!]

Ah, 1989… a much-loved and groundbreaking album that, to my ear at least, has stood the test of time thus far. But I confess I have a strong weakness for this album… I love 80s pop, and I love Taylor Swift music, so put them together… yeah. Shut up and take my money.

1989 (released 2014)
“Remember when you hit the brakes too soon? Twenty stitches in the hospital room…

“Welcome to New York” (5.5/10): It’s strange that such a strong album puts such a weak first track forward; the chorus works OK, but I don’t know what she was thinking with the music for the verses.

“Blank Space” (7.5/10): I know, I can feel Taylor Swift fans picking up rocks to throw at me, and this track has grown on me over the years, but I’m still left with the feeling that it doesn’t do enough of the emotional build-and-release that characterizes Taylor’s best work.

“Style” (10/10): If I think “Blank Space” is overrated, “Style” is underrated, but perhaps I like this one because of its strong 80s sensibilities that are like musical catnip to me, kind of like…

“Out of the Woods” (10/10): … which is a powerful, encompassing song that would’ve been right at home in the year 1986, and the video full of elemental imagery is pretty cool too; to my ear, one of her best songs ever.

“All You Had to Do Was Stay” (9/10): Taylor’s fifth tracks have a reputation for vulnerable lyrics, and no, this isn’t another “All Too Well,” but in an album crowded with popular songs, it would be a mistake to overlook this one.

“Shake It Off” (9/10): It’s quite deservedly her most iconic song after “Love Story” and therefore one destined for airplay in American culture for the next 40 years, but for me personally, it was so overplayed at its height that it’s the one Taylor track that gives me a “yeah, been there, done that” feeling.

“I Wish You Would” (10/10): Again, maybe it’s my appreciation for 80s ballads, but I adore this hidden gem that I don’t ever hear anyone talk about.

“Bad Blood” (5.5/10): “Welcome to New York” suffers from a decent chorus with underbaked verses, and “Bad Blood” has the opposite problem.

“Wildest Dreams” (6.5/10): I know this is a favorite of many, but it doesn’t do much for me; I wonder if perhaps it’s just a song that resonates more powerfully with female listeners.

“How You Get the Girl” (8.5/10): This carefully-paced track might win the award for the most pure fun on the album.

“This Love” (7.5/10): It’s amazing how this song is both sedate and epic at the same time, and hello water imagery!

“I Know Places” (9.5/10): This song exudes the sense of being on the run in the dead of night, and the click of the tape recorder at the beginning and end provides great auditory framing.

“Clean” (8.5/10): More water imagery (that I think calls back to the Fearless album in at least a couple of ways) appears in this strong conclusion to a deep, creative album.

1989 mean = 8.23 (standard deviation = 1.62)


I’m going to try to post the remaining album reviews in the coming days… because I’m also planning to post a ranked list of all her songs. The list is nearly done, and it includes songs beyond the main albums (e.g., since we’re in 1989 here, let me just say that “Wonderland” from the deluxe album is one of my favorites). So, I guess both of you reading this can look forward to that soon!

Delaying the Tenure Clock May Be an Inequitable Response to COVID-19

When I did a Google image search for “equity,” this was the first hit. I’ve seen this sort of picture before, and you probably have too. Given the Interaction Institute for Social Change has made the image freely available for use, it probably has appeared on every university campus in America during some presentation on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

(Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire. interactioninstitute.org; madewithangus.com)

The message of the cartoon is clear: Rigidly identical standards may perpetuate inequity if we don’t account for differences across personal circumstances.

With this in mind, I’d like to consider how universities are approaching the tenure and promotion process during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most common response seems to be allowing assistant professors to extend their tenure clock by a year. However, this may create inequity for those on the tenure track, particularly for those in groups already underrepresented in the professoriate.

Recently, members of the University of Massachusettes ADVANCE team, a group “focusing on offering equitable campus support for faculty members and fostering inclusion amid major shifts to higher education and deep uncertainty about the future,” proposed a series of recommendations for helping faculty navigate COVID. Regarding tenure, they recommended:

Automatically delay tenure, promotion and reviews. Institutions should immediately slow the timing of decisions on tenure and reappointment to account for the new and unexpected tasks faculty members have had to shoulder. COVID-19 has affected research productivity in many ways, resulting in reduced access to labs, travel cancellations and suspension of human-subjects research, among other issues. Tenure delays can help mitigate such negative effects of COVID-19 on women faculty, who are already navigating gender biases in evaluation processes.

https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/09/04/advice-academic-administrators-how-best-support-faculty-during-pandemic-opinion

Let’s break this down. The first sentence observes that tenure-track faculty have encountered novel demands on their time and energy. In other words, assistant professors haven’t been vacationing during the pandemic. At my university, our Provost emphasized in an email to all faculty that the pandemic is “mandating our intense focus on teaching during all of 2020,” acknowledging “our planned progress on scholarship may be slowed.” In addition to whatever demands the pandemic has imposed on their personal lives, assistant professors have set aside research in order to train and transition to distance learning and hybrid classrooms.

Increased teaching workload isn’t the only challenge to research progress. The ADVANCE team notes that assistant professors often receive diminished research support from their universities, as well as more limited opportunities to collect data, present papers, and network with colleagues. For those whose scholarship requires longitudinal research, travel abroad, or field visits, the effect may be so devastating that assistant professors must reinvent their research programs.

Moreover, these burdens aren’t experienced equally across the professoriate. The pandemic appears to reduce the research productivity of women, perhaps because they are more likely to bear household and childcare responsibilities. The pandemic itself has hit ethnic/racial minority communities particularly hard, and faculty from underrepresented groups may face greater barriers to research productivity during the pandemic than their white peers.

Thus, in the classic equity image above, the tall person on the left may represent tenured faculty, who experienced plenty of financial support and opportunities for research without the calamity wrought by a global pandemic. Some fortunate assistant professors may be like the person in the middle, lacking that same support yet possessing research programs and personal privileges that enable them to weather the pandemic’s effects. And other assistant professors, perhaps especially women and members of racial/ethnic minorities, may be so burdened by the pandemic’s demands that they are like the person on the right who can’t see over the fence.

The solution offered by the ADVANCE team is to extend the tenure clock, and the University of Massachusetts isn’t alone in that recommendation. Several universities, including my own, are enacting similar policies (University of Washington, for example). The logic seems to run along these lines: Perhaps the tenure and promotion guidelines recommend ten publications in peer-reviewed journals, but due to the pandemic, an assistant professor will only have eight publications by the time the clock expires. An extra year could make up for the year lost to the pandemic, enabling them to reach that threshold of ten publications.

At first glance, this may appear like equity as depicted in the picture—faculty receive more time than usual, in the hope that after that bonus year they’ll rise to the standard. Although well intentioned, this solution may not work for all tenure-track faculty, and it may facilitate inequity rather than curbing it.

Tenure and promotion mean many things in the life of a professor. Promotion often brings a pay raise, perhaps a substantial one. Beyond finances, obtaining tenure affords status and prestige in one’s discipline. It brings greater freedom to express opinions on controversial matters, both academic and institutional. Of course, it affords job security, which is becoming ever rarer in academia and may be under particular threat during the pandemic.

Delaying tenure means delaying all of these things. Even a retroactive pay bump, which the ADVANCE team suggests, doesn’t fully ameliorate that. Moreover, an extra year on the clock may not be enough to revive research programs strongly affected by the pandemic.

An extra year fails to acknowledge the challenging work assistant professors have already given to their universities. The current cohort of tenure-track faculty, which is more racially diverse than cohorts in the past, has shifted their research to teaching and service, and done so quickly and unexpectedly. Many have done this while navigating increased demands in their personal lives. Resources and opportunities for scholarship are more limited than they were even a year ago. For some, the pandemic may make it difficult or impossible to restart their prior research programs.

And yet their tenured colleagues and administrators, a less diverse group who did not face these challenges, still wants to hold today’s assistant professors to the same standard of productivity. Perhaps that is like the person on the left wondering why the person on the right can’t see the game. Giving a year extension may be like handing that person a pair of binoculars rather than a box on which to stand.

Although a year delay in the tenure clock may serve the interests of some faculty, for others it is an incomplete solution that ‘rewards’ overworked faculty, who may feel the effects of burnout, with the ‘opportunity’ to do another year of work before they receive the fruit of their labor.

A more equitable solution might consider the faculty member’s individual circumstances, including the nature of their research program and the effect of the pandemic on it. Institutions could require faculty members to include a statement about this in their tenure and promotion application (and ask those evaluating the application to consider it). Likewise, external review letters might include that information, as well as guidance on how the pandemic has influenced the institution’s research support and work priorities.

An alternative approach has received little consideration, as far as I can tell: Rather than affording faculty an extra year to reach the standard, perhaps it is time to reconsider the standard in light of our unusual circumstances.

A recent article quoted Dominique Baker, assistant professor of education policy at Southern Methodist University: “What difference does it make if we say, ‘Instead of having 20 publications, you need to have 15’? We have total control over what this looks like, and if we don’t want people to be burned out, why don’t we adjust our expectations a bit in light of what’s happening around us?”

One objection involves the precedent this might create. To that point, for the sake of equity, perhaps we should reconsider standards again if we ever encounter another situation as pervasive, deleterious, and demanding as the pandemic. Another objection could be that relaxing tenure standards may weaken the perceived prestige of the school, but this line of thought conflates research output with faculty quality. When circumstances improve, so will productivity of all faculty.

Some might observe that delaying tenure could help university budgets in the short term during a time of fiscal crisis. Yet balancing institutional finances on the backs of junior faculty would serve as clear evidence of inequity across professional ranks and roles.

During the pandemic, assistant professors have shouldered much of the labor that is keeping universities afloat in these turbulent waters. Considering all possible ways to adjust the tenure process equitably signals to assistant professors that universities value that work. For many, and particularly those from traditionally underrepresented groups, such adjustments could be the stack of boxes that will let them see the game. Without such equity, we risk diminishing the future contributions of an entire generation of assistant professors.

“Red”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #4

[Note: You can access my ranking, ratings, and reviews of all of Taylor’s songs here!]

Well, with the surprise announcement that her eighth album (Folklore) is dropping tomorrow, it seems like as good a time as any to drop my reviews for Red!

Overall, Red is a great album with great tracks, but I think sometimes fans focus on the standouts and forget some of the forgettable tracks. It is a great album, but it’s also an uneven album, resting in the long shadows of Speak Now and 1989 on either side. And yet, buried within rests the greatest song ever recorded by Taylor Swift.

“Red” (released 2012)
“Dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light…

“State of Grace” (8/10): In this effective album opener with a great rolling beat, we’re far from the epic pageantry of the end of Speak Now, instead crashing into a world of busy streets, traffic lights, pain, and shades of wrong.

“Red” (8/10): I like the song as a whole and “driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street” is classic middle-era Swift imagery, but for the first time in a couple of albums her vocal tone flirts with whininess.

“Treacherous” (9.5/10): The song’s worldview is deeply at odds with my own beliefs about interpersonal relationships (no–we aren’t “just skin and bone trained to get along”; yes–it is a choice to “get swept away” into the arms of a lover), but that aside, the haunting chorus (which occurs late enough in the song that you could mistake it for a bridge) really elevates the power of this track.

“I Knew You Were Trouble” (8/10): This song brings a harder edge musically than anything prior, signaling the country-Taylor era has reached deep twilight and the full transition to pop-Taylor is nigh.

“All Too Well” (10/10): Unfortunately, I won’t give this one higher than a 10. But for this song, and this song only, I will break my one-sentence-per-song rule. So many Taylor Swift fans consider this to be her best song. They’re right.

“All Too Well” is a sonic and lyrical masterpiece. First, the sound–from the soft intro and the gentle chord that concludes it, to the subtle lack of resolution in the ending, and everything in between, every instrument and note works purposefully yet carefully to create emotion. And oh does the emotion build, and I love how it catches the listener by surprise. Suddenly you’re no longer in the sweet passion of young love, but instead caught in a maelstrom of betrayal. And in that maelstrom Taylor drops maybe her most powerful lines ever: “Then you call me up again just to break me like a promise! So casually cruel in the name of being honest; I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lyin’ here, because I remember it all too well…”

That lyric is great, but I fear we ignore so much other great wordplay and imagery here. That little town street; getting lost upstate; autumn leaves; the embarrassing childhood photo album on the counter; the scarf in the drawer; and one of my favorites, dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light… the lyrics deliver punch after punch right in the feels.

I so much enjoy every 10/10 Taylor song, but hearing this one is like moving up to another level, like entering another dimension. It’s the perfect fusion of country Taylor and pop Taylor. Not every song can or should be this, but here in this song, Taylor produced her greatest work so far–and the thing was never even released as a single!! Perhaps someday she’ll top this, but for now, it is the absolute pinnacle and showcase of Taylor Swift’s art. Speak Now may be the better album on balance, but Red has the best song of them all.

“22” (8/10): “Happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time” is such a perfect way to describe being 22, but someone diminished this song for me when they pointed out that Taylor often slurs the word “22” so badly that it sounds like “swimsuit.”

“I Almost Do” (5/10): One of the most unremarkable and forgettable songs in about two albums.

“We Are Never Getting Back Together” (7.5/10): I thought I liked this one more than I do, but after listening again, I think it’s almost a prototypical example of a Taylor song that I like OK enough but wouldn’t seek out when I’m looking for a song to play.

“Stay Stay Stay” (7/10): Taylor goes all in for playful and cute with this one, and it generally works.

“The Last Time” (9/10): I might be in a minority by giving this one a high score, but I like Swift and Lightbody’s voices together and the strong bridge kicks it up a notch.

“Holy Ground” (6/10): It’s the poster child for an OKish song that’s nobody’s favorite song.

“Sad Beautiful Tragic” (2/10): This lengthy, anemic, and exhaustingly repetitive song makes even “Last Kiss” look energetic.

“The Lucky One” (6.5/10): A poignant morality tale of the dangers of Hollywood, with themes she would revisit more personally and powerfully three albums later in “The Archer.”

“Everything Has Changed” (8.5/10): Another strong duet between Taylor and a male singer (this time Ed Sheeran), but I think “The Last Time” has just a bit more gravity to it.

“Starlight” (7.5/10): A thematically and musically upbeat song, and it’ll be awhile in the discography until Swift sounds this optimistic about romance again.

“Begin Again” (7/10): In contrast to the sweepingly epic songs that conclude Fearless and Speak Now, Taylor goes for reflectively thoughtful in the conclusion to Red; it mostly works, although it’s a track I might admire a bit more than I enjoy.

Red mean = 7.34 (standard deviation = 1.90)

“Speak Now”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #3

[Note: You can access my ranking, ratings, and reviews of all of Taylor’s songs here!]

So now we come to Speak Now. And let me warn you upfront: This is my favorite of the albums… maybe, just maybe, my favorite album of all time. So, the scores are going to be pretty high, and yet… my favorite Taylor song is not on this album; that’s still to come.

Speak Now (released 2010)
“I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you…

“Mine” (8.5/10): By Speak Now Swift had established her reputation as a storyteller, and this album’s opening song signals that she’s going to play to that strength.

“Sparks Fly” (9.5/10): With Taylor in the pouring rain, it’s like “Fearless” (the song) version 2.0, and it kicks off maybe the best streak of songs on any Taylor Swift album.

“Back to December” (10/10): In this perfectly-composed song, Taylor demonstrates her capacity for self-reflection, regret, and apology.

“Speak Now” (9/10): The title track of the album seems relatively forgotten these days, and that’s a shame, because it’s a great example of Taylor Swift storytelling (and the giggle in one of the final renditions of the chorus is a great touch).

“Dear John” (9.5/10): It’s quite a feat that Taylor sustains such powerful emotion over the course of a song that runs over six and a half minutes, and she does it with formidable confidence.

“Mean” (10/10): This super-fun song foreshadows track #6 on a future album, when indeed she is living in a big ol’ city and shaking off the hate, hate, haters…

“The Story of Us” (9.5/10): I think this is one of the more underappreciated Swift singles, and although I can see how some might not like the “next chapter” transition in the middle of the song, for me it works and fits with the “love is a story” theme that stretches across her early albums.

“Never Grow Up” (8/10): I intended to rate this one lower, but then I listened to it, and was struck by the simplicity of Taylor with only a guitar for instrumentation; if Speak Now were a concert, this would be the song midway through where the singer sits down on a stool with a spotlight on her and chats with the audience for awhile.

“Enchanted” (10/10): Strong, passionate, sweeping, epic–it’s what I enjoy hearing from Taylor Swift, and on an album full of incredible songs, it’s a standout.

“Better Than Revenge” (9/10): I confess this song is a bit of a guilty pleasure since I don’t think it’s a great idea to revel in revenge 🙂, but my appreciation of it is held back by how Taylor overplays her hand–impugning the sexual character of her targets was a step too far.

“Innocent” (8.5/10): A bit of a sleeper on the album, Taylor’s olive branch to Kanye is sweet–too bad that didn’t last (even if it did spawn one or two good songs later).

“Haunted” (9.5/10): Remember back in “Sparks Fly” how Taylor wanted something that would haunt her when her lover wasn’t around?–well, now he’s gone, and that’s exactly how she feels.

“Last Kiss” (4/10): The only real clunker on the album, this 6+-minute song might have been decent if it had been about half as long; in other words, Taylor doesn’t pull off another “Dear John” with this one.

“Long Live” (10/10): The closing track of Speak Now succeeds where the closing track of Fearless failed, offering an expansive, epic song that sums up the theme of the album, sticks the landing, and yields one of the best Taylor Swift songs of all time.

Speak Now mean = 8.93 (standard deviation = 1.55)