Yup. You saw the title. “London Boy” has been doing the rounds lately on the meme circuits of social media and there’s a very good reason as to why it has. Whilst the music itself is pretty inoffensive Swift fare that we’ve come to expect from her as of late, the lyrics are… well… something else. Really something else.
Now, I don’t know if you know this and you might not if for some reason you’ve stumbled across this without having any prior knowledge of me, but I am a London boy. I lived in the suburbs of South East London until I was 13 years old. I still very much consider myself a Londoner, even though I’ve lived in Wales for basically half my life and will likely be around here for another few years yet. I still go back and visit every so often too because my older sister has moved back (she has an office job in the city and earns a buttload more money than I do). So yeah, here’s the deal. I’m going to take you through Taylor Swift‘s romanticism of London and its surrounding culture. Here we fucking go!
The very first thing you hear when you press play is a sample taken from an interview of Idris Elba where him and James Corden (the person who is doing the interviewing) do a silly comedy sketch in horribly forced London accents. Whilst the context is very clear when you actually watch the original video clip, when it’s put into the front of Taylor’s song it gives the same horribly grating effect that Dick Van Dyke‘s “SHTEP IN TOIME” has whenever you watch Mary Poppins. After a little bit of bumbling about her love of all things traditional Americana (Motown and Tennessee whiskey feature, of course), she breaks out the good old fashioned OH MY GOD HE HAS DIMPLES AND A CUTE ACCENT. Without fail, I have seen so many Americans fall over about this with Brits. I’m sorry, the British accent is not inherently cute. Have you ever been to somewhere where people are strongly British, Taylor? Like, say, anywhere that is in the north and somewhat run down? I mean, I know she’s played a show in Swansea, but has she actually seen any more of the town than Singleton Park? Didn’t think so…
The Camden Market reference is something the social media crowd have jumped all over and considering how much of an easy target it makes her, I’m not surprised. Camden Market is a tourist place. It’s a place where everything is overpriced to the hilt, where you go to a fucking restaurant to eat cereal and it’s full of hipsters burning through a thousand kilos of the latest noxious weed strain that’ll probably make you go cross-eyed even looking at it. Camden Market is not an example of the ‘real’ London and everyone who is actually from London knows this and accepts it. Don’t even get me started on that “darling, I fancy you” line. Ugh. Just no.
The high tea thing is something that’s always confused me anyway. Firstly, I never grew up with it as a tradition because I am from Croydon, where a huge amount of the population isn’t white and obnoxiously middle class. Secondly, I’ve only ever seen Americans do it on TV. I don’t know what that says about my relative cultural ignorance, but I think it says a lot about how Americans view us Brits. I’d also like to know whether Taylor did actually watch rugby with her British other half’s school friends because men can get pretty protective over the whole gatekeeping thing with rugby. I know that’s not the case in my now adopted home of Wales because rugby is the national sport here, but things are very different in England.
Oh, Taylor. Here comes the wham line. Get ready for it guys. Here it comes:
“God, I love the English!”
WHY?!?!? WHY HAVE YOU DONE THIS, TAYLOR?!? EVERY SINGLE SCOTTISH, WELSH AND NORTHERN IRISH FAN OF YOURS IS GOING TO WANT YOUR HEAD ON A STICK FOR LINGUISTICALLY EXCLUDING THEM! YOU EVEN DATED A SCOTTISH PERSON ONCE!
Sorry. Just had to get that one out of the way. Moving on!
I’d really like to know if Taylor has ever been to Brixton or Shoreditch. I really, really would. Because the likelihood is that if she had she wouldn’t be romanticising it like she is right now. A good night out in Brixton? Like yeah, that’s ever going to happen, unless Prince somehow rises from the dead and performs a comeback show at Brixton Academy or something. Her talking about Hackney in the same kind of romantic tones irks me a lot as well – if she had actually ever been to Hackney, she would know that it’s still a not very nice part of London! Maybe that’s what she wants to see, though, considering she follows that up with not wanting to see Louis Vutton on Bond Street. Even so, it’s very odd hearing a super wealthy American who has spend most of her life in Pennsylvania and Tennessee talking about wanting to see the ‘real’ London, just like rich backpackers talk about wanting to see the ‘real’ Thailand. The real stuff is hidden away from tourists for a very good reason!
Because this article is going to read like the word vomit of a disgruntled man, I’ll offer a counter argument. It’s not the first time that Swift has written a very touristy themed song about a city. “Welcome To New York” from 1989 paints a very romanticised picture of the New York lifestyle (funnily enough, it’s one of my favourite songs that she’s done!) and people applaud it a lot. The difference is, though, with “Welcome To New York” is that it is a hell of a lot better written. The lyrics are a lot smarter and they draw upon the universal feeling of starting afresh in the city of your dreams that a lot of us can relate to. Substitute New York for London, Paris, LA, Hong Kong, Berlin etc. and the song still makes a lot of sense. It’s a feeling that isn’t exclusive to New York. “London Boy”, however, is very specific to London and the city’s specific culture and that’s why it’s become such an easy target for commentators like myself who want a bit of cheap laughs and entertainment.
Of course, we shouldn’t discount that Taylor Swift, being the deceptively very smart person she is, knew that if she wrote such a cringeworthy song that people would actually talk about it a lot. Whilst “London Boy” is a pretty awful, awful song at least lyrically, people are talking about it. Taylor Swift wants us to talk about her because it helps her sell albums, especially in the wake of her very public feud with Scooter Braun over her old back catalogue which he now owns. As PR wisdom will often tell you, there is very little publicity that isn’t good publicity. People are talking about the song and, by extension, her new album, so that’s good publicity and Taylor Swift wins. Do I care that I’m contributing to it? Not at all. Taylor has written some really, really good songs in her time and there’s a good reason as to why she is one of the wealthiest and most powerful performers in the music industry.
In conclusion, yes “London Boy” is not great. It’s certainly not the best song she’s ever written and the lyrics are pure cringe. But I did have a lot of laughs listening to it and, as you can quite plainly see, a lot of grumpy man mileage. So is it really that bad? I don’t think it is, honestly. It’s not an offensive or hateful song at the end of the day. It has a purpose, it serves that purpose and it did it in a way that made me and many others laugh. Maybe laughter is more of what we need considering the world is how it is right now. Matty Healy may say otherwise but I watched an interview he did very recently and he came across as having an ego a thousand times bigger than most planets so, yeah, I’m not going to listen to him whenever he opens his mouth from now on.
So, yeah, that’s my thoughts on “London Boy”. Were you surprised by my conclusion? If you weren’t, you probably either know me too well or you’re psychic. In which case, I should probably be scared of you. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my probably pointless piece of word vomit that I clearly needed to get out of my system!