Taylor Swift and John Mayer air it all out. (Theo Wargo/Wire Image)Since its release this week, Taylor Swift's album "Speak Now" has been called the year's biggest debut.
"Expectations are high, very high," Keith Caulfield, a Billboard chart analyst told MTV yesterday. "It speaks volumes about how big a star she is…She's able to engage people in a way that's different than most other artists."
Not that different. Swift's songs rely on a device employed by a lot of her contemporaries: gossip. In her commercial for the album, Swift promises to "name names," but here's a preview, leaked to the media last week: "Dear John" is about John Mayer breaking her heart. "Back to December" is an homage to her brief romance with "Twilight's" Taylor Lautner and "Better Than Revenge" is about Joe Jonas and his next girlfriend after Swift.
Incredibly, the romantic trysts of a woman who just turned 20, has the potential to break headline news and make a lot of middle-aged industry veterans very rich. And it's not just execs on Swift's label. Expect Mayer or Jonas to respond to Swift in song on their next albums. The call and response method has become a proven hit-maker.
The Jonas Brothers have been at the center of the melee for a few years now. Cyrus has released numerous singles that hint at her tween relationship with brother Nick. And if they don't hint well enough Cyrus explains it all: "Surprise surprise, it's about a Jonas brother...you didn't hear that."
Then you've got Selena Gomez singing 'I'm Sorry,'" to brother Joe Jonas. That's head to head with Swift's Joe Jonas ode, "Forever and Always." Swift confirmed it's about Joe right around the time her last album dropped. In "Much Better," team Jonas fired back.
It's a dirty game of teen love, especially when it's being orchestrated by grown-ups with money at stake. The romantic subjects may be getting younger, but the "blind item" chart-topper is pushing 40 years old. Carly Simon's hit "You're So Vain," hasn't stopped generating headlines since its debut in 1973. Her lyrics brought the listener population behind Hollywood's exclusive, and at the time, guarded velvet rope. And really, who couldn't relate to a guy (Mick? Warren? David Geffen?) with an inflated ego? Suddenly, everyone was Carly's confidante…and fan.
The '90s brought Alanis Morisette's "You Outta Know," a song rumored to be about famous person. By the time the name David Coulier was linked to it, it'd be on the charts for two years. And isn't it ironic that an unnamed source suggested to Page Six that "Your Body Is a Wonderland" may be about Jennifer Love Hewitt, right around the time the single was released in 2002? Mayer won a Grammy for the song the next year.
But the biggest gossip ballad that year was Timberlake's "Cry Me a River." That was about Britney Spears cheating on him. And if you weren't sure, he included a Britney stand-in in his video. Spears admitted it was a publicity stunt and "a great way to sell the record." She quickly followed his lead in 2003 with the apologetic single "Everytime."
It's all pretty heartbreaking, until you look behind the scenes at the puppeteers. Then it's heartbreaking for different reasons. Scott Storch and Timbaland who co-wrote Timberlake's breakup song were embroiled in lawsuits over rights and credit for the hit song.
Meanwhile, veteran pop writers Anne Preven and Scott Cutler have co-written a cross-section of gossip songs including Cyrus' tribute to Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato's song for Taylor Lautner. For a sense of how old they are (co-writers don't usually publicize their age) remember "Torn"? They gave that one Natalie Imbruglia in the early '90s.
Each veteran song writer and nubile pop star have a different method for collaborating on number one hits. But there's no question a dishy song goes a long way. And for a generation weened on Facebook and reality TV, airing private information in public is expected.
Liz Rose knows that better than anyone. The middled-aged mom, with two adult kids of her own, has helped Swift co-write all her teen romance ballads.
"I'm the conduit; I'm there to help artists say what they want to say," she said in an interview. "I pick their brain and make them spill their guts."
One way or another, it all goes back to a Jonas Brother.