Another day, another Taylor Swift promotional single — but this one’s sparked a whole new line of dialogue, well beyond the obligatory “Which celebrity ex is it about?” questions that get bandied about whenever Swift drops a new track. No, the topic today is dubstep, since Swift’s latest offering, “I Knew You Were Trouble,” proved to be the much-ballyhooed song from her upcoming album to include a bass-heavy dubstep break.
But the critics agree that as that genre goes, Swift’s implementation of it is only nominal: Even if there’s a little popstep in the mix, it’s a stylistic touch more than it’s in the tissue of the song. And more so than with her previous singles from this album, reviewers are divided on whether the song works at all — or whether it’s a cop out.
:: Vulture joked, “Today in new music: Taylor Swift redefines dubstep (not really),” and noted that the dubstep influence that was promised on the album wasn’t quite as pronounced as, say, a Skrillex deep cut: ”Good news, unless you were super invested in Taylor Swift’s EDM reinvention: The dubstep here is limited to a few “wubs” in the (slightly jarring) chorus. Otherwise, here is yet another plucky, vowel-laden Taylor Swift breakup jam!”
:: Spin thought that the songcraft was as strong as ever, but the dubstep sound was perfunctory: “Swift’s try at dropping the bass ultimately gets absorbed into the artist’s own aesthetic. So, yes, “Trouble” shows some wub, and if it had come out back in the days of Britney Spears’ ‘Hold It Against Me,’ it could have been a truly jarring departure for the country-pop mega-seller. But as dubstep breakdowns have increasingly become just another feature of the ever-changing pop landscape, like Auto-Tune or 2 Chainz guest spots, what emerges here is merely another sharply crafted Swift kiss-off, in post-David Guetta dance-pop clothing. How is it possible there hasn’t already been a hit song with a chorus this simple, direct, and familiar: ‘I knew you were trouble when you walked in’?”
:: The Prophet Blog served up some unrepentant shade, considering the song a concession to radio demands: “Her latest Red promo single ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ takes Swift’s new sterile bubblegum pop-rock sound and throws in a dash of dancey dubstep to give it that extra radio-friendly boost that she’s clearly after this era. I’m not going to say that ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ is bad, because it’s not. It’s far from it, and it has all the makings of one of those songs that everybody complains about at first, but then succumbs to later. However, it also reeks of the same kind of chart-hungry desperation that radiated from Alicia Keys when she recorded a last minute duet with Beyonce, or when Katy Perry slashed all her singles to three cents (okay, 69 cents) on iTunes.”
:: MTV.com noted that the song’s “chaotic” sound, in Swift’s own words, was a deliberate choice: “The song touches on all genres of music, with moments of straight-up Top 40 pop, country and even dance, with its grinding effects, especially on the bumping chorus… Musically, the way the song bounces around musical genres was one of Swift’s intentions.”
:: Entertainment Weekly compared the song to Swift’s lead single in terms of radio-friendliness, but — in a touch of probably-unintentional hilarity — noted that we’d been “warned” about the dubstep sound: “The song, which Swift previewed on Good Morning America yesterday morning, has the same kind of defiant pop-radio oomph that made her fourth album’s other big breakup banger, ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,’ a number one. But “Trouble” comes with an added twist: a smattering of dubstep, discernible each time the song’s chorus kicks in, an element that we’d been warned Red would contain.
:: Music City Post was impressed by how Swift kept alive the sound she established with her first single: “Sure, it lacks all the subtlety of the previous two taster tracks from her upcoming album, but in terms of serving up another similarly teen-ready pop slice for those lured in by the brattiness of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, this is spot on. Importantly, it sounds like a real for-radio tune, a distinctly slicker Taylor for a world finally waking up to the fact she’s more than just ‘that cute country-pop girl’. I Knew You Were Trouble is Taylor going up against Disney-pop’s best, and more than holding her own.”
:: Last but not least, The Hairpin‘s typically dry take on the song was appreciated, although the writer conceded that the song was something of a grower. “Mumble mumble ‘dancey, dubstep.’ And if you’re wondering, yes it does get better with multiple listens. Not by too-too much, but by a bit. Taylor’s Red album is due out October 22. Probably. But who’s even paying attention. Who’s even paying the most attention that they’ve ever paid anything. Like, this is exhausting.”