Taylor Swift v. Paul Weller –
Who Wins?

Ever since Taylor Swift sang about Tim McGraw ― track one on her first album ― she has paid attention to her fans. Her mum Andrea told me (BANG goes the name-drop, really early on in the piece, such a big bang I think I broke a floorboard) that Taylor would play as a support act for other artists and then, at the end of the concert, see a gaggle of youngsters by the fence at the back of the stage.

“This was in the days when we weren’t even given backstage lanyards,” said Andrea. Her daughter would exclaim, “Hey mum! They’re mine! Let me go and see them.” And she would.

The story was told during a backstage tour at Hyde Park (BANG: sorry floorboard). Taylor came into the little hospitality tent to chat to a few record industry people and, yep, radio presenters. American stars love the radio, I reckon. Good for them. My daughter, 11, who is into her fashion, said straight out to the singer: “Wow! Your heels are so high!”

They really were. Memory plays tricks, but I have a definite memory of Taylor being eight feet tall, stooping to avoid the marquee ceiling.

She replied, “Yes, well, to carry off heels like this, what you have to do is ― like this ― ” and the superstar showed an enchanted Martha how she walks with a swing, her shoulders thrown back.

A week later I saw my daughter practising the move in the kitchen. As a father, I can hardly complain about her choice of role model.

We are used to rock stars who are unobtainable, invisible. They are modern Gods after all ― and isn’t God, traditionally, a little hard to reach? Didn’t Moses have to ascend a mountain for a single conversation? So to find that the woman who is probably the biggest star in the world in 2015 has time to talk to two little girls from west London: I’m soooo impressed. It is not as if it helps her sales, which are so huge she could probably buy the state of Minnesota and forcibly evict every dentist who likes hunting.

The Swift approach is interesting. Elvis Presley was famous for the announcement, “Elvis has LEFT the building,” a phrase so famous it spawned novels and movies:

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But this 21st-century star could easily have the opposite announcement, “Ms Swift is STILL IN the building,” because after an exhausting two hours on stage she is back there in the Hyde Park marquee, this time shaking the hands of young fans who have been chosen by her assistants to come for some backstage facetime because their outfits, or their dancing, have been identified as special.

A contrast with Paul Weller. I say this tenderly. The guy is an artist and I am so in love with those early songs they take my breath away. I adore his truculence too. But when I went to see the opening of the Jam exhibition at Somerset House, a marvellous collection of posters and photos, Weller was in and out within minutes and raced away so quickly that a middle-aged lady who chased him shouting “Paul! Paul!” was unable to catch him. She stood there, breathless, harrumphing and embarrassed.

I wasn’t impressed with the speedy exit, the “this-is-a-bit-below-me” approach. I wanted Paul to press the flesh. I wanted him to say ― like Taylor Swift did, astonishingly ― “I know who YOU are!” even if it’s only as a result of having been briefed seven minutes earlier.

“Hey, Jeremy. Good to see you here! Thanks for coming!”

“Hey Paul! Isn’t it amazing how ‘In The City’ all came true?”

I actually wanted a minute, even a few seconds, just to tell him how much I loved those songs … That’s Entertainment. Going Underground. Strange Town. Smithers-Jones.

But the conversation remained a fantasy.

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Before you think I’m slating Paul Weller in comparison with Taylor Swift, please sheathe your weapon. As he rushed out of a side door without a smile or a wave, a work colleague I had brought with me laughed and said: “Now there goes a proper star.” For her the brightness of stardom is defined the old-fashioned way, by lack of access, by the Elvis Factor.

Presley defined invisibility; he could barely be touched. Then he died and we lost him completely. Some people want distance from the people they adore.

So who’s got it right: Swift or Weller?

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5 Comments

  • Karen Dorner says:

    Hi Jeremy,
    I have commented briefly on Twitter, but really feel Taylor Swift won hands down. She shows graciousness and humility. There is nothing nice about someone who feels their time is so precious they can’t spare a minute or two to talk to their fans. I don’t see that as being ‘elusive’; I interpret it as being plain rude. It’s refreshing that Taylor took the time to engage with your daughters, and indeed yourself! The whole business of celebrity hero-worship is becoming ridiculous; our seemingly unrelenting appetite for it; is in my opinion, unhealthy. My daughter is 28 and a young adult with a sensible head on her shoulders; but I am glad she’s not 14 and insecure, because this celebrity culture is damaging to young people. Nevertheless, I would like to tell you (with my 55 year old hat on) that I really enjoy your work, both radio and TV. All the best to you and your family. Best wishes, Karen.

  • Wendy says:

    Hi Jeremy – how have I only just discovered this blog?! Like many others I regard you as part of our family life, being huge fans of R2 and loving your sincere, eloquent and down-to-earth presenting on radio and TV alike. Lovely to see the pic of your daughters with TS – seems like only yesterday we were pleased to hear of their respective arrivals!! A great piece on celebrity attitude – I guess both have their place but simply being polite and acknowledging people’s time and presence but surely be the right attitude, regardless of how big/little the celebrity!!? I love the TS approach – what an experience for your daughters to remember as compared to that of yours with PW! Xx

  • Lydgia Parratt says:

    One of the main themes of The Jam exhibition shows how much the fans meant to them. It is an exhibition put together with lots of memorabilia collected by the band’s fans. It is as much a tribute to them as to The Jam.
    Paul’s mum reminds us that scores of young fans were always let in to watch the band sound check…..
    When Ms Swift has completed almost 40 years in the music biz she may well not be so accommodating Mr Vine.

  • Linda Spencer says:

    I enjoy listening to your show on BBC Radio 2 and also follow you on Twitter. However, I hadn’t read any of your blogs until very recently when I came across your thoughts on entering ‘Strictly’ – what a beautiful piece of writing. I’ve also just read your blog on Taylor Swift v Paul Weller which is very interesting and thought provoking. I look forward to reading your blogs in the future and wish you the very best of luck with ‘Strictly’ and everything else that you do.

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