Since her debut album in 2006, pop superstar Taylor Swift has released new music every two years around October like clockwork — except this year, when she stuck to her word that she was taking a break from music.
Or so we thought.
As it turns out, the world did hear new music from Swift… it just happened to be through another act. On Tuesday, country quartet Little Big Town revealed that Swift wrote their new single, “Better Man” — about a dysfunctional relationship — which was released on Oct. 20.
The group made the big reveal during a press conference in Nashville, where they announced a six-show residency next year at the historic Ryman Auditorium. “Can you tell us who wrote ‘Better Man?'” a reporter asked.
They nodded carefully. “Some of you have been asking, and we told you there was a young girl in Nashville who wrote it by herself,” said lead vocalist Karen Fairchild. “And it’s Taylor Swift.”
Cue gasps! Although Swift launched her career as a country artist, she made a very deliberate announcement that she was moving to the pop genre when she released her last album, “1989,” in October 2014.
“She sent us this song and it was one that was really special to her and she thought of us because of the harmonies,” Fairchild continued. “She’s never pitched a song to anyone before. And the moment that we heard it we were like, ‘Man, that is a song that we’re gonna cut.'”
It’s a smart move. Swift songs top the charts regularly, no matter who sings them. Though Swift hasn’t released new music of her own since “1989,” she penned this summer’s smash “This is What You Came For” for her ex-boyfriend, Calvin Harris, under the pseudonym Nils Sjoberg.
Given this news, “Better Man” is primed to be a hit. Swiftologists are scrambling to analyze the lyrics to the rather sad song, all about a relationship that would have been great if only the guy hadn’t been a complete jerk. (“I know I’m probably better off on my own than loving a man who didn’t know what he had when he had it/ And I see the permanent damage you did to me… I wish you were a better man/I wonder what we would’ve become if you were a better man/We might still be in love if you were a better man/You would’ve been the one if you were a better man.”)
Hmmm, wonder who it’s about? Fairchild said they didn’t ask Swift where the song came from, and instead gushed over its universal message. “Everybody has a better man. It might have been a lover, but it might have been a parent that disappointed you, or a friend,” Fairchild said. “I think the beauty of that storytelling is that we can all relate to being disappointed in someone and still loving them, but saying ‘Hey, enough is enough. This would have been amazing if you would have gotten your act together.'”
Swift and Little Big Town go way back: They were one of her special guests during her “1989” tour, and joined her at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh last summer to sing their hit “Pontoon.”
“We’ve known Taylor since she was in high school. She’s a dear friend,” said band member Phillip Sweet, adding, “No matter who wrote it, it feels like it was meant for us to put this in motion. It felt like it belonged to us and we made it our own.”
At the end of the press conference, Fairchild apologized for telling a “white lie” over the last few weeks when people asked about the songwriter. She said they promised Swift they wouldn’t “blab” to everyone that she wrote it. Swift greatly appreciated the discretion, saying, “The greatest honor as a songwriter you could ever give me is is that you don’t want anyone to know that I wrote this.”
“We knew we would tell eventually… the only reason why we didn’t say is we wanted you to hear the song for what it’s worth,” Fairchild said, noting that the song had a strong start at country radio before anyone knew who wrote it. “At her heart, she is the biggest pop star in the world, but she’s a songwriter from Nashville, Tennessee, and she likes to tell a story. And we didn’t want you to have any subtext there other than to hear the song.”