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Why you really keep mishearing that Taylor Swift lyric

Posted by Popjustice on Nov 25 2014 at about 13:50


There’s an interesting piece on about ‘Blank Space’, the Taylor Swift song that recently broke a chart record but would have broken at least one other record (‘MOST AMAZING SINGLE EVER RELEASED’) if it had been ‘Style’.

Anyway, the interesting piece concerns something we all know exists but rarely acknowledge in public: the fact that in ‘Blank Space’ the line “long list of ex-lovers” sounds so much like “lonely Starbucks lovers” that many people think Taylor’s actually singing about a coffee emporium-based romance scenario.

According to our notes from the album playback we, too, made that mistake when we first heard the song. In fact a portion cut from our 1,989 word album review (in order to get it down to 1,989 words) says this:

Lady Gaga declared that ‘ARTPOP’ would provide what she described as a ‘reverse Warholian expedition’, but with considerably less fanfare Taylor offers a few expeditions of her own: a reverse Sondheimian expedition with ‘Out Of The Woods’, a reverse Orwellian expedition with privacy banger ‘I Know Places’, and an espresso-fuelled Shakespearean expedition with ‘Blank Space’, in which the ‘star-crossed lovers’ you so often find in pop lyrics somehow end up in Starbucks.

It is just as well we chopped that bit out because as well as being a terrible piece of writing it was also wrong about the Starbucks bit.

So why does everyone hear the line incorrectly when, once you know what she’s singing, it’s totally obvious what she’s been a-warbling all along?

Well, the interesting piece goes into all sorts of things. According to a linguist quoted in the article, misheard lyrics are mostly about what you think you’re going to hear. The interesting piece explains that part of your understanding comes from what you’re actually hearing, and the rest comes from “our minds — from our expectations, in other words”.

What the interesting piece doesn’t explain is why anyone would actually expect to hear ‘Starbucks lovers’ in a Taylor Swift song. ‘Starbucks lovers’ is not, as they say on the internet, ‘a thing’.

But ‘star crossed lovers’ is a thing. It’s a thing from a Shakespeare romp called Romeo & Juliet, which was a love story, which inspired a love song, which was called ‘Love Story’, which was by Taylor Swift.

If you are listening to a Taylor Swift song you are subconsciously expecting something to do with Romeo & Juliet.