Nostalgia is a disease we expect to afflict the aged. And so, not quite coincidentally, is country music. But nostalgia’s first wave arrives — and crashes down hard — in adolescence, with the initial awareness that things end instigating that preemptive mix of celebration and self-mourning you’ve surely seen in a very special high school graduation episode of your favorite nighttime teen soap. As for country, its cross-generational appeal is now almost as ingrained as its nostalgia. And yet, it awaited Taylor Swift to sate the teenybop market with the age-appropriate idol its numbers have earned.
A welcome addition to the fine tradition of songs-about-songs, Swift’s first single, “Tim McGraw,” isn’t really about “the haunting power of country music,” as Swift told Country Weekly, and you needn’t have loved or even heard a McGraw song for it to catch you up. “Tim McGraw” is about the enduring power of any listener to imbue any music with personal meaning. Even if, as Swift says, it’s about McGraw’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothin'” and her first boyfriend, Tim is just incidental, a metrically convenient trio of syllables for Swift’s exercise in romantic nostalgia. In any case, mission accomplished: When I think “Tim McGraw,” I now think “Taylor Swift.”
Maybe it’s that slide acoustic guitar lick gently nuzzling against the verses the makes the song seem sweeter than it is. But from the start, Swift hushedly recognizes that her boy’s line about the way her blue eyes shine is “a lie.” The last verse is a tart kiss-off, too, with Taylor boasting that (what else?) he’ll hear her on the radio one day. The video makes the story clearer, as the dude, sitting in his truck, wipes away a tear as he listens to the radio. “Tim McGraw” isn’t just an exercise in prospective nostalgia, an opportunity for young girls to moon over a love they’ll someday lose. It’s a song about making boys cry. And that, ladies, is something to look forward to.