Taylor Swift teams up with one of my favorite artists, Imogen Heap, to develop “Clean” on her wildly popular album, 1989. As Ms. Heap indicated in a post on their collaboration, Ms. Swift presaged their collaboration back when Red was taking the world by storm. This was a full-on collaboration with Ms. Heap helping with wording (although that was primarily Ms. Swift), layering sounds, Ms. Heap’s own vocals, and the overall music. As Ms. Heap makes clear in her post, this is not Ms. Taylor singing an Imogen Heap song; this is a collaborative effort to come up with something new and uniquely both.
In fact, in the first verse, Ms. Swift sounds quite Heap-esque. The light-edged touch of the sung note is placed over the driving beat. It is punctuated with percussion, with some shift done into a flat, bringing out the sound of a minor key. By the time she hits the refrain, she’s back up into more the typical Taylor Swift territory of a major key sound.
I love the imagery they use in expressing the heart-wrenching business of recovering from a broken relationship. Whether it’s the image that “You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore” or “Rain came pouring down when I was drowning / That’s when I could finally breathe / And that morning, gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean,” we see some interesting contrasts: the stain against the cloth, the open breathing against the pouring rain and later, the need to punch a hole in the roof. They express so well the need to let go this almost addictive love, even when “10 months sober, I must admit / Just because you’re clean don’t mean you don’t miss it.” Of course, our own hearts are torn when she finally sings: “The drought was the very worst / when the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst.”
Part of this process of letting go means letting go of the good that was built in the relationship. It’s (relatively) easy to let go of the painful, ugly flotsam and jetsam of the cast-off relationship, but a bit more challenging to let go of the flowers as well.
In “Clean” we have an opportunity to see two fabulous songwriters penning a moving song in both lyrics and music. It does seem to express well the haunting pain of a torn relationship with when we can all empathize using the best of both Imogen Heap’s and Taylor Swift’s talents. I’m delighted this surprising collaboration finally happened.