Taylor Swift released “Look What You Made Me Do” on August 24, spurring reactions from every corner of the internet. When her full length album, Reputation, was released on November 10th, the world was enamored–whether in a loving or hateful way–with the new Swift.
Regardless of the internet’s uproarious laughter at the simple line “The old Taylor is dead,” she wasn’t lying. If 1989 left the country sweetheart’s coffin ajar, Reputation slammed it shut and dug a grave. In her place is a more defiant Swift, a move co-engineered by Jack Antonoff’s songwriting and production skills–wholly replacing her sugary sweet vocals and acoustic string-play with Antonoff’s signature 80’s synths, throttling chords and mutated vocals.
There is a strong possibility that if you turned on Top 40 radio or checked out the Billboard Hot 100 at any given time within the past 365 days, Antonoff was associated with at least one of the songs featured. In 2017 alone, the Brooklyn-based songwriter, producer, singer and instrumentalist also collaborated with Lorde, St. Vincent, Banks and Pink, all while releasing his very own album (sophomore offering Gone Now) as Bleachers.
On Lorde’s critically acclaimed Melodrama, he elevates her from critically acclaimed angsty teen ballads into bursting, uninhibited glimpses into the life of a young woman manuevering adulthood. For “Hard Feelings/Loveless”, for instance, Antonoff assists Lorde in telling her story of learning to practice self-care and moving on following a broken relationship’s end. Their mature, expressive lyrics are paired with his somber yet fiery production techniques: Electric squiggles and crashing cymbals interrupt reflective words to exemplify that very heartwrenching pain humans know so very well. The bridge is a traffic collision of noises–squealing whooshes, metallic chirps, gnarled percussion–before bowing out in favor of calming string instruments as Lorde starts to accept her solitude.
While each work Antonoff tapped into in 2017 is vastly different, they are all tied together by his perfectionism and cinematic touch–a kind of fist throwing, anthemic defiance of the expected. Where the 33-year-old tapped into Lorde’s maturation and Swift’s more anarchic side, he amplified Pink’s grit and honesty. While working with St. Vincent, he convinced her to trade her recognizable synths and hollow pop percussion for distorted guitars and punched downbeats.
And yet, despite his ever-escalating accomplishments more recently and a bizarre lack of name recognition, Antonoff has actually been sprinkling the music industry with his genius for over six years. Even as early as his high school band, Steel Train, we can hear a resemblance of the off-beat claps, upbeat choruses, and oh-ah background vocals that initially commanded the industry’s attention. It was finally delivered to the masses in 2011, when Antonoff co-founded the pop trio Fun., best known for the 2012 sophomore album, Some Nights. The infectious song “We Are Young” (cowritten by Antonoff) earned him one-third of a 2013 Grammy Award for Song of the Year and that very same year, the group won Best New Artist.
Fresh off the wins, Antonoff broke off and out of the shadow of frontman Nate Ruess to collaborate with Sara Bareilles. They co-wrote a song titled “Brave” and then came his first songwriting credit alongside Swift for “Sweeter Than Fiction.”
Fun. was just deemed fresh with the industry’s greatest honor, however, the project was all but thrown out at its peak. Following years of speculation, in 2015 the band announced a hiatus with the following message: “Fun. was founded by the three of us at a time when we were coming out of our own bands. One thing that has always been so special about Fun. is that we exist as three individuals in music who come together to do something collaborative.”
While Ruess was predicted to be the breakout star, always at the center stage and in the forefront of all band press, his 2015 album flopped at the same time that Antonoff was on a Bleachers tour following a year of exuberant praise for the project’s debut album, Strange Desire. His songs were reinvented pop, proving that it wasn’t necessary to dumb down lyrics and simplify melodies to make massive hits. Leading up to this year, he dabbled in music with the likes of Carly Rae Jepsen, Grimes, Troye Sivan and Sia.
“I don’t like having to be pushed into a box. Why the fuck can’t the Bleachers album be outstanding, and why can’t the work I do with the Lorde album be outstanding, and the Taylor [Swift] stuff I do, or Carly [Rae Jepsen], or whoever? Why do you always have to pick one? I think at the end of the day, I feel like I’m in this phase where I’m being tested,” Antonoff said this year in an interview with Vanity Fair. Despite Bleachers continued success, it is obvious that Antonoff has no preference for where he stands–in the recording booth, in the spotlight, in the background or simply listed as a name on the song’s credits.
That is what differientates him from the rest of his peers in 2017: While many are grappling to be the biggest of the big stadium stars with even bigger social media followings, Antonoff is more concerned with making the best music. As long as he continues to inspire that sort of authenticity–especially in a world plagued by filtered selfies and fake news–we can only foresee Antonoff’s career maintain an upward trajectory into the next year and beyond.