In Our Song, Swift complains to her boyfriend that “we don’t have a song.” He responds by explaining that they do! Their song “is the slamming screen door” and other everyday sounds from their relationship. Swift agrees! She has “heard every album, listened to the radio” but hasn’t found anything that is “as good as our song.”
Literary Device: Dialogue
Our Song leans heavily on dialogue. Rather than narrating what happened, Swift transcribes a conversation.
He says, "Baby, is something wrong?"
I say, "Nothing, I was just thinking how we don't have a song"
And he says
Our song is the slamming screen door
Sneakin' out late, tapping on your window
When we're on the phone and you talk real slow
'Cause it's late and your mama don't know…
This use of dialogue gives the poem a quotidian air. The diction and grammar reflect a casual conversation between two people who are comfortable with one another, providing insight into the character of their relationship. In this case, Swift demonstrates how everyday sounds can become music by framing their dialogue as a song.
In Our Song, noted music theorist Taylor Swift grapples with the question “What is Music?” When asked what their song is, Swift’s boyfriend does not respond with a conventional choice. Instead of selecting a song with carefully planned-out lyrics and melody, he asserts that their song is the collection of ordinary sounds made every day by doors, windows, and human conversation.
Swift’s insistence that everyday sounds can be a song builds on the philosophy of composer John Cage. In Cage’s 4’33”, musicians do not perform music with instruments. Instead, the audience listens to the ambient sound of the hall for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. By framing ambient sound as music, Cage blurs the line between noise and music, suggesting that the random sounds around us can be as beautiful and as worthy of our attention as a Beethoven symphony.
Swift affirms Cage’s philosophy: she has “heard every album, listened to the radio” and not found anything as beautiful as the ambient noise from their relationship after she learned to “turn the radio down” and listen. These ambient sounds are as meaningful and satisfying as any song on the radio. Swift builds on Cage’s theory by thanking the composer: God, ending each chorus by “Asking God if he could play it again.” In Swift’s theory of music, God is the composer of the sonata of everyday life. We are the instruments. In Swift’s theology, humans cannot create music as beautiful as this divine composition.
Swift’s anxiety about replaying the song is another Swiftian addition to Cage’s philosophy, further reinforcing her anxiety about the temporality of relationships. Part of the beauty of 4’33 is that every performance is completely different, dependent on the people and the chance noises in the room at that particular time. Throughout her debut album, Swift has repeatedly expressed anxiety about how relationships are recorded and remembered (see: Tim McGraw, Picture to Burn, Mary’s Song.) In this instance, she asks God to replay the song and attempts to write it down on a napkin. Swift is willing to relinquish her control over sound, creating music by listening rather than actively composing, but she still struggles to avoid relinquishing control over memory. Swift's last words assert that she "wrote down our song."