DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Country music star Taylor Swift has reached her latest milestone. Her new single has reached number one on the pop singles charts. It's a breakup song, presumably about one of her high-profile exes - from a list that includes Joe Jonas, John Mayer and Jake Gyllenhaal.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE NEVER EVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER")
TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) But we are never, ever, ever, ever getting back together.
GREENE: And we've got NPR music critic Ann Powers on the line. Ann, we are never, ever getting back together - that sounds very definitive.
ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Taylor Swift, number one single in the country. Let me give you that surprised face. Oh, my gosh, I'm so excited - just like Taylor says, every time she achieves something.
GREENE: Well, I mean, breakup songs like this, that's nothing new. I mean, what is different about this one?
POWERS: Well, David, you're absolutely right. We can go back to Nancy Sinatra, "These Boots are Made for Walking," as maybe the prototype for this particular breakup song. But what's notable about this song for Taylor Swift, who is known as a country artist, is that it was co-written with Max Martin and Shellback, two Scandinavian producers. Max Martin is a guy who's helped define the sound of the Top 40 in the 21st century. He's had hits with so many women. And this song falls right in line with that particular kind of hugely successful breakup song that's popular now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE")
KELLY CLARKSON: (Singing) But since you've been gone, I can breathe for the first time...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SO WHAT")
PINK: (Singing) So what. I'm still a rock star. I've got my rock moves, and I don't need you...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT THE HELL")
AVRIL LAVIGNE: (Singing) All my life, I've been good. But now I'm thinking, what the hell...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PART OF ME")
KATY PERRY: (Singing) Now, look at me. This is the part of me that you're never gonna ever take away from me...
POWERS: Well, what you just heard was Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Avril Lavigne and Katy Perry - all doing their huge hits about moving on from a bad boyfriend; all of them so similar in affect, tone and even structure. This is the Max Martin sound of the liberated woman. And what's interesting, David, is that it's informed by punk rock a little bit. And these songs are to punk rock what Jolly Rancher green-apple-flavored candies are to actual apples. It's got a little bit of punk flavor in it. And Max Martin is the guy who's shaped this sound.
GREENE: If Taylor Swift is joining this club, what are her core country fans going to say about this?
POWERS: Well, the thing about Taylor Swift is that she's grounded in Nashville. And she's a songwriter, which makes her really country. But she's always crossed over to a wider demographic. Her core fan base is young women of every stripe. And so this is a very natural transition for Taylor Swift.
GREENE: Ann Powers, I think back to a song like Carly Simon and "You're So Vain," and all the speculation it created about who she was talking about. I mean, Taylor Swift, all these high-profile relationships, is that part of the appeal of this song; people wondering, you know, who the heck she's never going to get back together with?
POWERS: Well, David, that's another thing that's built into Taylor Swift's career and makes her a true pop star. I don't think I invented this term, but I think of it as the celebrity industrial complex. Being a pop artist now is not only being a musician or an actor; it's being a public figure. And we can look all the way back to, say, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, and their romance. This has been going on for a really long time. Celebrities live in the public eye, and what they do is never really private.
GREENE: All right. NPR music critic Ann Powers, thank you.
POWERS: Thanks so much.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A FOOL TO WANT YOU")
FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) I'm a fool to want you. I'm a fool...
GREENE: This is NPR News.