Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on


Taylor Swift Reaches For a Harder Sound and Higher Notes on Second Hunger Games Song "Eyes Open"

Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on the logic that just because a lot of the music on the radio is crap doesn't mean all the music on the radio is crap.

The hit: "Eyes Open," Taylor Swift, off The Hunger Games soundtrack.

Current chart position: #3 on iTunes, as yet uncharted on Billboard (it was only released on Monday).

The team: "Eyes Open" is Taylor Swift's second contribution to The Hunger Games soundtrack; she premiered "Safe & Sound," a funereal collaboration with her friends and fellow Grammy winners The Civil Wars, back in December. (It went to to number 1 on iTunes the day of its release). The entire soundtrack to The Hunger Games was just released this Tuesday; it includes songs from Neko Case, Arcade Fire, Kid Cudi, and Miranda Lambert and was produced by T-Bone Burnett. Burnett's previously had huge success with film music--he produced the acclaimed soundtracks for 1998's The Big Lebowski, 2003's Cold Mountain, and 2005's Walk The Line; he won a Grammy in 2002 for producing the bluegrass soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou? and an Academy Award in 2010 for co-writing the year's Best Original Song, "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart.

Breakdown: Ever since Taylor Swift hit the big time, there's been a lot of talk about whether or not she can truly be categorized as a country artist. Unless you're a country music purist, I don't see why the debate is even worthwhile, since it all just fries down to the fact that her songs are popular, and some of them are folksier than others. For those interested in categorizing Swift, though, "Eyes Open" should mark a notable point in her career, because it contains not an ounce of country. There's no banjo-slinging a la "Mean," no alternate countrified and rockified radio versions like "Love Story," no indie Americana bands featured as on "Safe & Sound." It's a straightforward pop-rock song; the most standout element, besides the singsong chorus, is the strong presence of heavy electric guitars. Does this mean that Swift is finally abandoning her country beginnings and focusing on pure pop music? I suspect not, since Taylor seems to like her twang every now and then. It's more an indication that Swift is doing some exploring in her songwriting and exhibiting her flexibility in the craft. Regardless of genre classification, she came out with a great song. And "Eyes Open," more than the mournful "Safe & Sound," has the potential to become Swift's next big big radio hit.

Swift made wise decisions in composing a song attached to as massive a cultural phenomenon as The Hunger Games. She wrote lyrics to "Eyes Open" that could be interpreted in light of The Hunger Games survivalist storyline--"Yesterday we were just children/Playing soldiers/Just pretending/Dreaming dreams with happy endings/In backyards/Winning battles with our wooden swords/But now we've stepped into a cruel world/Where everybody stands to keep score"--but avoided any direct references to mockingjays or District 12, which would have ruined the song's chances at a life post-movie hype. Her metaphorical language is allowed to stand on its own and its message, which, typical of Swift, is an encouraging one, extends past the movie's storyline into something universal--keep conscious and aware, and life won't be so hard.

It needs to be said that "Eyes Open" is also Swift's most adventurous and maybe even her best vocal performance to date. She sings the song in the spirited and upbeat manner that it needs, and in the verses the vocal melody swings to a higher register that Swift has rarely showcased before. If Swift meant the song to be a vocal experiment in reaching for higher, different-sounding notes, it's a successful one--her voice sounds lovely, crisp and passionate; her upper register on this song sounds a little like Katy Perry's more fragile and intimate side heard on songs like "Thinking Of You." It's a beautiful kick in the face at such naysayers who've declaimed Swift's supposed lack of vocal range.

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