The first single from 1989, this track finds Taylor Swift dismissing her haters. The song was inspired by how the country-pop princess has learned to deal with all the false rumors that have circulated since her 2012 Red album. "I've had to learn a pretty tough lesson in the past couple years that people can say whatever they want about at any time, and we cannot control that," said Swift. "The only thing we can control is our reaction to that … You can either let it get to you … [or] you just shake it off."
Taylor's 2011 single "Mean" previously found her taking aim at her critics.
The song originated from Swift learning to overcome her fear of not being accepted. "I think it kind of takes not caring what people think about you a step further to kind of locking the fact that people don't get you," she explained to BBC Radio 1's Breakfast Show. "Kind of taking pride in the fact that you know you are and it honestly doesn't matter if someone else doesn't want to understand you. We go through these scenarios in so many different phrases of our lives, no matter what it is."
The phrase "shake it off" shows up 36 times in this song, mostly in the chorus. "Shake" appears 70 times.
The song was produced by Max Martin and Shellback - Swift also wrote the song with the duo. Swift's previous collaborations with the Swedish hitmakers ("We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together Again" and "I Knew You Were Trouble") had combined their pop melodies with country trappings, but this song finds her forsaking the Nashville sound altogether.
The music video was directed by Mark Romanek (Johnny Cash's "Hurt," Michael and Janet Jackson's "Scream") and shot in June 2014 over three days in Los Angeles. The clip explores the idea of identifying who someone is by the way they dance as we see Swift jiving in an assortment of styles accompanied by some of the world's best dance crews. "It has a lot of professional dancers in it and me trying to awkwardly keep up," she told the BBC. "In one scene I kind of find my own people that I like dancing with, and the people I fit in with, so we picked all these fans from Instagram and Twitter and invited them to a place, they had no idea what was gonna happen."
A look at the instrumentation on this track:
Drums - The foundation of the song, a variety of drum sounds with various degrees of reverb show up on most of the track. Provide the "sick beat" Swift speaks of.
Saxophone - That's a tenor sax playing throughout. Sax was big at the time, also playing a prominent role in "Problem" by Ariana Grande and "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
Trumpet - Listen for this in the second and third choruses.
Bass - A deft electric bass accentuates the verses and is most prominent in the chorus. A synth bass provides the low drone heard in the chorus.
Synthesizer - Adds texture to the chorus.
Shaker - To go along with the breakdown when Taylor sings, "Shake, shake, shake." Clever.
Hand Claps - Augment the drums and come to life in the cheerleader section. Adds another organic element to the song to keep it from sounding too electro.
Taylor said the tune was born from her own challenges. "I want this song to go out into the world and not be about my critics," she explained to Fusion's Alicia Menendez. "I want it to be about the girl who's criticizing someone in 11th grade because she thinks that her hair looks stupid. And that girl then goes and cries in the bathroom because of it. These are things that we go through in every phase of our life, starting with your job, and there's just someone who has it out for you."
"I had a lot of days where I would come home from school and get in the car, and my mom would try so hard to console me because someone had made fun of me or someone had said something about me or not invited me to something that I was dying to go to," Taylor continued. "And she would always try to find songs that would bring me out of that. Music always helped distract me from that. So I think my greatest hope is that this started out to be about my life, and I just want it to go out into cars and speakers and earphones and become about their lives."
The song debuted at #1 on the Hot 100. Fittingly it was song number 22 to debut at the summit. The single was also the second #1 debut in a row to contain the word "shake," following Baauer's "Harlem Shake."
Coming up with a bridge section can be a challenge in a pure pop song like this one, especially when there is just one lead vocalist. Many songs around this time featured multiple singers and EDM breaks, but this is just Taylor and no disco. The solution was to manipulate her voice and transition into a hand clap section.
Starting at 2:19, we hear Swift speaking as if she's coming through a telephone line by equalizing out the low frequencies ("hey, hey, hey..."). This leads into the cheerleader-style singing section (shown in the video with actual cheerleaders) where the clapping takes the lead until the drop into the final chorus. Note that this break is also a narrative shift, as Swift talks directly to the listener ("you could have been gettin' down to this sick beat...").
The song was Max Martin's 18th #1 as a songwriter, placing him in third place among writers with the most chart-toppers on the Hot 100. Only Paul McCartney, with 32 #1s, and John Lennon with 26, have achieved more.
1989 is Taylor Swift's first official pop album, and is titled after the year that the singer was born. The record's pop sensibilities center on the music of that era. "I was listening to a lot of late '80s pop music and how bold those songs were and how that time period was a time of limitless possibilities," she said. "In thinking about that, this album is a rebirth for me. This is my very first documented, official pop album. 1989 is is the most sonically cohesive album I have ever made and my favorite album I have ever made."
There are three choruses in this song, which account for half of its 3:37 running time. Each chorus is progressively longer: the first one runs :24, but the second chorus adds another :12 section (the part where Taylor sings, "Shake it off... I, I, I..."), bringing it to :36. The final chorus repeats this :12 section twice, clocking in at :48. Total chorus time: 1:48.
Very rare in the realm of hit song, this one goes completely silent at 2:42 and stays that way for about a second before blasting into the last chorus. This is a very clever technique that keeps the song interesting.
Earl Sweatshirt criticized the video, alleging it played on racial stereotypes. His comments received a great deal of coverage in the media, despite the rapper admitting he'd never actually watched the clip. Mark Romanek, who directed the clip, said in response to Earl Sweatshirt's remarks: "We simply choose styles of dance that we thought would be popular and amusing and cast the best dancers that were presented to us without much regard to race or ethnicity."
"If you look at it carefully, it's a massively inclusive piece," the director added. "It's very, very innocently and positively intentioned. And - let's remember - it's a satirical piece. It's playing with a whole range of music-video tropes and clichés and stereotypes."
Be on the listen for the verse lines where Swift echoes the last word, creating a little vocal hook:
That's what people say-ay-ay... That's what they don't see-ee-ee... That's what they don't know-ow-ow...
It's repetition with variation, and it helps drive home the theme of ignoring the gossip-mongers who don't understand. This echo is done by the word (rather than the syllable) in the chorus, with lines like, "The fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake."
Speaking on Alan Carr's Chatty Man, Taylor said she was inspired to write the song as a way of dealing with some of the gossip she read about herself. One of the strange rumors the singer came across is about where she goes to write. Taylor explained, "I feel like I don't have a special song writing lair. I did read an article once though which said that I had a treasure chest of ex-boyfriend's belongings which I have to go and touch in order to write songs. That was a special day."
"So I wrote 'Shake it Off' so that it's like a coping mechanism for when people say things like that," she continued, "Or when I have to Google the person they say I'm dating because I don't know who it is, or when they say I've bought a house in San Diego, and I'm like 'but have I ever been there though?'"
"And I wanted to write a song that would make people, not feel victimized when they sang it, I didn't want it to come from a place of 'Why are you doing this to me? I feel so victimized and sad,'" Taylor added. "I wanted to be like 'Okay, you're irritated that I'm being myself. You're going to talk about me, because I'm being myself, you're going to make things up about me, because I'm being myself. I'm just going to be myself more.'"
Taylor explained to Billboard magazine the difference between this song and her 2010 tune about dealing with haters, "Mean." "Four years ago I put out a song called 'Mean' from the perspective of 'Why are you picking on me? Why can I never do anything right in your eyes?' It was coming from a semi-defeated place," she explained. "Fast-forward a few years and 'Shake It Off' is like, 'You know what? If you're upset and irritated that I'm just being myself, I'm going to be myself more, and I'm having more fun than you so it doesn't matter.'"
1989 sold 1.287 million copies in its debut week in the US. It was the largest sales week for an album since Eminem's The Eminem Show sold 1.322 million in the week ending June 2, 2002.
1989 was the top selling album of 2014 in the US, clocking up sales of 3.66 million. Runner-up, Disney's Frozen soundtrack was close behind with 3.53 million copies.
A video of a Dover, Delaware, policeman singing and dancing along to the sing went viral after being uploaded on January 16, 2015. The clip's popularity was helped by an endorsement from Swift, who said the cop has "sass."
When this song took off in August 2014, a company called Schoolbook Sun applied to trademark the phrases "Shake It Off," "Cheaters Gonna Cheat" and "Players Gonna Play" for use on a variety of items, including clothing, stationary and stickers. In October, Swift filed for "This Sick Beat" and a few other phrases related to the album, including "Party Like It's 1989" and "Cause We Never Go Out Of Style."
This song was referenced in the 2015 episode of The Big Bang Theory "The Anxiety Optimization" when the character Sheldon Cooper brings his anxiety level up by listening to a recording of The Joker, Godzilla and Darth Vader played on a loop. He tells his roommate Leonard that he had Taylor Swift in there too, but "it turns out I love her." When Leonard walks away in disgust, Sheldon says, "Taylor was right - haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate."
When Taylor was 18, she appeared on Ryan Seacrest's radio show, where he asked her about dealing with breakups. Her response: "You learn. I'm just trying to shake it off. I'm not ready to jump back into anything."
After debuting at #1 on the Hot 100 on September 6, 2014, this song stayed for another week before Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" began an eight-week run at the top, at which point "Shake It Off" returned to the top spot, where it stayed for two more weeks (replaced by Swift's "Blank Space").
In some ways, there is a very spiritual component to this song. David Nichtern, a songwriter (he wrote the Maria Muldaur hit "Midnight at the Oasis") and senior instructor in Shambhala Buddhism, explains that the phrase "shake it off" is repeated in a way similar to how mantras are used in group meditations, and that its message is in line with the samsaric Buddhist lineage. Says Nichtern: "When you come form a place of aggression, or clinging, or any of these kinds of things, it tends to create a kind of ripple that reproduces itself. That's called samsara in Buddhism – the world of cyclic existence – going around and around. And then one version of enlightenment is you're trying to get off that wheel, trying to stop doing those habitual patterns that just keep getting you into the same place over and over again.
So that's why I'm calling it a samsaric mantra: it's still within that world, but it's very, very penetrating. That's one version of a hit. It's like you're stuck with your passion, you're stuck with your aggression, but you've found a little loop of it somewhere. Shake it off, shake it off. Sonically that has a kick to it that's very definable." (here's the full David Nichtern Songfacts interview.)
R&B singer Jesse Braham, whose stage name is Jesse Graham, has some bad blood against Swift. He filed a $42m lawsuit alleging that this song's chorus lifts words from his 2013 track "Haters Gone Hate." In addition to the financial compensation, Braham also demanded his name be added to the "Shake It Off" credits.
The dispute is focused around the chorus of Swift's song: "Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play. And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate." Graham claimed the hook is too similar to "Haters Gone Hate" which contains the phrase "Haters gonna hate, players gonna play."
Judge Gail Standish dismissed the lawsuit in Swift-style, saying in his closing statement: "At present, the Court is not saying that Braham can never, ever, ever get his case back in court. But, for now, we have got problems, and the Court is not sure Braham can solve them."
A couple of songwriters accused Taylor Swift of copyright infringement over the lyrics from this song. Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, who have previously worked with big names such as Justin Bieber, Pink and Maroon 5, said "Shake It Off" rips off their song "Playas Gon' Play," which was recorded by the popular American girl group 3LW and reached #81 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2001.
The lyrics to "Playas Gon' Play" include:
Playas, they gonna play. And haters, they gonna hate Ballers, they gonna ball Shot callers, they gonna call
The lyrics of "Shake it Off" include:
Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake I shake it off, I shake it off
Taylor Swift's legal team moved to dismiss the copyright lawsuit, arguing in a motion dated January 3, 2018 that the phrase should be in the public domain. "There can be no copyright protection in 'playas, they gonna play and haters, they gonna hate,' because it would impermissibly monopolize the idea that players will play and haters will hate," they wrote.
Taylor Swift shook off the lawsuit six weeks later. On February 13, 2018, U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald ruled that the phrase was too commonplace at the time to be a copy-protected original creative part of the song.
"The lynchpin of this entire case is thus whether or not the lyrics 'Playas, they gonna play. And haters, they gonna hate' are eligible for protection under the Copyright Act," he wrote in his ruling. "By 2001, American popular culture was heavily steeped in the concepts of players, haters, and player haters to render the phrases 'playas… gonna play' or 'haters… gonna hate', standing on their own, no more creative than 'runners gonna run', 'drummers gonna drum', or 'swimmers gonna swim.' The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal."