Should Have Been Bigger: Taylor Swift’s Eerie “Safe & Sound”
By 2011, Taylor Swift had already started edging towards pop. She would complete the transition on 2012’s Red, but she still had one, last country classic to write. A collaboration with The Civil Wars, “Safe & Sound” was one of two new songs Taylor contributed to The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond. With its sparse, eerie production and alt-sensibility, “Safe & Sound” ranks as one of the superstar’s most beguiling singles. Taylor’s breathy vocals have never been better utilized and the menacing lyrics are a testament to her versatility as a songwriter.
“Don’t you dare look out your window, darling, everything’s on fire,” the Lover hitmaker whispers on an unsettling verse. “The war outside our door keeps raging on, hold on to this lullaby.” While the tone is overwhelmingly bleak, a ray of light shines through on the chorus. “Just close your eyes, the sun is going down,” Taylor promises over T Bone Burnett’s acoustic arrangement. “You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now.” At a time when Taylor was penning songs about puppy love, this felt dangerous and challenging.
Despite critical acclaim and a Grammy award, “Safe & Sound” only peaked at number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100. Which is an impressive achievement for anyone else, but underwhelming by Taylor’s standards. Worse still, the track has been somewhat lost in the whirlwind success that followed. It doesn’t have the fan cachet of early classics and album deep cuts, and never really crossed over outside of Swiftie-Land unlike the massive hits from Red, 1989 and Reputation. Be that as it may, “Safe & Sound” holds up as a remarkable achievement and really should have been bigger.