Taylor Swift's "Welcome to New York" Vs. Jay Z's "Empire State of Mind": Which Is the True NYC Anthem?
Late Monday night, Taylor Swift released yet another song from her upcoming album 1989 for all of her loyal, diehard fans (and curious critics waiting to see what's next in this direction she's taking her music) to enjoy. That song was called "Welcome to New York" and it was an ode to the city that she had fallen in love with over the past year, one that I still can't listen to without feeling more than a little smug about how awesome my hometown is. However, "Welcome to New York" is one of many, many, many odes to New York City that have been written over the years and I couldn't help but compare it to the last one that really took off. Jay Z's "Empire State of Mind" was released in 2009 and it was an epic tribute to the Big Apple. How does "Welcome to New York" stack up to that?
To be fair to Swift, she wasn't aiming to write a song to knock "Empire State of Mind" off the throne of Best Mainstream Music Anthem to New York City. Who can compete with the likes of Jay Z and Alicia Keys? However, I wouldn't be a very good New Yorker if I allowed us all to split our loyalties as far as anthems are concerned. "Welcome to New York" and "Empire State of Mind" are the best NYC-based singles to come from a place that isn't Broadway, but which one is the unequivocal anthem for our fair city? Let's examine the facts.
As fun as it might be to listen to, "Welcome to New York" has absolutely no practical use for anyone who might want to listen to the song and learn something about New York. The only specific place that Swift mentions is The Village and even that gets little more description than being aglow. "Empire State of Mind" on the other hand mentions Brooklyn, Tribeca, Harlem, Broadway, State Street, 8th Street, Bedford-Stuyvesant and that's all in the first verse. You could practically draw a map based off the song.
As far as content goes, it might be a byproduct of the rap style, but Jay Z fits a lot more into "Empire State of Mind" than Swift does into "Welcome to New York". In three verses, a chorus, and a bridge, there are so many locations, descriptions, feelings, and inspiration packed into that four minute song. By contrast, "Welcome to New York" is three minutes long and has two verses, two bridges, and a chorus that is mostly made up of saying welcome to New York over and over again. There just wasn't much in there.
The image that both songs paint of New York is roughly similar. Swift paints the city as a land of endless opportunity, full of potential and possibilities and people of every walk of life all moving together as one. Jay Z and Keys paint the city in a similar way, though Jay Z does mention its darker underbelly in such lines as "Tell by my attitude that I'm most definitely from New York". However, both songs agree that there's no city in the world like New York.
This is the only category in which "Welcome to New York" is a clear winner. Raise your hand if you actually know all the words to "Empire State of Mind". Go on. All two of you can raise your hands. Let's be honest with ourselves here and admit that most of us only know "in New York" and "let's hear it for New York" as far as lyrics go. Meanwhile, "Welcome to New York" is so catchy that you probably have that entire thing memorized by now, don't you?
"Empire State of Mind" has been out since 2009 so it's had enough time to bleed into other places like 30 Rock and Glee. Meanwhile, Swift's song has only been out for three days and it seems like, at least to her fans, it has already revolutionized their whole lives. Considering 30 Rock has ended and Glee is entering its final season, there might not be a chance for "Welcome to New York" to have quite the same impact. I think we should keep "Empire State of Mind" as the anthem, at least for now.