ZAYN & Taylor Swift
I Don't Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)
Here's a riddle for you: When is a generic breakup duet not just a generic breakup duet?
Here's your two-part answer: One, when the duet is between the reigning pop queen of the musical universe, Taylor Swift, and former One Direction member ZAYN (full name: Zayn Malik … but he's gone all-cap mononymical these days).
And, two, when their breathy, smoldering ballad is attached to the even more breathy, smoldering sequel Fifty Shades Darker (which lands in theaters in February 2017).
Love Still Hurts
As end-of-relationship songs go, this one's pretty standard-issue. ZAYN and Taylor take turns expressing their post-romance pain, a hurt that's so agonizing that they find themselves despairing about the future.
"It's a just a cruel existence, like there's no point hoping at all," ZAYN emotes. "Baby, baby, I feel crazy, up all night, all night and every day."
Taylor's not in any better shape. "I'm sitting eyes wide open, and I got one thing stuck on my mind," she sings. "Wondering if I dodged a bullet or just lost the love of my life."
There's more disoriented regret and confusion elsewhere in the song. The chorus (which they each sing individually, then together) hyperbolically projects their pain into the infinite future as they sing, "I don't wanna live forever, 'cause I know I'll be living in vain/ … I just wanna keep calling your name until you come back home."
That last line could be read as a veiled allusion to a sundered cohabiting arrangement. But it could just as easily be using the word home as a metaphor for the warmth of the relationship now ended.
The only other lyric that might have a mildly suggestive implication is when Taylor complains, "I gave you something, but you gave nothing, what is happening to me?" The "something" in question here obviously hints at an emotional investment, but one that could have had a sexual component as well. Still, the song never explicitly goes there.
Which is certainly more restraint than the movie to which it's attached will likely exercise.
A Marketing Match Made in Heaven?
Swift obviously doesn't need help expanding her audience or influence. (And ZAYN's post-1D solo career seems to be off to a solid start too.) She's a once-in-a-generation phenomenon whose image has gradually morphed from squeaky-clean country teen songstress into a sophisticated artist who now breezily sings lines like, "Got a long list of ex-lovers" ("Blank Space").
At first glance, it might seem as if the folks at Universal Pictures are getting the better end of this collaboration. I mean, Taylor Swift!? I know, right? Swift has lent her much-coveted brand equity to a decidedly darker, more explicitly sexual franchise. That imprimatur has to be considered the marketing coup of the millennium for whoever coaxed Swift and ZAYN to get on board with this project.
And yet …
Taylor's been drifting in an increasingly "adult" direction—both sound-wise and in terms of her songs' sensual and sexual themes—for the last several albums. And though she's never taken the kind of giant leap into explicit material that some of her former child-star peers have, Swift's songs these days are nevertheless a long ways from "Today Was a Fairytale." So perhaps she views the implicit endorsement of Fifty Shades Darker as her next calculated step, an opportunity to further define herself as an adult artist and to, ahem, shake off the last vestiges of her formerly innocent image.
Swift's decision may well boost her brand among older fans and viewers of the movie. But it also suggests to her younger fans that the bondage and S&M-filled movie Fifty Shades Darker should be on their pop-cultural radar … when it might not have been otherwise.