For probably millions of people, many of them too young to remember a time when music didn’t readily flow from the internet like water from a faucet, it doesn’t matter what the Jack Antonoff-produced Taylor Swift/ZAYN duet “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” sounds like; it only matters that it exists at all. And existing is basically the extent of what this sonic expression of celebrity entitlement does. It is there. Given the magnitude of its stars and its high-profile cinematic attachment as the lead single from the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack, it will likely be here and there and everywhere you go for a while and then it will fade because the vast majority of pop songs don’t live forever whether they want to or not.
No one present seems to mind or, for that matter, feel much of anything, though ZAYN at least has the respect to pretend like he’s doing something—he transitions to his queasy falsetto like he’s flipping pancakes and believes that the higher they go the better they’ll taste. Swift, meanwhile, sounds as anonymous as she did in her uncredited turn on Calvin Harris’s Rihanna collaboration from earlier this year, “This Is What You Came For.” Any chemistry you detect between ZAYN and Swift is a product of your active imagination—they recorded their parts separately. Lyrically, ZAYN’s character is “behind four walls,” while Swift’s is between two cliches (“Wondering if I dodged a bullet or just lost the love of my life”). They deserve each other.
The stunt casting, which finds Swift in midtempo reverie with her ex-boyfriend Harry Styles’s former One Direction groupmate ZAYN, seems calculated to set tongues wagging. Is it shade? Is it an admission of attraction? Or... is it just a bunch of people showing up to do their jobs, nothing more nothing less?
Antonoff said on Twitter that this song took a week to put together, and, well, that explains it. Yet another entry in the endless file of pop songs fueled on “Oh oh...”-/“Whoa whoa...”-/ “Whoa oh...”-choruses (a favored medium of Antonoff), it doesn’t get more generic or less offensive than this. You could fuck a fast-ish fuck to it or dance a slow-ish dance to it, but it seems like you’re mostly just supposed to submit to the star power at hand. That’s verrrrry light kink.