Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York has been widely criticized in news articles as bullshit, the worst ode to NYC ever, and one of the worst catchy songs ever. Longtime Lower East Side documentarian Clayton Patterson went a step further in a video response that intersperses bits of a bubbly Swift lauding the city, with clips from the 1980s and 1990s showing the Tompkins Square riots and a naked, poop-covered G.G. Allin. But Patterson’s retort — its scenes of chaos, police brutality, and grime — has left New Yorkers wondering: Is this the comeback we wanted? Did Patterson’s attempt at capturing a multi-layered and complex city miss the mark?
“It was the best we could do in a short time frame and with our budget,” Patterson told the Voice. “The point of the video was to get a conversation going. I’m not a corporation; I’m an independent person who’s trying to make a point with the tools available to me.”
Patterson had to quickly right what he considered to be a “real insult” — having someone who doesn’t know the culture of the city representing it. “I hadn’t even heard of Taylor Swift till I learned she was my cultural ambassador.”
And what is the New York City that Patterson hoped to depict? For him, NYC has long been a beacon of opportunity, especially for creative folks. Creative people like him were able to “find things here that were needed to facilitate what they needed to express.”
The city was an “immigrant mecca” that offered a chance to “go from the moth to the butterfly,” he says. “It was the art capital of the world, where people came to achieve their creative destiny.”
People were able to thrive on cheap rent and an inexpensive lifestyle, certain that, like their forebears of the rags-to-riches narrative, they too would eventually make it to the mainstream.
But the 65-year-old artist, who has long complained of the gentrification in the city, is upset with the New York of today — the mass closure of bookstores, libraries, and small businesses and the growth of luxury hotels, commercial food chains, and high-rises.
“It’s become a mall!” he says, and Swift’s welcome campaign seems more like an apt mall ad. He has no qualms with the young songstress. His video is targeted at what she represents: the corporatization of New York City. The politicians are to blame, he says, for destroying the culture of the city.
“We’re eliminating our past and we’re saying everything needs to be fresh now. Today. In cities like Paris or Vienna, people can still follow the history.” Today’s New York has become “so corporate that we’re importing talent from L.A. Everything about it is so wrong,” he says.
He urges viewers to look past the scenes of riots and grunge in his version of Welcome to New York. “It is not about the negativity,” he says. Riots (like Tompkins or Stonewall) were a way of expressing frustration, like a pushback to the man. “Civil rights happened that way, gay rights happened that way,” he says.
Like most New Yorkers, he wonders why young local talent such as Dameht — a Lower East Side rock band that Patterson has groomed over the years — weren’t chosen to represent the city. Or even other talents: “Lady Gaga could have represented New York. Is Alicia Keys too old?
“We’re cutting off the hope of the creative people. They [his mentees] are frustrated because they are wondering why they [even bother]. People have to have courage that somehow they’ll make it to the mainstream,” he said.
Patterson has lived on the Lower East Side since the early 1980s and he is a force to be reckoned with in NYC’s creative underground.
When he reiterates his words from his New York Times interview, “My world is disappearing. I didn’t leave the Lower East Side; the Lower East Side left me,” it makes you think: Are these the rants of a disillusioned old New Yorker, mourning the ghosts of the city’s past, or is this a call to re-examine the cultural direction of today’s NY?
NYC & Company, the organization behind tourism in the city and the decision to make Taylor Swift NYC’s Global Welcome Ambassador, did not respond to the Voice for comment.
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