Favorites: Blank Space, Style, Shake it Off, Bad Blood, Wildest Dreams
Overall: 80’s inspired, delightfully cynically optimistic
In absorbing all the promotion and talk about Taylor Swift’s new album, 1989 (her birth year), the most annoying thing is the fixation with the fact that it’s her 1st effort to labeled and pushed as pop and not pop/country or country, as if it’s going to be a big change for the singer. Swift mentioned in interviews that her record label was nervous about the so-called genre switch. Is everyone new here? Sure, there was an acoustic guitar, songs about Tim McGraw, studded belts and cowboy boots, but pop has always been in her musical soil and are we really going to act like 2012’s Red carried the torch of Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire or even the Nashville fictional character Rayna James? Come on. Swift is so unsurprisingly cozy and confident in the 80’s synth-poppy land of this record, you might wonder why “country” and “Taylor Swift” were ever in the same sentence to begin with.
I have an aversion to much of techno and 80’s roboto, so musically, I prefer Red of Swift’s blatantly pop albums, but the production has a certain staginess that makes it more tolerable. It’s the kind of staginess that, with the conjoining lyrics, it takes you out of your body and has you stuck daydreaming or dusting off memories you’ve fought so hard to keep in your mental attic. Once again, Swift has created an audio alternate universe that externally glitters pink with the butterflies of love and infatuation, but confronts some of its realities with a muted light on the inside. Romantic failures and disappointments are cynically accepted as standard and inevitable, but the hope for better still loiters. As she declares in “New Romantics:” “Heartbreak is the national anthem…the best people in life are free.” Swift reflects the heart process of most fatigued female daters: when their initial Disney ideals are dashed, they try to toughen and make themselves embrace things they really don’t like and/or want to get what they can get. For instance, on “Wildest Dreams,” she pleads with a rolling stone of a guy not to forget her after a hookup. “Dreams” is 1 of a few songs with some sort of sexual situation, and thankfully, she takes time to create atmosphere and tone instead of taking the easy-and brainless-road of being graphic and/or literal. It tickled me how unabashedly Swift admits her compulsive attraction to men she instinctively knows she has no future with, while parodying her dating reputation in the press. On “Blank Space,” she sings: “You look like my next mistake…I can make the bad guys good for a weekend…Got a long list of ex-lovers, they'll tell you I'm insane, 'cause you know I love the players and you love the game.” Sidebar: is it just me or does the beginning of “Space” remind you of Justin Bieber’s “Girlfriend?”
Ok, now for criticisms. As much as I love how Taylor gets pink glitter and muted light to fit, it drives me slightly nuts when the grim and twisty grooves suddenly become peppy. I get attached to them and then poof! Floaty glitter cloud (ex. “I Know Places” and 2012’s “I Knew You Were Trouble”). For Swift to have just moved to the canonized New York, “Welcome to New York” is very pedestrian, far from “Empire State of Mind” (by Jay-Z & Alicia Keys) and doesn’t do its job as an album opener. This doesn’t help her case with being recently named the ambassador of the city. The above mentioned “New Romantics” is the only track worth getting the Target deluxe edition for. Yes, it comes with 3 original voice memos to demonstrate Swift’s various songwriting processes, which is a cool concept in theory, but the snippets don’t really reveal much beyond her precursor back-stories. You don’t hear (or get a visual of) how her song ideas form or what melodies, phrases or words came before the final product. I think the pieces of paper she scribbles her lyrics on would be more telling. Besides these few little bobbles (and Swift’s vocal limitations), I love this album and had a hard time narrowing down my “favorites” to just 4 or 5 (which is a general rule of mine). I love its carefree air with a depressed heart; its cynical optimism. Sorry to follow the charge and give yet another glowing 1989 endorsement, but oops! Swift has done it again.