I’d like to go on record to say that I have not been a closet Taylor Swift fan. Her first three records were great, although after Fearless she got more pop than I cared for. Speak Now had some solid country/pop tunes, but I could tell she was moving away from the full-on country she pretty much started with. I’d also like to go on record and say that I hated Red. What I heard of it, I couldn’t stand. The record to me was a growing phase, and the now 24-year old singer/songwriter had a choice to make. Either go back to the country fused with pop that made you who you are, and keep riding that line, or go full pop. I wasn’t sure which way she would lean, to be honest. She’s a gifted songwriter and has a team around here that helps her make all the right decisions (I’m even looking at you, Spotify). So for 1989, she’s ditched country for pop.
1989 is a pop record, to be sure, but it still reeks of where Swift came from. She knows her market, and even more, she knows her fans. They want something a bit more deep than what we’ve been getting. So what does a songwriter who’s written four records of relationship-focused songs do to keep it going? She releases a straight pop album focused on the year she was born, complete with perfect Instagram and Twitter quotes, and turn the millennials hearts to mush. Take “Blank Space” for instance. Meeting a new guy, playing coy: “Love’s a game, wanna play?”, which turns into why: “Cause we’re young and we’re reckless / We’ll take this way too far / It’ll leave you breathless / Or with a nasty scar / Got a long list of ex-lovers / They’ll tell you I’m insane / But I’ve got a blank space, baby / And I’ll write your name”. It’s her YOLO song. And it’s not just hers. It’ll be every single one of her fan’s as well.
And that’s pretty much how the record goes. The crazy part about all of it, and possibly the most intriguing, is that Swift is doing it right. She’s completely embraced pop, and while many artist struggle with finding their voice in pop without sounding cheesy, she’s making a record that is actual good music. We’ve always known Swift is talented, that’s a given. She’s always had the team around her that’s helped her make her who she is. But an dark-ish 80's pop tune like “Style” proves she’s got much more to prove. Like making good music that isn’t like the rest of the sex-fueled radio we hear on a regular basis. 1989 isn’t clean or innocent, but it’s much cleaner than say, Iggy Azalea or even Britney Spears. There’s no threesome song here to find. It’s pure, with a few scars, which is the way Taylor keeps it. “You got that long hair, slicked back, white t-shirt / And I got that good girl faith and a tight little skirt / And when we go crashing down, we come back every time / ‘Cause we never go out of style”. “Out of the Woods” is another example, with strong beats, a dreamy atmosphere, and gives off the perfect feeling of being lost in the woods, just like many of her fans feel when they’re in a relationship.
Swift is putting words to her fan’s thoughts, because she’s one of them. She’s proving with every track here that she’s on their level. Guitars return in the more upbeat tracks like “I Wish You Would”, and you’ll hear the acoustic guitar too on “How You Get The Girl”, the latter of which is the closest to something from Red, but fused with a conscious amount of pop beats. “This Love” is similar, with the acoustic taking a prominent role, so Swift hasn’t fully removed the instrumentation from her new style. Another focused ballad (but what isn’t?) is the emotional “Wildest Dreams”, but what’s funny is how out of place the lead single “Shake It Off” feels on this record. The entire album stays firmly rooted in the late 80's synth dance feel, and while the single certainly brings on the dance, it’s much more stripped from the synths and beats than anything else on the collection. The album ends with another stripped down track, “Clean”, featuring production and studio work from electronic artist Imogen Heap. It’s by far the most ambitious we’ve ever heard from Swift, and it’s a fitting end to a stellar record.
After what I considered to be such a fiasco with Red, I really thought Swift would go back to country/pop and stay there. I neglected the fact that the album was her best selling up until the release of 1989. I was surprised to love this record as much as I do, and even more impressed with her marketing campaigns for it. She’s the only artist I’ve known to dominate all of the ads on iTunes for a full day, and it’s entirely possible she’ll have the final week one platinum record. As for the future? Swift will tour arenas, selling out nearly every single one, and continue to give her fans exactly what they want: a personal, intimate look into her life, beyond just Instagram and Twitter.