It’s hard for me to say this, but: I am now a Taylor Swift fan. A reluctant fan, but still a fan, nonetheless. What else can I call myself when I downloaded her latest album the same day it was released? What else am if I actually enjoyed said album and listened to it on repeat for weeks after its debut?
1989 is Swift’s fifth studio album, and is a big change in sound from her previous discs. While she’s always been known for having a mix of a pop/country sound, 1989 is the most pop-heavy album in Swift’s discography; in fact, Swift described the album herself as her “first pop album.”
Because I am- and always have been- a pop music lover, it’s not really a surprise to me that I love 1989 as much as I do. Corny as it may be, there’s nothing better to me than a really good, catchy pop song. And Swift’s album is filled with them.
The album’s opener, Welcome To New York, sounds like Cyndi Lauper reincarnated, with its buzzing synthesisers, hand-clapping in the background, and Swift’s overly-cheery delivery. It’s not the best track on the album, but it definitely gives you an idea for what’s in store. The album’s second single, Blank Space, fares much better and it’s no surprise, as the song’s producer/co-writer is none other than Max Martin– the Swedish producer known for his work in the late 90’s/early 2000’s with Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, and NSYNC. Basically, every pop song you really liked from 1998-2004 was produced or written by Max Martin, and he brings his charm and ear for pop music gold to Swift’s album. Blank Space features an incredible beat, but the real delight of the song is the tongue-in-cheek lyrics, in which Swift pokes fun at her public persona (“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”).
All You Had To Do Was Stay is a refreshing, mid-tempo number, again co-written/produced by Max Martin. The song is another favourite of mine, mostly due to the catchy hook, and Swift’s sweet vocals. The lead single off the album was Shake It Off. If I thought the songs so far were catchy, this blows them out of the water; this is one of those pop songs that- like it or not- will be stuck in your head for hours after hearing it. The peppy sax line that plays throughout, Swift’s cheerful singing (really reminiscent of Toni Basil’s “Mickey”), and the carefree lyrics (“But I keep cruising/Can’t stop, won’t stop moving/It’s like I got this music/In my mind/Saying, ‘It’s gonna be alright.'”) all make the track a hit. Perhaps the only bad part is when Swift attempts a little rap during the bridge, but I’m willing to overlook that for what is otherwise a pretty perfect pop song.
However, the BEST song on the album is easily Bad Blood. I am saying this now, in May 2015, right at the beginning of the song’s run as fourth single, and reserve my right to change my mind 5 months down the road, when it’s terribly overplayed and I’m sick of hearing it, though. But for now, and since the moment I heard it, Bad Blood is my favourite track. It’s got everything a good pop song needs: lyrics based on a rivalry with another pop star (lines like, “Did you have to do this? I was thinking that you could be trusted” and “Did you think we’d be fine? Still got scars on my back from your knife” are supposedly shots at Katy Perry), a throbbing bass beat, and a chorus that I can’t help singing along to. Really, this song just makes me nostalgic for those aforementioned pop glory days…can’t the pop princesses and boy bands of my time make a comeback solely to Max Martin songs? Please?
The rest of the album has its highs and lows. Wildest Dreams is a mid-tempo ballad which ends up sounding like the best song Lana Del Ray never released. That’s a compliment, though; Swift’s vocals are at their softest and loveliest here, and the lyrics aren’t half bad either (“He said, ‘Let’s get out of this town/Drive out of the city, away from the crowds.’/I thought heaven can’t help me now./Nothing lasts forever, but this is gonna take me down”). Meanwhile, I Know Places, a dark and somewhat strange song co-written/produced by Ryan Tedder (of the band OneRepublic), is another of the album’s highlights. The song sounds different from anything Swift’s done before, and that’s a good thing- it’s nice to hear her expand her musical repertoire and she pulls off the change in sound expertly.
Unfortunately, some of the other tracks aren’t pulled off as well. Style, which was the third single, never really impressed me; the new wave sound is nice enough, but the song doesn’t have much to it to interest me, and I certainly wasn’t interested in the alleged story of the lyrics being about Harry Styles. The same could be said of Out Of The Woods. The track is another 80’s throwback and though the sound is decent, the song doesn’t go anywhere musically or lyrically, and is forgettable in the long run. How You Get The Girl is probably the worst offender on the album; it sounds like a rejected Bananarama song or something equally horrible. The lyrics and beat are just too cheesy and I can’t listen to the song for more than a few seconds without wanting to quickly switch it off.
The album closes with Clean, a collaboration with Imogen Heap. I found the pairing of Swift and Heap to be an odd combination before even hearing the song, but I had high hopes for what could come out of the two of them. Honestly, though, Clean is a big let down. The song is pretty enough- especially with the layered vocals (Heap’s trademark thing) during the verses and choruses- but it’s another song that just fails to excite. The melody just flows along, not changing or leading up to anything and though the lyrics are nice (“Rain came pouring down when I was drowning/That’s when I could finally breathe/And by morning, gone was any trace of you/I think I am finally clean”), the song is just too boring for me to pay attention to them. The most disappointing thing, however, is how little of Imogen Heap’s influence is found on the song. Besides the backing vocals (which are obviously hers) and the layering style, the song sounds like it could’ve been produced by anyone, rather than someone with a style as distinctive as Imogen Heap’s. Oh well- can’t win them all, I guess.
For the most part, 1989 is a great album. Taylor Swift has found a sound that really works for her. In the past, I never felt her music to be really all that “country”, nor was it poppy enough for me to consider it “real” pop music. Shedding the country influence in her songs and re-branding herself as a pop artist was definitely a risk, but Swift has found her niche, and in it, gained a new (reluctant, but unashamed) fan.
1. Welcome to New York
2. Blank Space
4. Out of the Woods
5. All You Had to Do Was Stay
6. Shake It Off
7. I Wish You Would
8. Bad Blood
9. Wildest Dreams
10. How You Get the Girl
11. This Love
12. I Know Places