As if in an attempt to taunt fans of yesterday’s Taylor Swift, iTunes still characterizes the 25-year-old singer as “Country.”
Swift released her newest album, “1989,” on Saturday, October 27, 2014. Like Swift’s first album “Taylor Swift”, a country record released in 2006, 1989’s title is also autobiographical: it’s Swift’s birth year. The similarities between the two albums end there. The Country Music Awards keep nominating Swift for their top level awards (perhaps to increase viewership), but Swift’s only remnant of “country” is iTunes’ now laughable label.
With 1989, Swift has completely foregone her country roots in an attempt to break into dance-pop. Swift collaborated with Imogen Heap, Jack Antonoff and Ryan Tedder on various songs. 1989 does present a good mix of ballads for singer-songwriter fans and dance songs for pop fans, but a few of the high paced songs are forced and cringeworthy.
Swift has not yet made the album available for streaming on popular services such as Spotify. She included Polaroid-style pictures of herself in the album, as well as three bonus songs and three songwriting memos on deluxe version, sending dedicated fans to stores to pick up physical copies. She is slated to have the best week of album sales in over a decade. According to Billboard’s Keith Caulfield, if 1989 keeps its momentum, Swift will take the record for best week in sales for a female artist from Britney Spears’ 2000 “Oops!…I Did It Again” sales.
“Shake It Off” is the most recognizable song off the album, as it was released as a single in mid August. A feel-good song, “Shake It Off” is markedly Swift with its confident lyrics and catchy instrumental music. Releasing this song as a teaser to the album was a good move on Swift’s part—it’s a song that makes the listener excited, which undoubtedly boosted hype and led to strong record sales.
If you’re only going to listen to one song on the record, listen to “New Romantics” (available on the deluxe version). Of the fast paced songs on the album, this is the most well-crafted and the one that best showcases Swift’s strong vocals. Swift sings, “Please take my hand and, please take me dancing, and please leave me stranded, it’s so romantic.” These lyrics poetically mirror the shift in her career. New Romantics is not the best song on the record, but it is the most definitive of Swift’s new style.
New Romantics was a success, but Swift should have stopped there, as the other dance-pop songs on the record make the overall product weaker. “Welcome to New York,” “Out Of The Woods,” “All You Had To Do Was Stay” and “Bad Blood,” all sound generic and decidedly un-Taylor Swift. The vocals in all these songs are choppy, as though Swift tried too hard to fit the unimaginative lyrics to a vanilla dance beat. Swift’s songwriting genius and strong vocal range are her greatest assets; without utilizing them, her songs flop.
The strongest songs on the album lay off the pop beats and leave room for Swift’s lyrics to shine. The ballad “You Are In Love,” does what Swift does best. Her voice is the perfect vehicle for love stories, and “You Are In Love” makes listeners feel something. Fans of Swift’s first three albums will enjoy this song as well as “This Love,” “Wildest Dreams” and “Clean,” for the beautiful music storytelling that put Swift on the charts in the first place.
Many were quick to point to Swift’s fourth album, “Red” (2012), as Swift’s pop makeover, which is understandable given the popularity of Red’s radio hits like “I Knew You Were Trouble”. Most of Red, from the title track to “Begin Again,” was true to Swift as a singer-songwriter.
It looks like Red was Swift’s country swan song, but fans of her lyrics shouldn’t despair. 1989 proved that Swift can still write a universal love song (or five). It showed that she has made significant progress as a musician, and that she still has plenty of room to grow in her new pop identity. Though there are few disappointing songs on the album, loyal fans will look at the glass as half full. Fans will be looking for more creative beats and lyrical integrity from Swift in the future. Swift gives us something to enjoy in 1989, and a lot to look forward to.