Mad Love: reviewing Taylor Swift’s new album, ‘1989’

Taylor-Swift-1989

Oh, it’s GOOD.

If “1989” goes platinum (which, in the world of Spotify and Pandora, no album has done this year), Taylor will be the first person in history to have three consecutive albums sell over one million copies. Woah.

I’ve been a die-hard Swift fan for years (there are photographs hidden in some corner of the internet of me wearing a homemade “Swifties since ‘o7” glitter t-shirt while taking pictures at the guardrails with some of her band members), which means I’ve heard it all: that she’s a clingy boy-crazy brat, that her lyrics are dumb or simplistic, that she’s only a pop fluke, etc etc etc.

There are a lot of counters to these arguments, but the most effective is plain and simple: her work.

Now she lets us in again with “1989,” named and inspired sonically by the year she was born, but cataloguing her life 2012-2014: her newfound friendship with Lena Dunham and other powerful women in the entertainment industry; her move to New York City; her collaboration and friendship with Jack Antonoff; her relationship with Harry Styles; her presence in the media, both in rumors and everyday paparazzi photoshoots.

The result is not shallow or guarded. She refines her greatest strength: creating diaristic tunes that translate feeling. She avoids the convoluted lyrics that most pop/indie bands write in an effort to seem deep or artsy. Instead, her lyrics are simple and easy to memorize, meant for screaming out car windows or scrawling in notebooks. Some of the most biting lyrics (“It’s all fun and games until somebody loses their mind”; “now I think I’m finally clean”; “we all show off scarlet letters, trust me mine is better”; “I know places we can hide”) seem simple, but her cadence and production make them hit home.

“1989” marks Swift’s first official venture into the world of pop, and she lets loose in terms of style and production. There’s the jaded crooning of Lana Del Rey (“Wildest Dreams”); rousing echoed choruses of Lorde (“New Romantics,” “Blank Space”); hollow drum beats and samples of Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff (who co-write/produced several tracks); the groove of Daft Punk (“Style”); Avril Lavigne (“Shake it Off,” “Bad Blood”) and Rihanna (see “Wonderland” for some “Umbrella” flashbacks, AY AY AY); classic musings on love and loss à la Joni Mitchell; Enya (maybe I’m crazy, but I hear it in “This Love” and “Blank Space”); Robyn; Fine Young Cannibals (the snare on “I Wish You Would” was inspired by FYC’s “She Drives Me Crazy”); and, of course, 80s new wave (hollow drums of Blondie, Talking Heads’ “Slippery People”).

Perhaps surprisingly, what we find is not a jumbled mess over-saturated by influence; the result is unmistakably current, unmistakably Taylor. She combines all her influences to make what SHOULD sound familiar, what we can’t imagine not having once we’ve heard it. In doing so, she sets the standard for her contemporaries, without verses by Pitbull or constant references to money and fame.

“1989” is Taylor Swift finally embracing her identity (sooooo 80s) and dancing like no one is watching. Each song has its own edge, but it flows from one to the next without hesitation, which makes listening on shuffle feel almost sacrilegious. And every song is good enough to be a single.

If any album will go platinum, it’s this one.

TLDR: I LOVE TAYLOR SWIFT. If you want to be relevant in any entertainment/music/cultural conversation in the next year and beyond: here’s your chance.

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