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'1989' By Taylor Swift: Album Review

Reid Nakamura |
October 29, 2014 | 11:43 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

"1989" album art (Twitter/@vulture)
"1989" album art (Twitter/@vulture)
“1989” is the start of a new chapter for Taylor Swift.

When she debuted “Shake It Off” and announced the new album in August, she called it her first “documented, official pop album.” Inspired by the pop music of the late ‘80s, she decided to move away from country and try something new. 

READ MORE: Taylor Swift's '1989' Is Finally Here

If there was any doubt that this is something new, “1989” tries to clear that up right away with it opening track. “Welcome To New York,” produced by OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder (who has worked with nearly every pop star of the last decade), is a bold statement that Taylor Swift is done with country music—at least for now. Nashville is in her past and a $20 million New York apartment is her future.

As an artist with four albums to her name, it’s refreshing to see Swift trying new things. The moments when she stretches herself far beyond her comfort zone are the album’s most successful. After “Welcome To New York,” “1989” takes off in the new direction at a sprint. “Blank Space,” “Style” and “Out Of The Woods” sound the least like the Taylor Swift her audience has come to know, but anyone who heard them could still immediately identify them as hers. They’re three of the most ambitious—and best—songs she’s released. 

Where the go-your-own-way attitude of lead single “Shake It Off” had the unfortunate side-effect of making Swift seem slightly oblivious, “Blank Space” declares with a defiant stomp that she knows exactly who she is: a messy, foolish, occasionally love-crazed young woman. You can come along for the ride if you want, but she’s too busy living life to miss you if you don’t. When she sings about her “long list of ex-lovers,” it’s almost a brag.

That self-assuredness is carried through to “Style.” With slick production and some of her sharpest songwriting, it’s Swift’s most mature song to date. She’s no longer the girl sitting on the bleachers willing a boy to notice her, she’s telling him exactly what she wants. The song barrels forward with a pulsing beat and by the time she’s crooning “take me home,” it’s obvious she’s going to get her way. Because she’s still Taylor Swift, the song remains relatively chaste (it’s most explicit moment is a reference to her “tight little skirt”), but it’s passionate in a way that verges on sexual, a refreshing new look for the singer who has practically trademarked doe-eyed innocence.

READ MORE: 7 New Albums To Listen To This October

 “Out Of The Woods,” co-written by Jack Antonoff of Bleachers and fun., was first released a few weeks ago, but in the context of the album it becomes the emotional climax and one of the best tracks of the album. It’s breathless pace and almost panicked repetition are new for Swift, who can easily channel rage, but hasn’t been able to convey fear quite this palpably before.

The rest of the album struggles to live up to the first few songs. The songs stop pushing her boundaries and start to sound more like a failed effort to revamp her music to fit the new sound she’s been aiming for.  “All You Had To Do Was Stay” and “This Love” could easily be unreleased “Red” tracks that have been reworked with new beats to sound more “pop” and “How You Get The Girl” is amateurish in nearly every way. 

“Bad Blood,” the diss track that may or may not be about Katy Perry, is probably the lowest point of the album. Swift’s music can often be powerful and remarkably insightful, but “Bad Blood” demonstrates some of her worst qualities as a songwriter. It’s victimization set to music, aiming to be nothing more than a diss track. The betrayal of a friendship is a complex emotional experience, but she doesn’t try to explore it any further beyond her own anger.

READ MORE: Taylor Swift Named Billboard Woman Of The Year

So what does Taylor Swift’s new chapter look like? Actually, a lot like her past. Ostensibly a country artist, Swift has never had any trouble finding crossover success. She may have won a bunch of country music awards and topped the country music charts, but her singles have always easily played alongside those of the Mileys, the Katys and the (singular) Beyoncé of Top 40 radio. “1989’s” lead single, the irresistible 80s-throwback jam “Shake It Off” is co-written by pop hit-makers Max Martin and Shellback, but that’s the same duo Swift worked with on “Red” singles “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “22” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

Swift has been playing the pop game for a long time. The only difference now is that she’s ready to stop pretending that she isn’t.

Reach Staff Reporter Reid Nakamura here.



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