Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 is already the most successful release of 2014.
Taylor Swift has become known for a specific brand of pop/country that was all her own. She took the girl-next-door image and built herself around it with lyrics about the good and bad of relationships she’s had, doing so with innocence. She used her growing celebrity status, and subsequently the status of the men she was romantically linked with to her advantage, making her song lyrics the primary talking point about her.
She became a superstar singer known for her songwriting – kind of a rarity in today’s celebrity-driven culture. Love her or hate her, you knew a Swift song when you heard one.
So when Taylor announced plans to release her first full-on pop album earlier this year, it still came as a surprise. Even considering the biggest singles from her last album were all pop songs without an ounce of country, that Taylor would completely leave her roots out of an album was a shocker. With an audience as selective about their singers as country music’s, it was almost certain to backfire.
But Taylor was in need of a change. Even she says so in the liner notes, where she writes about her belief that people do change and that for her, it means a need to change the way she tells her stories.
So she essentially gave up a winning formula that consisted of her own unique brand of music and lyrics and shifted to a formula that blends her in with much of today’s pop music.
And therein lies the conflict. I appreciated that Taylor carved out her own niche and made it work even if I personally didn’t care for the material or her songwriting. Now she’s made an album that basically caters to what I like in a good pop record but she no longer stands out. 1989 could have been an album by anyone else doing 1980s-inspired synth pop and nobody would ever have a reason to connect it back to Taylor Swift.
The first single Shake It Off is a carefree, bouncy pop hit centred around a catchy hook. I likened it to being for her what Girlfriend was for Avril Lavigne. Attention-grabbing, decently-successful, but won’t do her any favours.
The album does do a fine job of combining the entity that is Taylor Swift with modern day synth-pop. She’s still writing about boys, crushes and broken hearts but being the pop album it is, less emphasis is placed on the lyrics and more on the catchy melodies and production from hitmakers Max Martin, Shellback, Ryan Tedder and Jack Antonoff.
Out Of The Woods is an album highlight with its yearning desire to get back on solid ground. All You Had To Do Was Stay, likewise, boasts a strong melody and instant-hitting chorus. Blank Space is Taylor at her newfound best with tongue-in-cheek lyrics that play up her reputation as she sings “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.” The fact she included lines like “you look like my next mistake” and “I’m dying to see how this one ends” are enough to show that she really can shake it off.
Other than Welcome To New York, the distractingly simplistic first track, 1989 is mostly front-loaded with all the best songs showing up in the first half while the latter half begins to feel like it’s blended together.
One of the most anticipated tracks, Bad Blood – supposedly about her sour friendship with Katy Perry – falls flat as the album’s weakest three and a half minutes. Even Clean, her collaboration with Imogen Heap, fails to end things on a high note as it never ventures into adventurous territory that Imogen is known for and that Taylor would be welcome to.
1989 isn’t the freshest pop album to come out this year and it will likely become disposable within Taylor’s discography in a few years, but it’s doing wonders for both her and the industry as it posted her biggest sales week to date with 1.3 million copies sold in its first week, the most for any album since 2002.
It all comes down to marketing, advertising and Taylor’s likeable image, but the music still has to be good enough to meet this level of popularity. In this case, it works.
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 Wood
8. Bad Blood
9. Wildest Dreams
10. How You Get The Girl
11. This Love
12. I Know Places