You can guess from one look at the cover of 1989 that it isn’t going to quite be a typical modern pop record, and you’d be largely correct in that assumption. While there are certainly plenty of catchy choruses and synths on this album, they aren’t all there is. One of the things I noticed the first time I listened to this album was that the lyrics are sometimes show a great deal of self awareness, and are at times slightly more cynical than Swift’s typical output. A good example of the self awareness I mentioned is on the chorus of “Blank Space”, where 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”, which proves that she is well aware of some of the criticism that has been levelled at her regarding a lack of variety in the subject matter of her songs.
“Shake it Off” addresses said criticism even more directly with its opening lines of “I stay out too late/Got nothing in my brain/That’s what people say/I go on too many dates/But I can’t make them stay/At least that’s what people say”. Whatever else you might think about her, at least she can poke a bit of fun at her own songwriting.
Many of the songs on 1989 have some element that sets them apart from both each other and the far too numerous generic pop singles they share the charts with. Album opener “Welcome to New York” is lyrically a fairly simple tribute to the city she just bought a house in, but the almost ethereal synth line running through it and the echoing vocals on the chorus conjure up an image of her walking slowly down a mist-filled suburban street in the song’s title city while singing the song. On “All You Had to Do Was Stay” the contrast of the lower register she uses for most of the chorus and the much higher pitch on the word “stay” efficiently ensures the hook will not leave your head any time soon, and after a few listens chances are you won’t want it to. Swift employs a somewhat menacing vocal style (for her) on the verses of “Bad Blood” and parts of “I Know Places”, and it suits lines like “They are the hunters, we are the foxes, and we run” from “I Know Places”. Possibly my favourite song on the album, at least with regards to lyrics, is “How You Get the Girl”, which hides rather biting lines such as “Tell her how you must have lost your mind/When you left her all alone and never told her why/[…]/And that’s how it works/That’s how you get the girl” behind a deceptively upbeat surface. “Clean”, the last song on the album, is also worthy of mentioning as it provides the perfect ending to the album with a slower, more mellow tone and lyrics that see Swift finally achieving some kind of closure (mostly).
However despite all the good aspects 1989 is certainly not perfect, and it has some less impressive moments. For example “Style” doesn’t really do anything to differentiate itself, and just comes off as rather common fare musically and lyrically, at least for me. “Out of the Woods” has a very interesting sound and some excellent vocals but the chorus ends up falling slightly on the repetitive side. “Wildest Dreams” suffers from the same problem as style, and has the added problem of containing the line “He’s so tall, and handsome as hell/He’s so bad but he does it so well”, which is far from her usual lyrical standards, but it is redeemed to an extent as her voice sound especially good in parts of the song. “This Love” is a gentler, softer track but it gets lost behind “Clean” and the deluxe edition bonus track “You Are in Love”, both of which are superior, the latter providing a refreshing change of perspective as Swift sings about someone else’s love life instead of her own.
In conclusion this is an excellent album, with only a couple of missteps. Taylor Swift should be proud of what she has accomplished on this release and I would highly recommend checking 1989 out if you have a liking for good, slightly 80s pop music.