It can seem strange and new when you first step into the machine. But don’t be afraid of change–just be sure to not bump your head on those wires. And don’t shy away from the metallic sounds; it’s all a part of the journey. We’re heading back.
Taylor Swift’s 1989 is a time machine that takes you anywhere and anytime. Drawing inspiration from music of the 1980s, Swift’s innovative and playful fifth album uses old sounds mixed with new technology. It allows me to see into the past and into her mind, which in turn let me gain insight into my own. Gone is Swift’s good girl country persona; with 1989, she solidifies her rightful place among successful pop stars. The difference between her album and the others topping the charts? Her undeniable talent, which shines through every song on this album.
In 1989, there is a true love story between the seven-time Grammy award winner and the pop genre.
Everything has changed in this album – country twang is replaced with dark, mysterious lyrics, driven by almost entirely by drumbeats. Swift worked with producers like Max Martin and Shellback, using electronics and technology to add club flavor. Her unique choices made me want to move to fill the haunting silence in between beats. She has tracks that made me want to scream, cry, dance, or even just belt the lyrics along with her. Swift manages to keep all the best elements of her old genre – the lyrical mastery, the catchy tunes – while playing up her voice and eliminating the subjects of blame and whiny heartbreak that held her back.
The best embodiment of 1989 is her masterpiece of a song “Blank Space.” Written from the perspective of a serial dater, Taylor Swift shows maturity in understanding her portrayal in pop culture. “Got a long list of ex-lovers,” she sings to a new love prospect; “They’ll tell you I’m insane….” She is able to subtly highlight her own past in a humorous way, while simultaneously drawing the commentary towards today’s invasive media. All of this material is meshed seamlessly with a heavy beat, vivid metaphors, and a techno sound. This song was accompanied by a beautiful music video, filled with imagery, intensity, and superb acting by Swift. With its clever lyrics, biting self-awareness, and compulsively danceable rhythm, this is a standout gem that truly shows the potential of her entire album.
Swift, however, does manage to go back to her roots with some more mournful ballads, but with added experience. Her song “This Love,” the only track written exclusively by Swift, brings back strings and guitar. With whispered, echoing confessions spoken intimately into the microphone, Swift conveys more nuanced views of love in a very personal way. In “Wildest Dreams,” another slower song, she employs sounds similar to that of Lana Del Rey, using deep, scratchy, and melancholic vocal tones. All of her songs are skillfully made with her use of metaphors and imagery, but the poetic elements are never so strong or so elegant as in her song “Clean.” A collaboration with the acclaimed Imogen Heap, Swift’s writing power shines through. “You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore,” she laments. Recalling love lost for the better, Swift tells stories in a way that feels like honey – sticky, slow-moving, and sweet. I felt a strange mix of weight and liberation when I listened to this song; she manages to let go of production to let emotion rule. Moved forward by rhythm and airy backup vocals, this song is stripped down and pure.
There are songs, however, that are less noteworthy. Tracks like “Welcome to New York” and “Shake It Off” are unoriginal and repetitive. Others, like “All You Had To Do Was Stay” and “How You Get The Girl,” are also less memorable in terms of content and their lack of musical risks. Despite this, they are undeniably well-crafted pop songs, and generally make use of Swift’s strong conversational style. And besides, they are instantly made up for when the following tracks begin to play.
Swift’s powerful songs with underlying anger are some of the strongest on her album. More emotional than even her love songs, tracks like “Bad Blood” and “I Know Places” are moving and anthemic. There is a rage never before seen in Swift’s music, and the drumbeats pound with every pump of your heart. Once I got over the initial surprise of the motif of vengeance running throughout these songs, I began to appreciate the skill Swift has at playing with many emotions. “Still got scars on my back from your knife,” she sings in an accusatory tone in “Bad Blood.” I felt righteously angry, and yelled right along with her. If there is one thing that Swift knows how to do, it is how to make you feel – intensely. Powerfully.
Finally are Swift’s fabulous bonus tracks. Part of smart marketing (which includes polaroids in CDs), these songs are only available in physical editions at Target. And boy, does she make buying the deluxe worth it. The bonus song “Wonderland” is haunting and filled with passion, and draws interesting comparisons between Alice and Wonderland and her own story. While “You Are In Love,” another additional song, is not standout, “New Romantics” is by far the best song on the album. With cynical views and well-crafted transitions into the world-weary yet playful chorus, this song has the catchiest rhythm and the wittiest lyrics. Her voice memos, another part of her deluxe edition, show the early stages of song-writing, displaying her raw talent and musical skill.
Swift may draw from the past, but she is really the future of her industry. 1989, the top-selling album of 2014 so far, does absolutely everything right. It shows off all of her skills, from meaningful lyrics to hard-hitting subject matters. The question is, what will Swift do next? It’s sure to be a surprise – a surprise that will have tears streaming down smiling faces, her fans feeling each emotion she does.