Taylor Swift is going pop, and she’s going big. A few months ago when Taylor Swift announced that her new album is going to be sonically different by being a full pop offering, fans around the world were divided into two different factions (Divergent this is not). Some rejoiced the fact that Taylor’s trying a whole different sound, and some thought that Swift’s abandoning the very essence that has made her who she is now. Me? I’m in the middle. I love her Country twang and vibes. I knew her from her single Teardrops on My Guitar and the song made me cry on my… uhhh… bed, because it was real good, but then again, her transition into a full mainstream pop artist, does it surprise me?
You see, from her first eponymous Country album back when she was like 15, to her sophomore effort, Fearless, that basically became her catapult to worldwide stardom, to Speak Now, which cemented her position as the artist to be reckoned with, and finally to her previous album, Red, that provided us with a taste of what Taylor is giving us now… every single album before this has increased pop values and 1989 feels like a destined shift of Swift’s singing career. 1989 is a fine beginning to Taylor’s pop career as she manages to blend in the current trends of mainstream music, with the uniqueness of the 80s. The admixture works rather well for her. So, to answer that previous question: I’m not surprised. I’m just surprised at how good she executed this change.
Welcome to New York, the opener of the album immediately tells you that this album is truly a pure pop offering by Taylor. This song is the red carpet to the new door that Swift is guiding us in. It signals that new one direction (totally not a pun) that Taylor is heading to, and it begins with New York City. It’s an anthemic, catchy tribute to the city of lights, with its entire dewy-eyed girl’s hyper positivity of a brand new place all around. It’s not the best song dedicated to the Big Apple out there, with Taylor putting her school girl story on the song. Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind does a better job describing the grit and glory of NYC. Welcome to New York is but it sure makes you want to fly there and see the bright lights of New York yourself. Dancing in Times Square is optional.
Blank Space, the second track and the second single of the album, is a song that shows Taylor Swift actually realises the reputation given to her as a-serial-dater-who-break-people’s-hearts-so-that-she can-make-songs-out of-it. I know there’re too many dashes over there but I can’t help it. The song is quite minimal and when they said it is quite similar to Lorde’s style, well I couldn’t help but to notice it. The lyrics are playful and fun and mischievous, this is TayTay satirising about what the masses are saying about her, and clearly she had fun writing this while imagining that she’s a sort of a femme fatale or whatever.
Style is the third track in this CD. Makes you think about Harry Styles, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is about him, I mean it is obvious isn’t it? Anyway, the music sounds like the 80s noir crime drama theme song. The lyrics touch on fashion (well a bit, the song is titled as ‘Style’) but the main point is about a relationship that is a mistake but you still want to be in its cycle.
Out of the Woods is one of my favourite songs in this album, perhaps one of my favourites from her entire career so far. One word that I can use to describe this song is ‘epic’. This synthpop offering (courtesy of Jack Antonoff of the band fun.) falls on the same line with her song from the previous album, Red, titled State of Grace. Genre-wise, State of Grace is actually a soft rock song, but in its essence, Out of the Woods and State of Grace for me are the same, aurally haunting sounds. Out of the Woods is ambitious and monumental, full of deep percussions and heavy synths, with beautifully layered vocals by Swift, accompanied by looping cut voices of Antonoff, and chorus that sticks to your ears. This is a song like no other Swift has ever done. As always, Taylor shines in her song writing skills here. This 80s-inspired tune is a grand offering.
All You Had to Do Was Stay, the fifth track, is one of my favourite, although many other ‘official’ reviews put it as a mediocre song. Hey, people are entitled to their opinions. I like the chorus part, when Swift croons about a man who wants her back after he left her in the first place. Of course, there’s no going back now for the man. The background voice saying ‘stay!’ makes it all the better for me.
Shake It Off, the saxophone-laden sixth track, acts as the first single on the album and it immediately reminds me of her first single from Red, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. Why? Here are the similarities: first, the choruses of Shake It Off and Never Ever just hook you from the beginning. Second, there are spoken sections in both singles (which I know lot of people like to say with weird accents, including me) and third, those two songs are energetic, upbeat anthems that prompt us to shake out butts off. I should add the fourth one now – they are not the best that Taylor (and her team) can create. Sure, I love both songs. Head-shaking and butt-wiggling are sure to occur like there’s no tomorrow when the songs are played, but they are just similar to many other pop songs these days. Still, you can’t deny this song’s mass appeal.
I Wish You Would, the first song in which guitar plays a prominent role. And as always, two o’clock in the morning is the time when Swift is still breathing, perhaps making music. Listen to her previous songs and tell me how many times she used the same hour in the songs. The song is up-tempo and as it goes on, it goes bigger and bigger. For me though, the song is quite ordinary?
Bad Blood is Taylor Swift being pissed off like how Taylor Swift can only be pissed. Well, this is her fifth album, so she is pretty much an expert in putting a person to a limelight with her lyrics and emotions. She is angry and she wants to have her revenge. Do I love this one? Well, not so. In fact, I think Better than Revenge from Speak Now has greater pissed-off value than Bad Blood.
Wildest Dreams is a slow ballad, and honestly, not all ballads appeal to me. Here though, we can see that Taylor Swift is channelling her inner Lana Del Rey. Whispering and trembling voices, and minimal music, the songs is about Lana… wait, I mean Taylor, asking a guy to remember her when she’s gone due to a condemned relationship. Does Taylor passed the Lana Del Rey Mimicking Test? Perhaps 59.9%. Lana Del Rey is better as Lana Del Rey, but congrats to Miss Swift for trying.
How You Get the Girl straight up sounds like the song that is connected to Taylor’s previous brand of music, although the influence of 1989 is still there. Really, if you take away the pop production, this could sit well with Swift’s earlier Country albums. The song is Miss Swift telling all you guys to be honest with your girls. Tell them what you really feel. It’s cheerful, chirpy, it fits for a family serial drama background song, and it’s what I like.
This Love is the eleventh track, and boy it is slow… and sentimental. Swift gets her vocals layered and fluid here and the song itself has sonically layered synths. And yes I said I don’t like some ballads, but I kind of like this song.
I Know Places references hunters and foxes, perhaps it’s Swift trying to equate her and her lover and the media with those two things, you know since the lenses of paparazzi (and the public) are on her life all the time, but it could abode well with couples trying to get out from annoying aunts or parents asking them when they are getting married. The verses are menacing and unnatural, as if you’re waddling through a river in a scary forest. Seriously I thought the song is going to be like that in its entirety, but comes the chorus, and it changes to a cheery, joyous sound. The alternating drums and piano give different vibes to the music. All in all, the fast pace tempo song manages to stick to its theme.
The final song in this album is Clean. First thing first, if the song is in another singer’s album, I would be inclined to think of it as a coitus-related song, you know on the same par as Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda, Beyoncé’s Partition or all Miley Cyrus’ over-sexualised videos, because the title ‘Clean’ implies that… uhhh… sort of. Nevertheless, the song is NOT about coitus and Swift still manages to keep her squeaky clean images intact with the song. The song is all about addiction (wait, didn’t you say Swift is clean in this song?). Well, it’s another kind of addiction, an addiction to a person who destroys you, but then you learn how to let it go bit by bit and come back to the hopeful world that you have left behind. This is an emotionally flooded song, and aptly titled so, since it employ many water metaphors. The electronic vibes of this ballad makes it different from the other pop ballads that you have heard before. One of the best songs in this album.
Now, if you buy the D.L.X. version of this album, you’ll have three extra songs. The first bonus song is Wonderland, and if you guess it’s related to Alice in Wonderland, 10 out of 10 you are right. Taylor equates her life with her beau with all those sinister and beautiful things in Wonderland (Underland if you want to be technical…).
You Are In Love is the second bonus song, and I don’t like it. It’s a song that you can play during a marriage ceremony as it will make your bride smile, but nah, not for me.
The final song is New Romantics. New Romantics… one question to Miss Taylor Swift is why didn’t she put this on the normal version of the album? Like why the hell why?! It’s funky, it’s groovy, it’s anthemic, it’ loud, it has this I-don’t-care-attitude! I love this song. The 80s rhythm is so good here and the chorus is noisy and freaking infectious.
To end the 1989 experience, Taylor Swift provides us with three voice memos, describing the ways she writes her song. So you can get her personal insights on where her creativity and inspiration come from. You also get to listen to early versions of three of the songs in 1989.
So, Taylor Swift has finally completed her transformation from an All-American Country Sweetheart to a Global Pop Force. Some people may find it to be a disloyalty to her Country roots, but if you’ve followed her growth since the day one, the progress from one genre to another seems to be natural. She has proven herself as a great Country musician, and now she’s making a really titanic splash in the pop arena. If there are people who can juggle two different kinds of music in the same time, one of them will be Taylor Swift. Of course we don’t know if this transition is just a one-time fling or a permanent fixture of Taylor’s career, but one thing is sure, Taylor has done it again, and Taylor has done it real good.
I need to say my thanks to Syed Noor Yazeed, my classmate, for buying me the album. He’s my Secret Santa for my class’ Farewell Dinner. Thank you so much Yazeed!