With her fifth studio release, Taylor Swift made the leap from country to pop with 1989. And if you had been paying attention to the arc of her discography recently, the jump wasn’t too far.
As a fan of Taylor’s since her sophomore release, Fearless, the move to pop was more of a when than an if. Her previous album, Red, laid the foundation with Trouble, 22, and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. And 1989 builds a big ole mansion on that foundation.
Some will say she sold out the fans who made her popular. Some will say she was never really country to begin with. Others, like me, really don’t care. Her music and lyrics are what keep us coming back—not a tie to a particular genre.
The sales prove that the genre doesn’t matter either. 1989 was the top-selling album of 2014, was the largest release in more than a decade, and has already spent eight weeks at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 (Fearless is the only album of hers to spend longer at #1 with 11 weeks). It was named a top album of 2014 by Rolling Stone, Billboard, iTunes, and a host of other publications and music services.
The praise is deserved.
1989 may have diverted from Swift’s familiar musical style, but the lyrics are as poignant and sharp as ever. I personally didn’t think Swift could have topped the lyrical peaks she produced with Red, but in 1989, there is a higher level of lyrical ascent throughout the entire album. Red still contains what I contend are three of Swift’s best-written songs (All Too Well, Begin Again, and The Moment I Knew), but, unlike Red, 1989 contains no duds like the annoyingly juvenile Stay Stay Stay from Red. Every song is solid—even the two not-as-good-as-the-rest ones.
On to the songs:
- Welcome to New York – 8/10 – This pop anthem is as catchy as it gets. The synth and electronic drum beats in WTNY set the tone for the rest of the album. My only real negative here is the out-of-place tip of the cap to the LGBT crowd in the second verse.
- Blank Space – 9/10 – Vintage Taylor here in the lyrics. Like Shake It Off later in the album, Taylor takes to the music to hit back at critics. While the video got a great deal of attention, the lyrical play in this song is some of the best on the album. There’s even an (unintentional) eschatalogical reference: So it’s gonna be forever, or it’s gonna go down in flames. And no, Chris Martin, it’s not “Starbucks lovers.”
- Style – 10/10 – Hands down the best song on the album. There is no debate here. And for some reason, when I listen to this song, I picture Taylor driving through deserted city streets late at night. It’s got such a good driven beat and the lyrics provide such a vivid narrative. Just an excellent song with a James Dean reference. How can you go wrong with that?
- Out of the Woods – 9/10 – Any points lost for the somewhat over-repetitive chorus are redeemed by the wordplay and catchiness of this song. It’s also apparently about Harry Styles, whom I can’t really stand. But I can forgive.
- All You Had to Do Was Stay – 7/10 – Probably the weakest song on the album. What is it about songs with the word “stay” in the title that make them the worst song on her albums?
- Shake It Off – 9/10 – I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical of this song at first. I really didn’t like it. I wanted to, but I didn’t. However, the catchiness of this tune has won me over as time has passed. And I think that has much to do with its placement on the album. It felt disjointed without the context of the complete album. But as a part of the whole, it shines. And the handclaps totally make the song. I may or may not have drawn a chuckle from another shopper by clapping along with them in Lowe’s earlier this week.
- I Wish You Would – 9/10 – Not sure what it is about 2:00 AM with Taylor, but that seems to be her go to time for songs. Everything happens at 2:00 AM. Or in this song’s case, nothing happens. This story of unrequited love is a bit of a hat tip to Teardrops on My Guitar from her self-titled album.
- Bad Blood – 8/10 – For some reason, this is my 7-yr old’s favorite song on the album. Maybe it’s because it’s somewhat spoken and easy to understand. Or maybe he’s just a fan of blood…which would be really weird. It even includes random shouts of “HEY,” which is good news for this guy. Also, the lyric “band-aids don’t fix bullet holes” is one of the more poignant on the album.
- Wildest Dreams – 10/10 – Another outstanding song and my second-favorite from the album. It’s also one that I really can’t play with the kids in the car. There is quite a bit of innuendo in this song (which is abnormal for Taylor), and I don’t want to explain what “tangled up with you all night” means to a first grader yet.
- How You Get the Girl – 7/10 – Probably the second-weakest song on the album, but still one that is solid. Without the drum machine, this could have easily been a country song. It’s probably the song that sounds most like “Country Taylor.”
- This Love – 9/10 – The vocal effects on this song develop a very haunting feeling at the beginning of the song, but then the chorus comes and the driving bass line and vocal runs liven the song up and provide for a very hopeful bridge and final chorus.
- I Know Places – 9/10 – This song is the most R&B sounding one of the album. You can definitely hear an R&B influence but the lyrics once again shine.
- Clean – 9/10 – This is the final song on the regular album (I have the special edition, obviously), and Taylor has always finished albums with a strong song. This is no exception at all.
- Wonderland – 9/10 – This spinoff of Alice in Wonderland is a fun song. One of the most fun on the album, in fact. One of my favorite lyrics from the album comes from this song: We found wonderland, You and I got lost in it, And life was never worse but never better. It sums up young love quite well.
- You Are In Love – 10/10 – Another of the best songs on the album, but it didn’t make the regular album. And I’m not quite sure why. It’s simply outstanding. The chorus is one of the best on the album: You can hear in the silence, You can feel it on the way home, You can see it with the lights out, You’re in love.
- New Romantics – 10/10 – This is the way to end an album. New Romantics is a genuinely fun song that includes a great beat and punchy lyrics. It’s also the most 80’s sounding song on the album. If you liked 80’s pop, you’ll love this song.
All in all, this is simply an outstanding effort from Swift—both sonically and lyrically. Only time will tell if it surpasses Fearless as her best work. It has the potential to do so, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this album became the new standard in pop music much like Fearless did in the country genre.