First of all, I’m not going to waste time calling Taylor Swift brave for “leaving country for pop music.” Outside of Nashville, what does that even mean? That’s like saying, “It was so brave of someone to leave something niche and off-putting to 70% of the population for something with mass appeal that is regularly forced on 100% of the population.”
1989, is, however, different from most pop chick albums. Instead of being a long, experimental dare, wherein a singer proves she can and will play around with every random style of pop music and work with all the hottest producers, she tries hanging out on one style and teasing it out a bunch of different ways. (Oh and there are no horrible skit interludes where she is leaving a voicemail for someone else. Can those die?)
Instead, there’s a consistent thread of texture throughout the whole album, flying high for optimistic moods and taking a backseat for contemplative ones. In that sense, it reminds me of a couple of my favorite albums from the last several years: Solange Knowles’ True and Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time.
On all three albums, women sing about heartache and identity-seeking in a way that creates a wonderful contrast between tone and content. The content is somewhat angsty and tortured, but the tone is colored by a glimmering, consistent rhythm and beauty, like the temporary anguish of a woman’s experience is set against the mysterious and wonderful textures of her inner world.
In conclusion, there are remarkably less tracks on this album that “suck” or “are boring” than on the majority of pop albums. Pretty much every song is listenable, catchy and fun. That’s why I decided to do a track-by-track review.
1. “Welcome to New York”
I know this song got hated on a lot by New York-based blogs for oversimplifying New York and talking about bodegas in the incorrect manner, or something. I can imagine any song claiming to embrace a place will inevitably annoy people who claim ownership over that place. I’m 100% sure I would hate any song called “Welcome to Minneapolis.” That said, as someone from Minneapolis, I find this song mostly catchy and nice and don’t have to overanalyze it personally against my own experience. 6 out of 10 stars.
2. “Blank Space”
Apparently this is going to be her next single after “Shake it Off.” This surprised me, cuz I would have picked “Bad Blood” if I was her marketing team or manager or whoever picks that. This is the kind of song I would hate at first when it was on the radio, and eventually grow to like. It’s one of a curious and growing genre of women warning men that they are crazy. Other current songs in this genre: “Black Widow,” which I would argue is terrifying if you listen to the lyrics, and in some sense “Bang,” wherein women compete with one another to please a man based on how “good” or “bad” they are compared to the girl he’s currently with. I get that Taylor Swift needs to seem “self-aware” about bad press on her album, in this case, the bad press that she scares men away. But come on Taylor, we know you do not love the players and have a blank space, baby, where you want to write the next one’s name. And are you really a “nightmare dressed like a daydream?” We all know you’re a good girl who just had some random weird famous boyfriends. You don’t need to tell guys that you have a long list of ex-lovers who say you’re insane yet! You’re only like 23. 5 out of 10 stars.
This song is really catchy in that Taylor Swift way. Iambic pentameter? Who knows! I don’t personally identify with girls who have that “Red lip, classic thing that you like” but I can imagine a lot of girls do. 6 out of 10 stars.
4. “Out of the Woods”
If I heard this on the radio, I would think it was like, “pop radio’s newest alternative act to be accepted by the mainstream pop world,” like that shitty song about wanting to be like the cool kids, cuz they seem to fit in. But this song is much better than that one, kind of running and energetic, like a deer running out of the woods and ideally, not into traffic. Taylor Swift is kind of like a deer in the woods. So ok. 7 out of 10 stars.
5. “All You Had to Do Was Stay”
When hearing this song, I began to hope that this album was some kind of rock opera wherein a girl starts out a romantic saga by telling a guy she is crazy and likes players, loses the guy, decides her approach was wrong, learns to love herself and then re-approaches the guy in a more self-respecting manner, leading to a somewhat functional and “love story”-like relationship at the end. But that’s not really what happens here. That said, this song is good and vibrant and does not make my ears mad. 7 out of 10 stars.
6. “Shake it Off”
We all know this song, so I’ll keep it short. It’s a wonderful, “Hey Mickey”-like anthem about being ok with yourself despite what other people think of you. It’s great. 9 out of 10 stars.
7. “I Wish You Would”
A great middle-of-the-album song perfect for proving that Taylor Swift was indeed fascinated by the music of the late 80’s. At this point, you feel super confident that this album is doing a great job of continuing sonic threads from song to song in a relay-race-like way, one that is exciting and pleasant and dancey and will give Taylor the blue ribbon for first prize at the end. 7 out of 10 stars.
8. “Bad Blood”
This is my favorite song on the album. It’s got a stompy, angry cheerleader meets Sleigh Bells rhythm that casts saucy pride at whatever shitty thing her boyfriend did. Like I said before, the content is about something shitty happening, but the tone is energetic and interesting, giving you the feeling that this breakup will suck, but she loves herself and is more excited about continuing to live in her awesome world than living with a shitty boyfriend. Kinda empowering? Yeah. She also deigns to make her voice expressive and a bit ugly vs. judges-of-The-Voice-pleasing, which gives the album a bit of dramatic theater in a way I respect. 9 out of 10.
9. “Wildest Dreams”
This song rips off Lana Del Rey so directly I almost wanted to sit down and figure out which exact LDR song it was ripping off. It angers me how no one gives a shit about Lana Del Rey yet she’s important enough that one of the richest pop stars in the world wants to rip her off. Skip this track and listen to Ultraviolence instead. 3 out of 10.
10. “How You Get the Girl”
Who’s that I hear? I better lean in. Oh my gosh. It’s classic Taylor Swift here! Guitar and sweet, staccato rhythm about doing that romantic, traditional thing that girls so badly want you to do. At first this song seems out of place on this album, until you give in and are like “This is the classic T that made me buy this album in the first place.” 6 out of 10 stars.
11. “This Love”
This is the only song, according to Taylor Swift’s Wikipedia page, that she was the sole songwriter on. It is also one of Rolling Stone magazine’s favorite tracks on this album. It is slow and pretty, like something you could meditate to after a long day of doing the dishes and playing fetch with your golden retriever. I usually skip it though. 5 out of 10 stars.
12. “I Know Places”
This song breaks from the experimentation of tracks 8-11 and dives right back into the momentum we left at song #7. It’s deep and textured and fast-paced and great in context of the other songs, but forgettable on its own. I think if it was on the radio though I would vastly, vastly prefer it to anything by Iggy Azalea. 6 out of 10 stars.
Still going, and still not bored by anything on the album. Nice job Taylor Swift and crew! This song feels pleasant and conclusive, like something I might have done ice skating warm-ups to back when I was an ice skater. It feels reminiscent of 90’s pop radio in a languorous, poetic way, like it could be a Jewel song. Have you entered the 90’s Taylor? I think you have. 4 out of 10 stars.
In conclusion, I give this album 8 out of 10 stars. It’s unexpected and imaginative coming from Ms. Taylor Swift. But it’s still not mind-blowing, M.I.A.-type music, which is what I reserve 9 and 10 for. But a damn good evolution for a pop star who still insists on writing her own songs. Good for her.