No matter how sophisticated your taste in music may be every self-professed music fan has those few albums they’d call “guilty pleasures.” Records we all know are bad yet we simply cannot help but love them. Taylor Swift’s 1989 isn’t that kind of album. With Reputation soon to be released, why don’t we put aside those pesky biases we have for the country sweetheart turned pop idol and take a look at the widely praised 1989?
At the time of its announcement, many concerned fans were upset at Swift’s decision to abandon every trace of her country roots for her first “official” pop album. The early release of the tongue-in-cheek “Shake It Off” didn’t kindle any hopes either. Expectations were lowered and people, myself included, were already concluding the new album would be Swift’s worst. However, as I’ll attempt to explain, we were far too eager to judge.
“Welcome to New York” introduces this new sound with claps and a bouncy, 80s soaked synth. It’s clear that this is the sound and direction Swift was truly longing to play with on her mixed bag that was Red. “Welcome To New York” is a soaring, glamorous pop anthem. The lyrics, “It’s a new soundtrack I could dance to this beat, beat forevermore /
The lights are so bright but they never blind me,” deliver the album’s mission statement with one of the most infectious melodies current pop has to offer. “Blank Space,” the album’s sophomore single, is another hopelessly catchy gem that finds Swift parodying her public image as a psychotic lover of sorts.
By this time the album has managed to effectively show you what it wants to be, but as if to burn away any traces of doubt that it may not be able to pull it off the rest of the way, “Style” and “Out of the Woods” come in as a one-two punch of pop brilliance. “Style’s” pulsating synths take you on a mesmerizing night drive as Swift returns to a love that just won’t end even though they know they aren’t perfect together. The beautiful repetition of “Out of the Woods” makes it yet another highlight, as does Swift’s urgent delivery and lyrics that paint an effective picture of two lovers trying to make it through difficult times. “Looking at it now, last December /We were built to fall apart, then fall back together / Your necklace hanging from my neck, / The night we couldn’t quite forget / When we decided (We decided) / To move the furniture so we could dance / Baby, like we stood a chance / Two paper airplanes flying, flying, and I remember thinking / Are we out of the woods yet?”
As “All You Had To Was Stay” closes with its own contagious hook, “Shake It Off” is where 1989 takes its first misstep, although hardly one big enough to make it trip. Like everything else here, it’s incredibly catchy, but the irony of the lyrics and a silly bridge that finds Taylor rapping about seeing her ex-boyfriend with another woman is the cheesiest thing you’re likely to hear. Yet, it’s a misstep only in preference as it’s meant to be insanely goofy. At its worst, it’s an awkward addition, but at its best, it’s a fun break from the more serious songwriting heard before it. “Bad Blood” is another song that causes the album to dip a little. The chorus is fairly uninteresting compared to the rest of the album and the “bad girl” attitude doesn’t come across as well as it does on “Blank Space.”
The final quarter of the album slows things down for three ballads spaced between two more great pop jams. “Wildest Dreams” is the most well-known of these songs, but “This Love,” “I Know Places,” and closer “Clean” are also excellent tunes that end the album as strongly as it began. “This Love” is the most ambient of the ballads here, whilst “Clean” closes the album with a redemptive touch and a hope for a future beginning “Rain came pouring down when I was drowning / That’s when I could finally breathe / And by morning gone was any trace of you / I think I am finally clean.” The lyrics could be a reference to a former lover but it can also be interpreted as breaking free from anything that has had a destructive hold over you. The bottom line is it’s a gorgeous way to finish one of the best pop albums in recent memory.
People will dislike pop music for a variety of reasons, but for anyone willing to give it a chance, mainstream pop doesn’t get much better than this. Whether Reputation will be a worthy follow-up is yet to be seen but even if it fulfils our worst expectations, Swift’s capabilities as a songwriter may never be as clear as they are here.