Taylor Swift receives rave reviews and sells shitloads. Is 1989 really that good?
The transformation of country light Taylor Swift to full on pop Taylor Swift was completed earlier this year when she released her new single ‘Shake It Off’. The album that followed earlier this week, called 1989, does not contain any recognizable country influences anymore, but focuses fully on big pop choruses. While this transition might alienate some fans, it also already attracts a whole new audience. The singer is selling enormous amounts of albums and even the critics are almost unanimously praising what Taylor herself called ‘her best work so far’. Now the big question is: is 1989 really that good?
Now this review would have been a lot more suspenseful if I did not directly answer this question here and now, but there is no working around this one. The answer is ‘yes’. Absolutely yes! Let’s go back a few months when the whole 1989 campaign was off to a rough start when ‘Shake It Off’ was released. The extremely poppy single received mixed reviews and the video with Afro-American dancers was considered to be ‘racist’ by some. It’s just that while they’ve been getting down and out about Taylor selling out and changing her style too much, they could’ve been getting down to this. sick. BEAT. etc. The same goes for most of the album. Don’t expect any country ballads and that sort of thing, but just surrender to this newborn pop queen.
The album starts with ‘Welcome To New York’, a catchy tune, built on synthesizers which reminds a bit of pop bands from the 80’s. It’s something Swift has never done before but her sweet vocals suit the style very well. When it comes to her lyrics, Swift was sometimes criticised for writing a lot about ex-boyfriends. While most of the songs on 1989 are about her past relationship with Harry Styles, it seems Taylor is more self aware about her writing and does not take herself too seriously. In the sure fire hit ‘Blank Space’, a collaboration with pop god Max Martin, she even sings that she’s ‘got a long list of ex-lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane’ in a seductive and cheeky way. She co-wrote most of the album together with Martin, who is famous for delivering some of Britney Spears’ and Kelly Clarkson’s biggest hits. Together Max and Taylor made some real magic with perfect pop songs like ‘Style’, ‘All You Had To Do Was Stay’ and ‘How You Get The Girl’. These songs may not excel in originality, just like the rest of the album, but it is just so well done. The songs sound polished with those big melodic choruses and detailed productions, but polished in this case means pop perfection.
And those are not even the best tracks of the record yet. She released ‘Out Of The Woods’ as a promo single and that is such a special track that deserves the single treatment. The chorus is repetitive and hypnotic at the same time and the lyrics in the verses and the middle-eight are heartfelt and so relatable. The production is electronic and even somewhat out of the box, reminding me a bit of the more poppy work Chvrches released last year. This style suits her voice so well. Another highlight is ‘I Know Places’, a track she wrote together with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder. The lyrics are once again beautiful and definitely relatable. The chorus is built up by a soaring production and the part where she sings, ‘Just grab my hand and don’t ever drop it, my love. They are the hunters and we are the foxes and we run!’, is heartfelt and one of the very best moments on this record.
For the fans of ballad Taylor, there are still some tracks to enjoy as well. The perfect album closer ‘Clean’ is a mesmerising ballad which she co-wrote with Imogen Heap, who also does some backing vocals. Also, bonus track ‘You Are In Love’ is wonderful with an honest and beautiful chorus that actually should have earned a good place on the standard edition of the album. The only tracks that fall a bit flat are the too simple ‘Bad Blood’ and ‘Wildest Dreams’ that is so inspired by Lana Del Rey that it does not sound like Swift anymore. Anyway, with the success of 1989, Taylor shows that an outstanding pop album is still something people want to hear. It’s great to have all kinds of artists try all kinds of different things, but sometimes all we need is an extremely strong album full of catchy pop and that is exactly what Swift brought us here and we’re thankful for that.