Taylor Swift’s 1989 is Pop Without the Conformity

by October 29, 2014
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Taylor Swift has finally, officially, stepped away from her country roots and transitioned into a full-fledged pop star. Taylor’s fifth album, 1989, which was released on October 27, is everywhere these days, and for good reason. 1989 is Taylor like you’ve never heard before, and quite possibly her best work yet.

1989 draws on pop music from the decade Taylor was born in, the 1980’s, so she successfully avoids conforming to current pop music and instead creates an album of songs that feel timeless, with a twinge of alternative flair. These songs, and this sound, are totally her own.

Taylor’s previous album, Red, was a mix of herself, old and new, with traces of 16-year-old Taylor contrasting definite pop hits. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together was a radio pop song, while the ballad All Too Well was deeply emotional because of its narrative lyrics, and songs like Begin Again felt reminiscent of Taylor’s Speak Now era. Red was a culmination of different styles and showed her versatility, but it lacked the cohesion as an album that 1989 nails.

Over the summer, Taylor released her first single from the album, Shake It Off. The song nipped “haters” in the bud, telling critics that their negative words would not get to her. The music video showed the artist in different scenarios surrounded by different groups of people but never quite fitting in. She danced awkwardly in the middle of prima ballerinas and twerkers alike, poking fun at herself. The video ends with Taylor dancing around with other people dressed like themselves and having fun. It’s a fun accompaniment to a song with a positive message.

Out of the Woods and Welcome to New York were both released prior to the album’s release date as well. Out of the Woods is about a shaky relationship and the frantic tone of the song mimics that feeling of uncertainty.

Welcome to New York, which opens the album, reflects Taylor’s move to her New York City apartment. The song shows how much she loves living in the city and how accepting the city is of the people who live in it. A few lines of the song proclaim, “everybody here was someone else before/and you can want who you want/boys and boys and girls and girls.” This kind of nod to the LGBTQ community from a major pop star is important because the lines’ seamless integration into the song shows how commonplace it is to identify as a sexuality other than heterosexual.

I’m personally uninterested in analyzing Taylor’s songs for traces of ex-boyfriends because I believe, as she herself said, that it’s a “very sexist angle to take” – no one is overanalyzing male artists’ songs for hints at their love lives. Regardless, it seems like people hunting for information about the artist’s love life will be hard pressed to find that info in 1989. Taylor’s lyrics in this album are less narrative than in previous ones, and as such, her lyrics have less specific personal details anyway.

Because Taylor’s songs have become less narrative, drawing on 80’s pop music, these tracks have less lyrics and more repetition throughout. This works in Taylor’s favor, though, and she and her fellow songwriters rose to this challenge by writing lines that pack a punch: “Still got scars in my back from your knife.” The artist’s confident, almost sassy delivery in songs like Bad Blood and Clean make those lines hit even harder.

Everyone I’ve talked to so far about 1989 has had a different favorite song, which just speaks to the all-around success of this album. I’m loving the alternative-pop feel of Wildest Dreams and I Know Places. Wildest Dreams pairs slow music with a deeper tone of voice at points and has a bit of a Lana del Rey vibe, which Taylor makes her own. I Know Places employs an extended metaphor of a couple being foxes and the people trying to ruin their relationship as hunters. The sound of the music totally represents the creepy feeling of having to hide.

I recommend Target’s deluxe edition of the album because it includes three bonus tracks, plus three voice memos from Taylor. The voice memos are phone recordings of early versions of three album songs that she sent to her producers or co-writers. This was an interesting peek into the earlier stages of the artist’s creative process. The deluxe edition also includes thirteen polaroid prints of Taylor with handwritten lyrics. As always, the lyrics in the cd booklet have a message in each song – however, they appear to be working together to tell a story rather than individually as hints towards who the songs are about.

Taylor Swift’s sound has certainly evolved into full-fledged pop, but she’s still herself in this album, through and through. Hitting one million her first week in sales, 1989 is no doubt the album of the year. It’s definitely worth a listen. Expect to be surprised.

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