Big Machine Records
Taylor Swift, like Ed Sheeran. knows how to tell a story with her music. The story may either be interesting or verbose and vapid, but there is always a noticeable effort to ensure that the songs properly worded and ordered in just the right way to tell the very story that Ms Swift wants the world to believe.
In the past, she wants everyone to know that she is actually a simple and humble country girl who just happens to look gorgeous, and she suffers from unrequited love just like every homely girl with self-esteem issues out there. Then come the series of professionally crafted dates in front of the cameras, with young men whose heterosexuality is questioned or young men who just happen to be in up-and-coming in their careers and could use that extra boost in the form of a high profile relationship, with the inevitable backlash coming from angry little girls who write death threats to her or more grown-up people who point out that she has dated what seems like three thousand men in two years and couldn’t get any one of them to last beyond three issues of People magazine. Taylor Swift went from that poor sweet all-American sweetheart traumatized by that scary black man who eventually married Kim Kardashian to that crazy woman who get all passive-aggressive in her songs or in interviews when it comes to her ex-boyfriends and ex-best friends.
This is where 1989 steps in. The opening track Welcome to New York could have easily been something out of Glee, with Ms Swift promising that this is her new self, “new soundtrack”. Oh, and she’s really secure and happy now, enough to poke fun at her frantic-paced love life in the last few years in Blank Space, a song where she describes how every new relationship is a beautiful mistake she’s looking forward to, and when she gets jealous, she knows the guy will come back anyway because she’s so alluring like that. The whole album is like a cheer for herself – go, Taylor; suck it, haters! – so it’s not too surprising that the first single Shake It Off is constructed to sound exactly like a cheer anthem. It’s just the song for cheerleaders to do their routine to, with a chorus that is way too catchy to be legal.
The thing is, the songs in 1989 are actually far blander than they should be. Yes, I know, two-thirds of the world rushed to buy this thing during the first week of release, but most of the songs here are generic pop anthems that don’t really stand out from the efforts of other pop tarts at the moment. The only distinguishing traits about them is that they are from Taylor Swift and they are her first unabashed efforts in embracing pop music without any concessions to country music anymore.
Still, this is pop music and being generic isn’t a crime. The songs here are well produced, and most of them are nice on the ears. Shake It Off, as I’ve mentioned earlier, is just too catchy for words. She even acquits herself nicely in that part where she sings-raps like the most awkward white chick ever (something that Ed Sheeran can’t pull off no matter how hard he tries). Out of the Woods has a nice love story woven within its smooth and haunting melody. Wildest Dreams and I Know Places sounds like lost gems from a Lana Del Rey album – both their greatest strength and biggest flaw is that they sound exactly like something Ms Del Rey would put out. Good thing I’m a fan of that kind of sound. Clean is sweet and heartfelt, a standard big ballad that would be absolutely butchered should she try to perform it live.
My copy of 1989 also comes with three tracks where she talks about how three songs came about. That’s a pretty calculated but good move that I have to respect, because it closes the story very nicely. Taylor Swift, sweet darling, has been wronged by love before, but that’s okay, because she’s now secure in her happiness, humble in her collaborations with masters and legends, and sensitive when it comes to songs about the heart. Oh, and haters can sod off because they can never take her down, et cetera.
It’s all a marketable story, and I can only respect the calculated way the entire 1989 is designed to perpetuate the Taylor Swift persona that she wants to sell to the public. It’s a shame that the music is never as interesting as the story she wants to tell, and, to be honest, the story isn’t that interesting in the first place.