Despite often being included in the same breath as contemporary female singers like Beyonce and Katy Perry, Taylor Swift has always been influenced by and performed country music. As her young career has blossomed though, Swift has veered more towards pop music. Now, she unabashedly and fully enters the genre with her latest effort 1989, her fifth disc. Shedding her typical writing crew, Swift chose to work with Ryan Tedder (who has produced music by the likes of Maroon 5, Adele, and Jennifer Lopez), singer and producer Imogen Heap, and Fun guitarist Jack Antonoff. With this new direction, Swift could prove herself as a formidable pop diva.
1989 rolls out Swift’s evolved sound with the catchy “Welcome to New York,” a resplendent track complete with mechanical handclaps and bouncy synths as Swift croons happily about the Big Apple. It’s a radio and club fodder for certain, especially for New Yorkers eager for a new theme. Swift moves a little too close into Lorde territory with “Blank Space,” mimicking the catchiness of “Royals.” It’s original for Swift, but not for most radio listeners.
You’ll forget all about that with “Style,” a fun tune about a crush with 80s-style guitar that makes it a standout. By now, everybody knows about “Shake It Off,” the seriously infectious introduction single that arrived this summer. If by chance you haven’t heard it before, you’ll fall for the catchy percussion, the surprising addition of brass, and the toughened attitude expressed in the lyrics. Swift croons “’cause the players gonna play/and haters gonna hate/baby, I’m just gonna shake it off/heartbreakers gonna break/and the fakers gonna fake/baby, I’m just gonna shake it off.” It’s a far cry lyrically from most of Swift’s lovelorn discography.
About halfway through the album comes “I Wish You Would,” a tune co-produced with Antonoff. Those that missed Swift’s heartbreak anthems will love this glitzy, smooth track with layers of synths. Instead of being bitter or playing the woman scorned as she once did, Swift now has a more mature view about love lost, expressing how she misses her former romantic interest and has regret about some of her decisions made in the heat of their breakup. “Bad Blood” is lyrically within the same vein with a catchy percussion rhythm, but the track feels a little uninspired.
Shifting back towards more positive territory, the album continues with “How to Get the Girl,” a handclap-heavy dance track that sees Swift acting as more of an observer than someone involved in a love affair. She sings, as the title suggests, of how a man can make a girl fall in love. It’s an enjoyable song in which Swift’s opinions on love seem saccharine but not excessively so. “This Love” takes a break from the fun and the pop as Swift returns more to her roots with delicate acoustic tones. Wrapping up the album is “Clean,” another softer note for 1989. Considering those are few and far between though, it’s a wise final song with its lyrical expressions about moving on from an addict set against minimalist instrumentation.
Whether you love her or hate her, you have to respect Taylor Swift for being fearless with her career. She made a brave decision to take her music in a different direction, even if it was one that she had always subtly flirted with in the past. 1989 is a fun album with plenty that the open-minded listener will find to enjoy and replay again and again.