Whether this statement pains you or not, Taylor Swift has the most anticipated album from a mainstream artist this year. The country girl has been slowly moving towards a more pop sound, and on her last album, Red, she superbly mixed pop and country tracks and scored an Album Of The Year nomination. So it’s a bold move for her to completely abandon country and go full-out pop on her fifth album, 1989.
I’ll admit that her lead single, “Shake It Off”, totally won me over on first listen. It’s an infectious pop anthem with a nod to “Hey Mickey”, with some horns thrown in for good measure. It proved she was going for a whole new sound, and we get that whole new sound across 13 tracks on 1989. It proves to be an interesting listen.
Taylor has created a pop sound that is very synthesized and influenced by 1980s pop music. There’s no hint of the current pop sound, which leans towards R&B and hip hop (sorry, there’s no guest appearances from rappers). Each song sounds like it has been assembled down to the most meticulous detail. Any of these songs could be commercial jingles…and that’s part of the problem. It’s an album of tracks that are in the same vein of past hits “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “22”. Both great songs, but on her past album, those songs were counteracted with varied material like a piano ballad or an acoustic guitar-based song. We don’t get that variety on 1989.
Taylor seems so focused on making a full-blown pop record that she loses some of the deeper connection that she usually creates with her music. Her vocals are lost on some tracks like “Style”, “All You Had To Do Was Stay”, “How You Get The Girl” and “I Know Places”. The clever, intelligent, and interesting lyrics are still there. You’ll just find yourself straining to focus in on them. The standout songs are the ones where the music doesn’t overpower Taylor, like “Out Of The Woods”, “I Wish You Would” (Taylor co-wrote both tracks with fun.’s Jack Antonoff), “Shake It Off”, “Wildest Dreams”, and the closing track “Clean”, which Taylor co-wrote with Imogen Heap. It’s the tracks where the music supports Taylor instead of competing with her.
It makes sense that Taylor would be primarily focused on the production of each song since she vowed to make this her first pop album. If she had include acoustic guitars, it would have been labelled as a “country” track. That being said, by removing the “country” side of her, the album comes off as simplistic and shallow. It sounds like Taylor went against her better judgement of what would have best worked for a song and made sure it was a pop song instead. You can understand why she sticks with an aggressive synthesized sound, but for an artist whose biggest appeal is her emotional lyrics that connect to her audience, it’s unfortunate that Taylor let the music take the wheel this time.