After my initial listen of 1989, I realized why Taylor Swift released “Shake It Off” as the first single off the album. On its own, “Shake It Off” signals a shift in her priorities and sound, and can be categorized as the “Mean” of 2014. When heard in its context, the song represents the melodic center of the album. The other songs radiate out from “Shake It Off” in various shapes and gradients of the pure pop sound imbued in the track. With this at its center, 1989 is not only a departure from her supposed country roots, but also serves as a revolution in pop music as we know it.
The album begins with a surrealist, synth pop number called “Welcome to New York.” The rhythmic sway of the song makes it ideal for walking down any avenue in Manhattan, and the inspiring, optimistic lyrics warm any jaded New Yorker’s heart (let’s not comment on her NYC ambassador appointment). “Welcome to New York” sets the tone—both lyrically and melodically—for the rest of the album. When she sings, “The lights are so bright but they never blind me,” it suggests that she is perhaps less star struck by this city than we (read: the media) like to believe.
On 1989, Taylor experiments with form. The second track, “Blank Space,” is a brilliant piece of commentary on the media’s portrayal of her so-called boy-obsessed public image. She sings in the chorus,
Got a long list of ex-lovers
They’ll tell you I’m insane
‘Cause you know I love the players
And you love the game
Jessica Valenti has already picked up on the sheer intelligence of this song, which you can read here, and the masterpiece of a video is below. However, one of the things that struck me the most about this song is the extremely long chorus. The above passage is the first part of the chorus, with a second part that follows. On the third track, “Style,” a paean to a past lover whose name shall remain undisclosed, she includes a similarly long chorus, composed of two parts, and doesn’t even have a real bridge. As she did with “All Too Well” from Red, which did not have a chorus yet told an elegant story, Taylor has masterfully played with the structure of her songs and has transformed what we may have considered possible for a pop song.
In another genius move, Taylor includes a song called “Bad Blood,” which sounds like it’s straight off a Katy Perry album. And, interestingly enough, the song is rumored to be about the sexy songstress. Its deep beats and clever lyrics make it feel applicable to anyone who may have done you wrong in your life.
One of my personal favorites is “I Know Places,” which seems appropriate for the new Hunger Games film, as other reviewers have suggested. The fact that “I Know Places,” a superb track, lands at number 12 on this album truly demonstrates the tremendous caliber of the finished product. The final song, “Clean,” is an excellent bookend, as she sings about letting go of past hurt and finally breathing (living) again and its sound slightly contrasts to the opening song, which shows the progression of this work of art.
On the deluxe edition, she offers three additional tracks with a handful of voice memos that reveal her songwriting process and prowess. “New Romantics” is the clear winner of the deluxe tracks, with its incisive commentary on society, and the voice memos are fascinating.
If you’re not one of the more than one million people who bought her album last week, become one of the next million this week. 1989 is Taylor’s best album to date, and I can’t wait to see her continue to evolve.