Whether you like it or not, Taylor Swift is one of the most important artists out there as far as pop music is concerned. She has the accessibility, public persona, and musical talents that have allowed her to reach a level of commercial dominance that only a few artists can achieve. Any move she makes can move the industry in whatever direction she desires. Over the course of her career, Swift has made a shift from crossover country star to all-star pop icon like none other, as well, completely dropping the former and taking up the latter wholeheartedly.
Her fifth studio album, 1989, is a full embrace of pop music. Many may be distracted by Swift’s classification of 1989 as her “first pop record”. Yes, it is true that this record is, indeed, a pop album, and she does not hide that. But if her previous works are any indication, Taylor Swift records are not run of the mill country/pop/country crossover/country pop/”ex-boyfriend shaming” albums. Taylor Swift albums are dynamic pieces of work where she really shows off her willingness to play around with what we may be used to. Whether it be Fearless’s crossover dabbles, Speak Now’s one-woman songwriting tour de force, or Red’s genre-spanning depth, Taylor Swift has shown us that she is not your average pop singer. 1989 is very much a pop record, but that is in no way a bad thing.
Swift records are known for how they showcase her desire to explore her strengths as a songwriter. Each song is a distinct piece to the bigger puzzle. She does not cease to apply this philosophy on 1989, which is one of its most crucial elements. If she were any other pop singer, the thought of narrowing her focus to one genre or style would make us cringe. But Taylor Swift isn’t your normal pop singer. On this record, her narrower focus is simply a crutch for her to explore the depths of her ability as a pop singer.
Two of Red’s most notable inclusions were the pop smashes “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “22”. While “We Are Never Getting Back Together” stayed in her vein of country pop (though seriously leaning towards the pop), the two other pop tracks were complete bubblegum, a complete product of Top 40 pop. 1989 expands further upon these first dabbles, opening up with the Bachelorette Party anthem of 2014, “Welcome to New York”. It is thin as paper, surprising considering it’s a Taylor Swift, but it is hard to ignore, because it will make you want to dance like there’s no tomorrow. The third track on the record, “Style”, is much more sophisticated with its chic feel and infectious guitar hook. When Swift sings, “you’ve got that James Dean daydream look in your eyes”, you can’t help but feel the groove in this possible hit single.
Seemingly borrowing from the recent alternative-pop explosion, 1989 also sends some very Lorde-esque vibes throughout. Early on, “Blank Space” stands out, sporting clear Pure Heroine influences, but with Taylor Swift’s wand. Its pulsing beats and synth lines are sure to remind fans of “Tennis Court” or “Team”, but its tone is noticeably peppier, as Swift’s voice serves as sweet sugar in this cake batter. She isn’t shy with one-liners either, pulling out “I’m just a nightmare dressed like a daydream” and “I love the players and you love the game” like it’s nobody’s business.
But that aside, some tracks on this record just epitomize what it means to be Taylor Swift. From the blaring horns of “Shake It Off”, the Walk the Moon guitar riff on “I Wish You Would”, or the Imogen Heap-assisted brilliance of “Clean”, some of these songs are just Taylor being Taylor. Even on the Jack Antonoff penned “Out of the Woods”, it doesn’t feel like a failed Fun. or Bleachers, it is just Taylor Swift doing what she does best: make great music. It isn’t like she changed to satisfy a clique or niche; Swift’s transition to pop was something that came from her evolution as a songwriter trying to figure out her next step.
In her career, Taylor Swift has taken flak for an endless number of reasons, from critics and individuals alike. Whether it is her reputation for being all about breakups, her fake country persona, or perceived lack of talent, Swift has heard it all. Despite this, there is no denying that her songwriting skills are pristine. 1989 proves of her ability to write genuine lyrics and challenging songs. They range from accessible, shallow pop hits to dynamic, convention smashing deep cuts. She possesses this charm and charisma that allows her to stand out among the sea of female pop vocalists, while exploring her depth as a musician enough to further keep the rest of the world on its toes. On 1989, these qualities are on full display, as Swift manages not only to write a solid pop album, but another Taylor Swift album to be proud of.