alright taylor. first let me drop my little tears. as someone who is very identified with country, i regret the loss. on the other hand, the genre should have nothing but gratitude for her songs, her persona, and her demographic effect. also, the extent to which country song forms are actually distinct from other pop songforms is not all that dramatic. really she's often writing in the same vein as ever, and a mandolin ring would transform it into a country song. also one misgiving overall: i do feel that vocal effects are used excessively. that is one way you signal 'pop' now. i think the emphasis on vocal effects in pop has gone on too long and has run its course. it's not interesting anymore. i think it will make the pop music of 2005-2015 sound pretty dated and kitschy pretty soon. also, taylor just does not need this, or not on so many songs; she's a beautiful singer, often on multiple soaring simultaneous tracks. it does work on some of these songs very well, however; but if i were mixing the album i would de-process vocals throughout.
certain of her very great strengths as a songwriter are well-suited to a country frame; she often wants to tell stories. she still does that on some cuts here. she has also had astonishing moments of writing in personae - an abused boy on 'mean', for example, a 'barbie on the boardwalk, summer of '45' on 'starlight'. i think there's less scope for moves like that on the sort of pop anthems that dominate 1989. and i'm just going to say it: from multiple points of view including dad, i liked the relatively innocent romantic persona that taylor constructed as a country star. i'm not that into what katy and miley portray themselves as getting up to on a given friday.
but if taylor were to continue to sort of portray the small-town high school sweetheart or something, it'd be straight fake at this point. and i do think that her basic project is an autobiography; she really has, i think, sung quite thoughtfully and honestly about her own life at every stage, though of course she is also mythologizing her own life or dramatizing it shamelessly, yet with evident sincerity. this is very much what touches young women and also other people about her music. (like say you've been watching your daughters grow up, move to new york, and stuff.) and she seemingly effortlessly treats her own story as emblematic; you know she wrote '15' when she was 15 (well, maybe 16), '22' when she was 22, and the stories she told in those songs really did take on a funky universality in their specificity, like a good memoir should. (listen back to '15' and realize it really is about her best friend, who has told her own story, and loves that taylor told it.)
[take in the audience response. each girl in that crowd is her.]
so look she's on the cover of every magazine, dating hot pop stars or whatever, jetting around the world. i am going to say that might be a hard story to tell honestly. but i really think that within the parameters of pop music she has done so. the album represents a move to new york (already in process on red) and that represents a stage of life - hers, and others'.
it's in the lyrics, but it's in the music on multiple levels; everything gathers around this transition. taylor's writing is remarkably sophisticated, and here the styles of music - often leaning on a version of the '80s-revival synths currently in fashion - themselves have an autobiographical force; her music now corresponds to how she lives now. within this frame, many of the greatest strengths come through just fine on 1989. for example, as i've said before, the transitional elements of a taylor swift song - intro, bridge, ending, and so one - are always frigging perfect. also her lyric turns of phrase are consistently better than they need to be, which is especially evident with the pop frame. 'i'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream'. 'boys only want love if it's torture'. 'the monsters turned out to be just trees.' "i can read you like a magazine". "band-aids can't fix bullet holes." often the phrase and thought is almost familiar, but has some element of displacement or reversal. taylor was never a cliche; she has always been a cliche with a twist.
in other words, she writes a perfect pop song, and she does that here over and over. within these parameters there is a wide range of moods. also, even more than usual - and again appropriately to the genre shift - there are earworms galore; it's very head-infesting. 'how you get the girl' has a kind of perfect ethereal lightweight synth-pop thing going that works beautifully with that lighter-than-air soprano. maybe a little echo of ed sheeran, here and elsewhere.
'bad blood' would be another example of the earworm effect, and the basic form is an arena-full of fist-waving taylors chanting the hook. maybe it's partly about katy perry and partly in the style of katy perry, and in general i would say taylor's friendships and musical fanships are inscribed throughout, again as part of the memoir. (something tells me that even with all the love stuff, there's nothing taylor swift cares about more than music.) so apparently she's very close to lorde (what a great witchy yinyang), and lorde's infuence appears again and again, either directly (as on 'i know places') or passed through several stages. it doesn't feel derivative; it feels like taylor has really incorporated the whole thing into her own life and hence style. 'wildest dream' sure owes a lot to lana del rey, but obviously it is taylor not lana (not least on the bridge), and the mood is wistful, not suicidal.
right now i think the strongest songs are, first, "out of the woods", which is a good capsule of the album and just an outstanding piece of song-building.
and i do gravitate to the slowest and most meditative moments. few people can write a pure love song as well as she can ('sad, beautiful, tragic', e.g.). and i give you 'this love', flirting with valentine's-day cliches, but such a beautiful and subtle and also simple melody, and such a beautiful vocal arrangement, with an underlying melancholy. my favorite song is the one that ends the album: 'clean'. you wouldn't think someone could do a compellingly fresh version of 'i'm addicted to your love', but there it is, and it also marks the transition of taylor into someone who, perhaps, has been exposed to things like drugs and drug problems. quietly, it is a masterpiece: "the drought was the very worst, when the flowers that we'd grown together died of thirst...'
they've kept the album off youtube so far pretty effectively. but maybe this is better anyway. all over america, girls are up in their bedrooms working up these songs. this one really gives an intense and beautiful rendition; it's a good representation of the spirit of the song, and of what taylor means.