The rumours about Taylor Swift’s latest release are true—the album has absolutely no hint of her usual country twang, with all of its production grounded in electronic, synthesized rhythms and layered with energetic claps, snaps, snares, and poppy, self-aware lyrics. The change pays off, and aside from a few missteps, 1989 is filled to the brim with immensely refreshing and experimental work.
Let’s start by getting the letdowns out of the way: Album opener “Welcome to New York” is deeply disappointing. Any potential that could have been salvaged from its clichéd lyrics and knock-off Robyn production—which isn’t much—is completely overshadowed by the gilded, privileged, one-dimensional vision Swift has of the city. It’s formulaic in its own right, compared to any of the city’s many odes, and to the rest of the album.
Two other songs fall prey to unoriginality: “All You Had To Do Was Stay” and “How You Get the Girl” are boring; both lack any sense of depth and are atmospherically inconsistent. “I Wish You Would,” while lavish in its production, is thematically too similar to Red’s (2012) “I Almost Do” and Speak Now’s (2010) “If This Were a Movie” to be praised. That’s where the disappointment ends.
Lead single “Shake it Off,” for example, is an energetic, flippant dismissal of the criticisms Swift’s fended off over the course of her career. Her lyrical defences are up, but her guard has never been lower, which she displays confidently with her nonchalant digs at heartbreakers and exes and their girlfriends and fakers, and all the haters in between.
The album is more mature as well. “Wildest Dreams” is breathtakingly ethereal, with its gentle heartbeat backdrop and nostalgic imagery. Channeling Lana Del Rey circa Born to Die (2012), Swift moodily singsong whispers: “He’s so tall, and handsome as hell/ He’s so bad, but he does it so well.” Don’t they all, Taylor, don’t they all.
As usual, Swift has employed a powerhouse of talented collaborators, this time including rising star Jack Antonoff of Bleachers fame. Antonoff’s influence is undeniable in “Out of the Woods,” whose warped, thunderous production helps the song to stand out as one of her best ever.
Other memorable songs include “Style,” whose experimental, textured layers of chaotic, stormy, and passion give us a glimpse into that relationship, and “Blank Space”, which is essentially the reckless, self-aware over-the-shoulder glance you give to someone you probably shouldn’t give it to. Although its syrupy chorus is overly reminiscent of Marina and the Diamonds’ distinct style, and its lyrics—“Oh my god, look at the face/ You look like my next mistake/ Love’s a game, wanna play?”—are occasionally a mirror of Red’s “22,” it’s worth every replay.
“Clean” is the perfect outro for the album. Gentle, soulful, and overflowing with hope, it points to loose ends tied-up, coming to terms with yourself, and contentment after a storm: “When I was drowning, that was when I could finally breathe/ And by morning, gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean.” 1989 is the beautiful, blazing sonification of a girl getting stronger. And it shines at nearly every angle from which it rings.