As much as I’d like to believe I’m above Taylor Swift in the realm of music taste – I am, in fact, not at all. As someone who loves music, checking various outlets daily in hopes of the release of a new remix or single, I think, like most people, that my taste is, well, tasteful – that is lacking in Top 40 favorites or the typical T-pain anthem. I like sounds like Banks, Sound Remedy, Cashmere Cat, RL Grime, RAC, and Alt-J – I’m not supposed to like Taylor Swift anymore, I should have grown past that. Yet judging by the fact that her new album, 1989, has been on repeat in my car, on my computer, and through my headphones for the past week now, I am so clearly not over the teen queen pop sensation. I mean I’m fully aware that I’m singing along to the same lyrics some spoiled 13-year-old princess is belting out in the passenger seat of her mother’s Tahoe, but I can’t stop myself from pressing play. After coming to this sad, sad realization, I couldn’t avoid considering why. Why I can’t stop listening to this made-for-Top-40 shit over and over and over. After which, I came to three very real conclusions.
First, 1989 is really nothing like anything else she’s ever written and released. Sure, there’s the obvious criticism of Red; the album that most would agree launched the metamorphosis of her career from mostly country to mostly pop. However, Red, with its strumming acoustics and occasional violin, still lingers in the country genre in my opinion. 1989 does not. In fact, the album has left all signs of the star’s country past in the past. Every song but one, “How You Get the Girl,” is at its foundation an addictive synthpop masterpiece filled with short, electronic beats and booming bass lines. These two features combined with the obvious time stamp from the album’s title inextricably manifest an ‘80s vibe throughout the collection. Again, this is something totally different, even unexpected, from anything released by Swift, or any other mega pop star for that matter. Sure, there are Robyn and Betty Who who’ve both made their names and careers on 80s-esque, synthpop anthems, but both of their careers combined do not so much as compare to Swift’s success. So in a way, Swift is doing something relatively new and risky in the world of pop music right now.
Secondly, if Swift’s employment of synthpop elements in 1989 is still not enough to convince you she’s doing something different from the typical, hip-hop infused pop artists as of late — take a look at her lyrics. Borrowing from Lana Del Rey’s bag of tricks, Swift ropes in her listeners with nostalgic, image-inducing phrases like, “Cherry lips, Crystal skies” and “James Dean day dream.” Swift even goes so far as to replicate Lana Del Rey’s song title “National Anthem,” on her best-selling album Paradise, as a lyric in her generationally critical “New Romantics” available on the deluxe edition of 1989. No one knows for sure if Swift uses these LDR buzzwords in parody or admiration of the dark, indie songstress, but their incorporation is nonetheless key in drawing a wider audience, most notably alternative or dream pop fans.
Lastly, while 1989 is undeniably the most lyrically refined album of Swift’s career, it still does something all the others before it have done as well: it stays relevant. I think this is the one thing Swift has on almost every other pop artist of our time right now. She’s not afraid to be completely honest with her listeners, telling her audience exactly how her life is going no matter the outcome or circumstance. One of the reasons I find this album so completely addictive is how relatable the material is to my own life as a “20-something,” going through much of the same shit. But again, this is the one major technique Swift brings with her from her past music, knowing full well what her listeners want to hear. To me, many of her songs on 1989 remind me of her hit “22,” released on Red in 2012. When “22” came out two years ago, I was 20 and carelessly sang along like the girl who just got initiated into the “20-something” crowd — you know the one everyone talks about with all those young, brilliant minds on the verge of greatness if only they’d get off Tinder, Instagram, and Facebook and actually do something with their lives — but I digress. Now that I’m 22, I listen to the song and this entire new album and I’m like shit, this girl is either living my life, or she’s a goddamn good psychic. Nothing has quite summed up my life like the lyrics, “we’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.” Seriously, that’s everything I feel and have felt so far in my 22nd year. Swift does the same thing with nearly every song on 1989, relating her very own truisms, experiences, and lessons as a young, 20-something in today’s world and inviting her fans to find comfort in numbers.