Review of Taylor Swift's pop album 1989

Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’; or, Here’s What Happened When I Bought Taylor Swift’s New Album on CD

October 28, 2014 / by / 40 Comments

When Taylor Swift’s self-titled debut album appeared on the scene in 2006, I was too busy ripping Stadium Arcadium from LimeWire and straightening my bangs to pay much attention to the country princess from Nashville. At best, her music was filler played during the breaks in between the Lil Wayne and the Black Eyed Peas songs at homecoming dances. At worst, her particular brand of country was the shrill whines of an indignant teenager. Even eight years after Taylor Swift hit stores, she continued to strike me as the mean girl who never left high school. The cheerleading outfit in her latest video didn’t do much to shake off the image.

So how did I end up in the Target checkout line with a copy of 1989 on the day of its release? Maybe it was the hype surrounding the album or the unseasonably warm weather that had me feeling bubblier than a high school prom queen, but by 10 AM on Monday, I knew I had to get my hands on that album.

I could have downloaded 1989 from iTunes in about 30 seconds, but that’s not what Taylor would have wanted me to do. She would have wanted me to rip off the plastic coating around the disc like a drunk eleven-year-old on Christmas morning and maniacally flip through the liner notes of Instagram photos made to look like polaroids before fumbling around to find the CD drive on my computer for the first time in years. Waiting impatiently in line for the pimply teenage clerk to scan my purchase, Taylor Swift’s nostalgia shtick took hold before I could even swipe my credit card, reminding me of all the times I begged my dad to drive to Best Buy for the newest Britney Spears or Green Day album.

After a few pathetic and clumsy attempts to figure out how to actually play a CD on my computer, I braced myself for the first track to come roaring through my headphones. I had already heard “Welcome to New York” over the weekend, and knew that a painful three minutes were ahead of me. For those who have been lucky enough to avoid the track, it’s basically Hilary Duff’s 2005 semi-hit song “Wake Up,” but somehow even less intelligible and more repetitive. I cringed.

But besides the train wreck that is the album’s first song, the 15 that follow are completely delightful. Even the songs that are only so-so like “All You Had To Do Was Stay” and “I Wish You Would” are full of catchy beats and karaoke-worthy lyrics. “Bad Blood” is of the so-bad-its-good ilk with hilariously quotable lyrics like, “Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes.” The track sounds like TSwizzy spent an afternoon sucking fake angst out of Avril Lavigne and P!nk like a leggy blonde dementor.

There’s no clear frontrunner for the best track on the album, but there are a handful that really stand out. All of the best tracks are spiffy and upbeat that make you unconsciously tap your toes and bop your head to the synth. While Taylor’s previous hits like “Love Story” and “You Belong with Me” are the kinds of songs you’d only belt in public under heavy influence of alcohol or hospital-grade painkillers, the best songs from 1989 demand your outward, unabashed love. “Out of the Woods” managed to make me feel the entire spectrum of human emotion within the first 50 seconds. “Style” is the kind of song that swells as you’re walking along a dimly lit riverfront, tipsy and dripping in summer sweat and juicy nostalgia. I’ll be about the 50th person to say that Taylor Swift manages to do Lana Del Rey better than Lana herself in “Wildest Dreams.” 1989 transports Taylor Swift’s music from shameful guilty pleasure to genuinely — and, for the first time, openly — enjoyable pop pleasure.

The real coup in the album, however, may lie deep in the bonus tracks. “New Romantics” is the kind of Saturday night pump-up jam that would make Emily Dickinson herself throw on her sexiest crop top and shake some ass. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel like you could lift a car, run a marathon, or perform open heart surgery without any training. It’s the kind of song you listen to until the very last second before you immediately tap rewind so you can live it all over again. To be honest, it really should have been a featured song on the album instead of relegated to the bonus bin with the rest of the garbage.

While there has been much ado about 1989 as Taylor’s final transition from country to pop star, there’s another even more important evolution at play here. In Red and Speak Now, Taylor felt like the teenage girl driving her mom’s Chrysler Town and Country around suburban cul-de-sacs on her way to egg her ex-boyfriend. The girl in 1989 is decidedly and decisively different. She’s more of the red-lipstick-clad-chick-having-an-adult-conversation-over-one-too-many-Coronas variety. 1989 is a gentle, yet tacit reminder to hardcore and casual fans alike that we’re not in high school anymore so let’s stop fucking acting like it. With this album, Taylor Swift has managed to drop the faux girl-next-door act while maintaining her accessibility.

For the first time in years, I found myself disappointed that I no longer owned a portable CD player because all I wanted to do was jam to “Shake It Off “and “Blank Slate” on my post-work commute. Finally, I’ve found a Taylor Swift I can get on board with.