“It’s a new soundtrack I could dance to this beat, beat forevermore,” Taylor Swift dreamily belts on “Welcome to New York,” the opening track of her fifth album “1989.” For Swift, these past two years are all about new—new haircut, New York and (most notably) a new genre. In late August, Swift announced to a group of fans gathered at the Empire State building that her next album would be a departure from her country roots and a step into the pop stratosphere. Inspired by the pop music of the ’80s, the album—released Monday—gets its namesake from Swift’s birth year.
In much the same way that Swift’s music never quite fit the stereotypical country mold, “1989” sounds almost nothing like the hits currently dominating pop radio. The ’80s influences are strong and, at times, undeniably evocative of something you might hear in a John Hughes movie. Swift has traded in her tear-stained guitar in favor of heavy synthesizers and drumbeats on this record, and as a whole, “1989” is undoubtedly her most sonically cohesive record to date. While Swift’s previous two albums “Speak Now” and “Red” straddled the line between country and pop, “1989” confidently asserts Swift’s place in pop music.
“1989” showcases Swift’s vocal prowess in ways her previous albums haven’t. Songs like “I Know Places” and “Wildest Dreams” demonstrate both Swift’s vocal restraint and sheer power as she seamlessly navigates complex melodies. While “Fearless,” “Speak Now” and “Red” were driven by Swift’s conversational, storytelling lyrics, “1989” is a mesmerizing display of Swift’s vocal capabilities.
The writing is decidedly less confessional than previous albums with Swift singing about her relationships in more general terms, but the themes of love, loss and personal growth are the same. “1989” cheekily reveals a new self-awareness from Swift about her public perception as demonstrated when she sings, “Saw you there and I thought, ‘Oh my god. Look at that face. You look like my next mistake. Love’s a game. Want to play?’” on the track “Blank Space.” As with her previous albums, Swift’s lyrics include strong imagery and innovative metaphors whether it is conjuring the mental image of Band-Aids over bullet holes in “Bad Blood” or equating hiding a relationship to being hunted in “I Know Places.”
As Kelly Clarkson said while covering Swift’s hit “Shake it Off” at a concert in Buffalo this past Saturday, “Seriously, everybody gives Taylor such a hard time, but I can tell you, she can write a hook.” Swift’s fifth album is alluring and captivating songwriting at its finest. I dare you not to get “Out of the Woods” or “Blank Space” stuck in your head after a listen. While “1989” may not have knocked “Fearless” out of first place in my personal Taylor Swift album hierarchy, “1989” is a damn close second and most definitely my favorite album of the moment.