With her fifth studio album 1989, which dropped on Oct. 26, Taylor Swift has managed to completely redefine her sound while staying true to herself as an artist. Keeping with her recent switch from country to pop, the acoustic guitar ballads where she sings of past lovers are gone. In their place are synth-driven pop songs where she still sings of romance, but with a new vigor.
Producers Jack Antonoff (lead guitarist of alternative rock band fun.) and Max Martin (whose previous work includes Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time”) have crafted sleek sounds that draw inspiration from pop artists of the late ‘80s, such as Madonna, Annie Lennox and Roxette.
It’s hard to listen to 1989 without a sense of nostalgia. The album definitely succeeds in emulating the sound of the music that inspired it. It sounds remarkably classic while still being fresh compared to today’s pop music scene.
What’s interesting about 1989 is how this change in sound has impacted Swift’s songwriting. In the past, her songwriting often seemed immature — a teenage girl with her acoustic guitar, singing about a boy who broke her heart.
Every song seemed like a pity party, but now that her songwriting is supported by an upbeat, synth-pop sound, the songs seem more empowering. Swift’s 1989 is a lot less “oh I miss him” and a lot more “eh, forget him.”
In contrast to her previous work, fans will listen to 1989 when they are out on the town getting over a failed relationship instead of when they are sitting in their room heartbroken.
This is especially evident on songs such as “Blank Space” and “Bad Blood.” In “Blank Space,” Swift sings, “Got a long list of ex-lovers they’ll tell you I’m insane,” with an attitude that tells you she does not care what they actually think. In “Bad Blood” she sings, “you made a really deep cut and baby now we got bad blood,” in an aggressive, almost angry tone. No more pity parties for Swift.
One aspect of Swift’s previous album, Red, that was irksome was that the singles didn’t really sound like the rest of the album. “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “22” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” are upbeat pop songs, and the rest of Red is composed mostly of slower country/singer-songwriter ballads.
However, with 1989, the lead single “Shake It Off” fits in much better with the rest of the album. It has a similar sound to the rest of the tracks and doesn’t stick out when listening through the album, makeing the album more cohesive.
Something that has steadily improved with each album is Swift’s vocals. When her self-titled debut album was released in 2006, Swift was a young teenager becoming accustomed to fame and fortune. Now in her fifth album, Swift is a young woman who has been in the spotlight for years. She is one of the biggest names in the music industry, and the confidence that comes with this shows in her vocals.
Swift’s vocals on 1989 sound effortless, even when she is singing big, long notes such as in “Style,” “Shake It Off,” and “How You Get the Girl.” It never sounds like she is straining her voice or that she needed the help of her producers to make her sound great.
Overall, 1989 does a great job of acting as an homage to classic pop songs of the ‘80s while at the same time being incredibly fresh and chic.
If you weren’t a fan of Swift before, listen to this album and there is a good chance it will change your mind.
Now that Swift is focusing on pop music, she has firmly planted herself as one of today’s best pop acts, and the change in sound in no way detracts from her previous appeal as an incredibly relatable songwriter for anyone who has ever been in love.
1989 introduces Swift’s new elements while keeping the charming, warm qualities of her old music.