By Jonathan Edmondson
Arts & Entertainment Editor
In 2006, when Taylor Swift released her self-titled debut album, she was best known for her sundresses, girl-next-door look and gorgeous, curly blonde locks.
Fast forward eight years, and America’s sweetheart has gotten a little older, wiser and perhaps more cynical.
Swift has traded in her dresses for maxi skirts, her curls for pin-straight hair and her acoustic guitar for synthesizing beats.
It is a departure from the Swift of days past. While she is still making headlines for her scandalous celebrity relationships and omnipresent social media status, the filter through which we view Swift has changed.
Her new album, “1989,” makes sure that we don’t forget that.
Self-described by Swift as her “first documented, official pop album,” “1989” is a risky venture into territory foreign to someone who used to don cowboy boots.
Luckily for Swift, she hits the radio-friendly bullseye while still showcasing her songwriting prowess.
The album opens with “Welcome to New York,” a song that directly transports the listener back to the 1980s with its contagious pop synths and reverberation. With help from Ryan Tedder, one of the most sought after songwriters of the decade, the hook is insanely catchy despite simplistic lyrics. The song, as the title suggests, is very inviting. The track is crafted to suck listeners in and hit them with the entire album’s aesthetic — ’80s inspired with 21st century flair.
“Blank Space,” the second track and soon-to-be new single, is perhaps the albums most engaging song. Thanks to lyrics by Swift and stellar production contributions by Max Martin, the track bubbles with energy. On Swift’s end, she pulls out her consistently used self-aware card.
Swift is far from blind to the public’s consistent gossip about her personal life, as is evident in the lines, “I got a long list of ex-lovers / they’ll tell you I’m insane.” In comparison to previous albums, the level of self-awareness in “1989” somehow feels apropos due to her musical transgression into pop-maturity. Swift is no longer whining — instead, she’s winning. She’s embracing her flaws and facing down rumors in a much better way. Instead of rambling soliloquies (see “Mean” from 2010’s “Speak Now”), she sprinkles in her personal life in a way that finally feels appropriate.
Also, it’s simply killer songwriting. “Blank Space” is the story of a girl trying to entice a boy into being with her, but the girl is not trying to be innocent and charming. Instead, she’s willing to try different tactics to win over the guys heart, but all-the-while warning him that she’s no down-home country princess. “Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream,” Swift sings self-consciously, but in the best way possible.
The entirety of “1989” rings with this element of coolness. The third track, “Style,” begins with an understated drum beat that builds as the song progresses. Swift’s voice soars during the chorus, in which she sings “you’ve got that James Dean daydream look in your eyes / and I got that red lip, classic thing that you like.” Its not the most original description, but somehow Swift makes it sound fresh.
A standout track on the album is “Out of the Woods,” a roaring epic that Swift co-wrote with the band fun.’s Jack Antonoff. The song is festival-ready, with a soaring hook that could easily entice any crowd to belt along with Swift — “Are we out of the woods yet? Are we in the clear yet?”
The song sounds like an Ellie Goulding track, but Swift makes it her own. It’s a different sound and style, but then again, nothing on “1989” can really come as a surprise.
And this is all from the first half of the album. The rest of “1989” captures the same intensity. “Shake It Off” and “Bad Blood” rely on catchy beats and kiss-off vocals, while “This Love” and “Clean” tell somber tales backed by hypnotizing instrumentals.
Swift’s newest album is a musical experiment. “1989” shows the singer all grown up. She explores mature themes, taking music risks and pushing the boundaries of what we knew her to be.
And for that reason, combined with the musical genius of most of the tracks, “1989” is a masterclass in pop music. For her first true attempt at this genre, Swift succeeds in almost everything she tries. With Antonoff, Martin and Tedder on her side, there was no real chance that she could lose anyway.
Yet despite that all, at its core “1989” contains elements that set it apart from any other pop album on the charts. Swift is unlike Lady Gaga, Katy Perry or Pink. “1989” sounds different from anything else on the radio right now.
It may have been a risk, but it’s one that pays off in the best of ways. It’s a big step for Swift as an artist, and an even bigger step for the pop music genre as we know it.