Faded Polaroid photos, unfettered cherry red lipstick, suave noir sunglasses, sweaters at the beach during the unbearably sticky summer, white seagulls everywhere and beautiful nightmares dressed in nightgowns like a daydream: the pop bible has returned.
Returning to the past — revisiting and examining its skin and bones — is not always effortless. 2014 is filled with plastic, a wasteland of kawaii and goth Tumblr posts ripped out of an undergraduate poetry collection, the encroaching emergence of Instagram aesthetics and the deluge of pop culture breakdowns.
This messy landscape was where we found Taylor Swift, the country-pop star looking for something to prove. Out was the acoustic guitar, wooden piano and faint country twang — and in was the blonde bob, black dress and a subscription to a synth plug-in. Swift was ready to become a global superstar and household name, an unstoppable force of nature.
It is perhaps impossible to discuss “1989,” Swift’s first foray into pure pop, without discussing her surrounding mythos. To the tabloids’ catty eyes, particularly in 2014, Swift was an object of desire and shame: she was always dating someone new, hungry for attention and press; she only wrote about men; she was exclusively reserved for teenage girls lingering in the past.
Thus, Swift truly mythologizes the self for the first time in the still-blazing “Shake It Off,” the lead single from “1989.” Swift creates a pop monster in her re-introduction to the world with an instantly unforgettable chorus — “I shake it off, shake it off” — that dismisses personal critics while serving as an infectious self-power anthem.
The songs on “1989” are timeless and ingenious because they revel in their unseriousness. It is hard to pass the litmus test of taking “fakers gonna fake” and “haters gonna hate” seriously, but when these lines are sung over vocal layers of Swift giggling in the background — a nod that yes, she is in on the joke, too — combined with an infectious trumpet and drum beat, it becomes its own poetic justice.
Everything sounds much angrier and sharper with Swift’s delivery on this re-recording, a nod to the delusions and obsession over her personal life continuing almost a decade later. “Blank Space” and “Bad Blood” declarations that “Boys only want love if it’s torture” and “Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes / You say sorry just for show,” respectively are blunt and unflashy, but they work because of the electrifying beats and delivery, just like “Shake It Off.”
These songs feed into a more progressive version of Swift. The pop icon candidly discusses the thrill of sex in the career-highlight “Style,” late-night rendezvous episodes in “I Wish You Would” and the unashamed resentment of a failed relationship in “All You Had To Do Was Stay.”
There is no use divorcing these songs from the technical craft, as they feed into each other in perfect harmony. The original production by Max Martin, Shellback, Jack Antonoff and Ryan Tedder is electrifying, seemingly created in a lab with the sole purpose of chaining listeners to their beats.
Moreover, Swift’s toolbox includes the ability to paint a dreamscape with a precise word economy. In three minutes flat, the listener can descend into love’s madness, dance in a snowglobe with their twin flame or stand face-to-face with a devious green-eyed man with a Cheshire cat smile.
“1989” also marks the arrival of Swift’s status as an honorary architect. Swift’s song bridges are out-of-this-world, perhaps the finest in her discography being “Out of the Woods.” In seconds, the listener is in a car accident, holding onto pain until “The monsters turned out to be just trees / When the sun came up you were looking at me.” Swift’s belt closely follows after Antonoff cuts out most of the background noise, one of several flourishes that tingle the brain in all the right ways.
Despite appearances, the album contains in equal measure devastation and pain, another trademark quality of a fine pop project. “Clean” is a brutal and gut-wrenching dissection of sobriety and healing, “This Love” examines the ache of life-giving forces and “You Are In Love” swoons with its magical depiction of falling in love.
“1989” perfectly curates a collection of every potent mood on the human spectrum. There is a song for those who are angry, those who are sad, those who are in love, those who are heartbroken, those who are lost, those searching for greener pastures just out of reach. It is what pop music should always try to be: accessible, ambitious, authentic and addictive.
For returning listeners, the slight production changes and more mature vocals from Swift are miles better than the originals, breathing new life into an already perfect record. Although “New Romantics” and “Style” suffer from clunky sound-mixing changes that alter Swift’s vocals and place obtrusive instrumentals into the background, the core fun is still ever-present.
The five new vault tracks, Swift’s promise to release songs originally on the cutting room floor with her re-recordings as an incentive to returning listeners, are a perfect supplemental course to the original “1989.” The songs, which unsuspectingly grow on you and infect your brain, sound like preserved B-sides from the recent “Midnights” album with all thier juicy, dark synth-pop flavor.
“They might as well be lookin’ at us / And if they call me a slut / You know it might be worth it for once,” Swift muses on the mid-tempo “‘Slut!,’” a surprisingly sad and poignant contemplation from Swift given the song name. “Say Don’t Go” is a stellar addition to Swift’s pop repertoire, and “Is It Over Now?” arrests with its vivid and dark images of infidelity.
Nevertheless, this album from 2014 still easily blows modern pop music out of the water. “1989” is Swift’s triumphant victory lap, a cheeky wink to suburban wine moms, heartsick teenagers, bitter ex-lovers, wide-eyed college grads and middle-aged basement dwellers enraged that their favorite football tight end considers dating Swift more exciting than a Super Bowl victory.
The legendary, late journalist Barbara Walters called Swift the “music industry” when interviewing her for the original “1989” press tour. Walter is still correct today, and it is why a decade later, Swift now is a billionaire; why she is enjoying her laurels and flowers from the most prolific tour in recent memory; why Taylor Alison Swift, born in 1989, is arguably the most famous living woman on the planet.
We fell into wonderland, and we never left. Bow down to your queen.