Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
When Taylor Swift announced that her fifth studio album, 1989, would be her “first documented, official pop album,” I was skeptical. Anybody who has seen my dorm room or phone’s wallpaper can attest that I am one, true Swiftie but I couldn’t imagine my country (if one could even call Swift country after Red) sweetheart moving into Katy Perry-territory. Since the album dropped at midnight tonight on iTunes, my worries have been crushed and I am flabbergasted by how effortlessly Swift created this one-of-a-kind pop album. Luckily, 1989 ushers Swift into eternal country and pop-stardom as she gracefully crosses genre borders.
Most audiences would easily recognize “Shake It Off” from its place on top-40 playlists and almost every Paces party this year — but there are oh-so-many more radio hits to come from this album. Below is a track-by-track breakdown of every song on 1989 from Swarthmore’s resident Taylor Swift fan.
1. “Welcome to New York”
Swift debuted this single earlier this week and I will be honest — I was skeptical. I was worried this would be an indication for things to come, but luckily it is not. While this annoyingly repetitive track was stale after one listen, I’ve grown to love it like an annoying uncle. It’s not my favorite but I believe it is a solid decision to lead this album which gets better as you listen. This track welcomes Swift to more than just New York, but it welcomes her to the pop genre with its heavy use of synth-pop tones and its irritatingly upbeat chorus. On an interesting, yet somewhat confusing, sidenote – Swift makes a statement, albeit a very brief one, on queer relationships when she sings, “You can want who you want, boys and boys and girls and girls.” I feel like Swift could have done better on that end, but it’s a good start for this star who is trying to move from the more conservative country genre to the edgier, undoubtedly more liberal genre of pop.
2. “Blank Space”
After downloading the album and skipping “Welcome to New York” since it was previously released, “Blank Space” was a dream come true. This is one of the album’s true pop anthems than embodies everything Swift represented in her first four albums: stupid love, regret, and playfulness. Much has been written about how several songs on 1989 are about Swift and Harry Styles’ quick relationship and “Blank Space” is the first of these songs. This catchy, upbeat song is clearly about the British superstar as Swift belts, “Ain’t it funny, rumors fly and I know you heard about me. So hey, let’s be friends. I’m dying to see how this one ends. Grab your passport and my hand. I can make the bad guys good for a weekend.” But nothing solidifies the speculation more than the lyrics, “It’ll leave you breathless or with a nasty scar,” since Styles and Swift were hospitalized after a nasty skiing accident where Styles was left with a scar on his chin. But more than the story, “Blank Space” has a catchy tune that might fill the gap once “Shake It Off” becomes overplayed on the radio (if it already hasn’t).
“Style” is a somewhat-darker follow-up to “Blank Space” that potentially continues the Swift’s Styles-saga. While Swift is singing about a circular relationship where the guy who has “got that long hair slicked back white t-shirt” is with Swift who has “got that good girl faith and a tight little skirt,” this song starts to bring 1989 into darker territory as it documents an unhealthy relationship. I don’t see this song becoming popular to casual Swift listeners who appreciate the emotional ballads or upbeat hits, but it’s a solid song that adds context to the entire album.
4. “Out of the Woods”
“Out of the Woods” is another single that Swift debuted before 1989 officially came out and it is one of my favorites. This song has everything that a Swift hit needs: an emotional backbone driving the song, stellar vocals, and a chorus that tweens, angsty high schoolers, middle-aged mothers, and grandmas can sing together. This song is driven by Swift’s desire to get out of the rocky aspects of her unhealthy relationships, but unsure how or when it will end. Some of Swift’s biggest hits over the years are her most relatable and no matter whether romantic or platonic, everybody has been in a position where they have questioned whether or not a relationship can overcome difficulties. And for everyone, Swift gives us hope for a resounding “yes” with what will surely be a radio hit.
5. “All You Had to Do Was Stay”
This song is another that may not gain traction with only casual Swift listeners, but it provides a nice answer to the open-ended question posed in “Out of the Woods.” After a breakup, Swift reminisces about a guy who wants her back when she sings, “All you had to do was stay. Had me in the palm of your hand then why’d you have to go and lock me out when I let you in?” At this point in the album, I feel the need to note that Swift’s new pop sound isn’t catching me off guard anymore. It feels like she’s been doing this forever. It feels more natural than Katy Perry and Ariana Grande, yet with more of a sense than Jessie J of who she is as an artist. Despite shifting genres, Swift sticks to what she knows best — songs about love, heartbreak, and relationships.
6. “Shake It Off”
Swift released this single in late August to drive pre-sales of 1989, but it is still one of the catchiest songs on the album. If you haven’t heard about it (or heard someone else’s opinion on her controversial music video) than you might need to make sure you have an internet connection and a pulse. But context adds so much more to this song. After the past three songs document a rocky relationship and breakup, “Shake It Off” portrays Swift as a strong, independent woman ready to shake off her past experiences and ready to move forward. Also, I feel the need to include a note I wrote during my first listen through the album: “Oh my god. We aren’t even halfway through. Help.”
7. “I Wish You Would”
This chipper song confused me at first as it documents Swift’s desire to have a guy back after a bad breakup. Is this Styles? Is this someone else? Is this someone platonic? I’m not sure the world will ever know. Well, at least not until the end of Swift’s major media tour this week to promote her album. Swift sings, “You always knew how to push my buttons. You give me everything and nothing. This mad, mad love makes you come running to stand back where you stood. I wish you would, I wish you would.” Not my favorite song on the album, but by no means the worst (I’m looking at you “Welcome to New York”), worth at least one listen.
8. “Bad Blood”
“Bad Blood” is a song written about another type of strained relationship that Swift has had — that between her and Katy Perry. Much has been written about this conflict but, long story short, Perry allegedly tried to steal dancers from Swift’s Red tour and Swift never forgave her, thus the title “Bad Blood.” Swift sings, “Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes. You say sorry just for show.” And while this message is very, very “Swift”, this song seems like that of an entirely different singer (perhaps Perry herself). Though there is a nice driving beat throughout the piece, this is the furthest Swift has ventured into “mainstream pop” so far.
9. “Wildest Dreams”
This is Swift’s “Summertime Sadness.” It feels very Lana Del Rey but at the same time it seems like it belongs on Swift’s fourth album, Red. I still can’t shake the feeling that some studio executive told Swift, “Okay… we want you to be Lana Del Rey, but you. But Lana too. Does that make sense?” My answer: no. But I don’t hate this song, in fact, after three listens, I’m starting to like it. This eerily driven song is a nice break from the three unavoidably pop anthems that came before. I’m still unsure what this song is even about, but I’d definitely write a song to this paper. It’s both calm and energizing, filling the gap between the almost-too-much “Shake It Off” and the dark “This Love.”
10. “How You Get the Girl”
And we’re not back into chipper, “let’s make a song for top-40 radio stations” territory. This song is sadly nothing special but reveals a secret for anyone going after Swift’s heart: tell her, “I want you for worse of for better. I would wait forever and ever.” Note taken Taylor, I will be using that the next time I run into you at Central Park.
11. “This Love”
After one venture back into typical upbeat pop fare, we are transported into “This Love” — perhaps the most haunting track on the album. This song centers around a metaphor between relationships and tides. Swift sings, “Clear blue water, high tide came and brought you in. Skies grew darker, currents swept you out again in silent screams. In wildest dreams I never dreamed of this.” This is one of my favorites on 1989 and one of those songs I will listen to when I am lonely, just failed a midterm, or am overloaded with work.
12. “I Know Places”
This track about escaping the media frenzy and finding “places” where lovers won’t be “hunted” by the paparazzi. The song is muddled by a somewhat confusing metaphor comparing the media to “hunters” and the lovers to “foxes.”And this confusing metaphor, like confusing metaphors in many pop songs, is repeated too many times. I want to like this song, but I can’t keep from imagining Taylor and her lover as little foxes prancing around for their hiding space from the media frenzy.
I must say that I love the intro to this song. It is fresh and unlike that of any other song on the album, but made me think “Clean” would not be the typical Swift sad-but-hopeful song that often rounds out her albums. This song was recorded with Imogen Heap, an artist I admire for her willingness to step out of the box and produce truly incredible music, so I had high hopes. Overall, “Clean” finishes up Swift’s first pop-album with hope for the future. Employing another metaphor, Swift now sings about a drought, dying flowers, and an impending storm. Though it’s not the completely groundbreaking song I hoped Swift’s collaboration with Imogen Heap would be, I am glad “Clean” is the final song on the album. It’s a understated, soft, and hopeful look to the future. A future for Swift that might be pop, might be country, or more likely different altogether.
Correction: A previous version used incorrectly identified Imogen Heap as a group. The Daily Gazette apologizes for the error.