Fourth single “Style” showcases Swift’s songwriting at its purest. She snarls her way through brooding verses -- a midnight drive on a dark road -- until suddenly, the song blooms into a glorious, sun-drenched, hair-blowing-in-the-wind chorus. With the simplest major/minor shift, she evokes worlds of emotion. And in an era where traditional pop bridges have, in fact, gone out of style, Swift digs further into them. “Take me home!” she belts. Is it meant to be optimistic or terrifying? Three years later, we still don’t know. The song's lost highway never ends.
These aren’t pure love songs, like “You Belong with Me” or “Love Story." They’re just as much about the messy, internal feelings around relationships. “Wildest Dreams” is Swift at her fatalist best, foreseeing the end of a romance before it even begins. On “Out of the Woods," a chaotic, Jack Antonoff-shepherded pop symphony worthy of Brian Wilson, she narrates a love that was doomed from the start -- and learns to regret nothing, even the near-death experience ("Remember when you hit the brakes too soon/ 20 stitches in a hospital room?") that brought about the relationship's end. It all culminates in the Imogen Heap collaboration “Clean”: the Taylor ballad to end all Taylor ballads, in which she finally lets loose the tears she’s been holding back the entire album, and forges a new beginning.
With 1989, Taylor Swift moved beyond love songs. The album spoke to a generation of millennials living through uncertain times, looking for stability as young adults. Taylor’s songs offer no easy answers, but endless emotional generosity.
True blockbuster albums only come along a few times a decade. They’re not just about hit singles -- they redefine the cultural zeitgeist. 1989 wasn’t driven by nostalgia, but channeled the spirit of the late ‘80s to breathe new life into 2014 pop. Taylor’s cited influences -- Madonna, Annie Lennox, Peter Gabriel – didn’t just chase trends, they were auteurs. They made pop music at the highest level, which felt completely unexpected yet instantly familiar at the same time.
1989’s had an unusually long cultural afterlife. It grew so big it broke her previous ritual: a new album in October/November every two years. She was just 24 when 1989 came out -- now she’s 27, and Reputation comes out this Friday. Like Michael Jackson following Thriller with Bad, the stakes seem impossibly high. But regardless of how Reputation’s received, we're still talking about its predecessor, living through its songs. Empty hype and marketing are soon forgotten. You can’t manufacture the kind of attention Taylor Swift commands -- you can only earn it.
The LP became Taylor's third straight to sell over a million copies in its opening frame -- a near-impossibility in the post-CD era -- notching the best first-week numbers by any artist since Eminem over a decade earlier. In total, the set spawned three Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hits and was eventually certified 6x Platinum, making 1989 the kind of commercial behemoth that served as its own throwback to the late-'80s pop period Swift had tried so hard to evoke. But in 2014, her fans already knew she was an all-timer. 1989 just confirmed it for everyone else.