Some Cohesive Thoughts

Saturday, December 13, 2014

In honor of Taylor Swift's 25th birthday today (HBD girlfriend !), I bring you: MY MUCH BELATED GLOWING REVIEW OF 1989. Spelled in all caps because this feels very official.

The Internet can't seem to get enough of Taylor Swift these days. And since I imagine the Internet to be a living entity (as many people no doubt do) composed of a billion crazed fan girls and boys all sitting at their computer screens (like I am doing now) staring into the worlds of people all over the globe, I guess we can't get enough of her either. Because she is EVERYWHERE.

Between gracing the cover of about every big publication of late including Time and accepting an award from DIANA ROSS and breaking every record in the music history book and throwing pizza parties with JAY Z and BEYONCÉ, this girl has reached a level of success far outweighing anything she probably could have imagined when she released her self titled debut album 8 years ago. So there is no denying she is popular, but what about the meat behind her success, the music, the album itself? Does it live up to all the hoopla?

The thing I've always liked about Taylor Swift is that I think she and I think similarly. I've admired her since 2008 (when I bought her first album at Barnes & Noble and then proceeded to listen to the entire thing on the floor of our living room). The funny thing is that what first drew me to her music is the same thing that keeps me coming back: her penchant for being a writer first and foremost. I think (and the critics seem to my favorite 1989 reviews here and here.) her musical integrity is the most important thing that has defined this success for her. What keeps her fansher most loyal to the new gained with each album release—begging for more is her keen sense of self, her humility, and her acceptance and promotion of change. In the case of 1989, the swift change of sound was a risk, but it was one she fought for and knew she needed. And golly gee it paid off.

Musicians who write their own songs are more credible as artists simply because their art then contains a sliver of soul. Music not written by the singer is certainly still beautiful and lovely and relatable, but that element of soul makes all the difference. This is where Swift sets her music apart. She pours slivers of soul into every aspect of her art, the album. Swiftian is each aspect of 1989: the packaging, the track list, the secret stories she weaves in the liner notes for fans to unravel, the polaroids, the dedication. Her attention to detail alone is inspiring.

This detail makes Taylor Swift the penultimate modern artist.

1989 is just what music needed right now. Whether you are a Taylor Swift fan or not, and whether you even like this album or not, you've got to admit that it is unlike anything you've ever heard on the radio. The (sick) beats are synth-y without being overwhelming. The bridges are imaginative and original. The layered vocals are just pretty. One song in particular that has become a favorite since listening to the album about a million times since its release is "Out of The Woods." Jack Antonoff worked his magic on this track, and Swift worked her magic on the lyrics. From multiple sources, I've heard Swift say that her goal with this album was to make each song sound like the way each inspired feeling felt. So, in addition to an artistic experience, Swift delivers a sensory one. "Out of The Woods" is full of big drum sounds and layered ethereal vocal tracks that surround you when you listen to it. This song sounds like the feeling of standing at a giant stadium show. And amid all those stadium jolting rhythms, Swift is able to bring a sense of intimacy with her lyrics. My favorite image from the song is the memory of waking up in the hospital room "and when the sun came up you were looking at me." That line is the Swiftian sliver of intimacy, the sliver of soul in this particular song. She places us in her life, and we write our own stories in between the lines of hers. This lyrical honesty is the integrity I'm talking about.

I could go on forever, but my analysis of "Out of the Woods" applies to each song: there are universal themes and universal beats and then there are intimate details and quiet vocal styling that invites the listener into the wonderful, beautiful, optimistic world of Taylor Swift.

In the seasons of life, I've always had a relatively new Taylor Swift album to narrate the story of my life. Her previous albums or "eras" got me through middle school and moving to a new town and starting college, multiple crushes and heartbreaks, and all the happy, free, confusing, and lonely times in between. Sometimes it's intimidating to think of what is next in this life I lead, but does it matter? If I have Taylor Swift along with me on this long car ride telling me to Shake It Off and leading me Out of the Woods, I think I'll be all set. Bring on the highway, as long as I've got a stereo and an empty passenger seat.

{currently listening to} 

Out of the Woods - Taylor Swift

i walked out and said 'i'm setting you free' /
but the monsters turned out to be just trees /
and when the sun came up /
you were looking at me /

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