Tune in at Yahoo Live to watch Taylor Swift’s 1989 Secret Session with iHeartRadio on Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT!
Remember the girl with the teardrops on her guitar? On Taylor Swift's hotly anticipated fifth effort, 1989, there are few tears. And even fewer guitars.
She's alternating between sounding ebullient and battle-hardened — a nice combination if you can get it. Anyone who thought Swift played the victim in some of her breakup songs on previous albums will have a hard time finding any evidence of that in this largely un-devastated collection. Even some of the tracks that recall distant or recent heartaches have her sounding almost blithe, with lyrics that show her becoming much more sensible or even hard-boiled about love. Executive producer Max Martin is on board to ensure that even tracks that read like tender confessionals in the lyric booklet into huge, anthemic singalongs that make massive use of pre-EDM electronics.
If you're looking for the album's prevailing attitude in a nutshell, you might look to one of the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition, "New Romantics." It seems that Swift's new and improved take on romanticism involves giving up obsessing over why seemingly serious commitments go sour, and instead acting her frolicsome, mid-twentysomething age. "We are too busy dancing to get knocked off our feet," she sings in that track, adding: "The best people in life are free."
In another song, "I Wish You Would," she reconsiders a flighty ex and sounds like she might be open to a BFFs-with-benefits relationship. Her more practical-minded take on love on 1989 is a long way from the fairytale romance of "Love Story"… even if she hasn't completely graduated from "Romeo, take me some place we can be alone" to "Romeo, take a hike."
There's really only one moment that rings false on 1989, and it's the lyric in "Shake It Off" that has the singer archly echoing her antagonists: "Got nothing in my brain — that's what people say-ay-ay." Two or three years ago, that might have been an accurate assessment of a prevailing sentiment about Swift in playa-hater-dom. But in the year 2014, aren't even her detractors conceding that she's the smartest pop superstar we've seen in our lifetimes? We're talking the kind of savviness that has her conjuring up her own Fortune 500-worthy marketing plans… but also the kind of smart that knows sometimes that the savviest thing you can do is just put yourself nakedly in front of people and open up a vein. To put it in 1989 terms (the year, not the album), she kind of makes Madonna look like Paula Abdul.
If you can handle a few more spoilers, here's a track-by-track guide to 1989:
"Welcome to New York" — Or: Dorothy, I don't think we're in Nashville anymore. Talk about setting your suitcase down in new territory: This collaboration with Ryan Tedder sports the album's most pleasingly bombastic production. As an ode to Manhattan, it wields such a sonic sledgehammer that you could call it her "Rhapsody in Black and Blue." While country music is filled with stars busily establishing their small-town bona fides, Swift has joined the small but considerable cadre of genre figures who've uprooted themselves to take Manhattan — Steve Earle, Rosanne Cash, and Chely Wright among them. Speaking of Chely: "Boys and boys, girls and girls," Swift sings, extolling gay-friendliness as just one of many selling points for the big city… a small gesture that will have huge meaning for hundreds of thousands of fans. Meanwhile, it's hard to imagine many young people of any persuasion making their first visit to New York any time in the next 10 years without this bouncing through their heads as they come out of the Holland Tunnel.
"Blank Space" — The album's sweetest-sounding melody happens to be paired with the most evil lyric. Well, may "evil" is too strong a word for the mischief Swift is up to here. But she is definitely having us on. At the Secret Sessions listening parties Swift held in various locales recently, she told fans her intention with this track was to take the wrong-headed conception some people have of how she conducts her romantic life and just run wild with it. Thus do you get the album's most absurdly quotable lyrics — like "I can make the bad guys good for a weekend" and "Got a long list of ex-lovers, they'll tell you I'm insane" and "Be that girl for a month" and "Darling, I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream." Her funniest song to date, "Blank Space" will be taken wholly seriously by vast scores of folks, which makes it that much more comical.
"Style" — Well, here's one that's obviously about Jake Gyllenhaal. Kidding. This track could well be subtitled "I Knew You Were the Kind of Trouble That's Well Worth It When You Walked In." There are further intimations of the outside dalliances or flirtations that supposedly led to her breakup(s) with the One Direction dude… but this time she doesn't seem nearly so perturbed about it. "I say I heard… you've been out and about with some other girl," she sings. "He says what you heard is true, but I can't stop thinking about you. And I said, I've been there too, a few times." It's a moderately shocking admission, that maybe the trouble with Harry is a little bit the trouble with Taylor, too. There's little mistaking that, to borrow a phrase from Sheryl Crow, the stylin' guy in question is very much her favorite mistake.
"Out of the Woods" — Not much more needs to be said about a song that's obsessed Swifties since it was released several weeks ago. Except maybe: How weird is it that a tune so huge that sounds like it's being chanted by a cast of thousands — thanks to Jack Antonoff — stops to include the exact number of stitches incurred in an emergency room after a romantic vehicular accident? Answer: pretty weird, and pretty wonderful.
"All You Had to Do Was Stay" — Swift has her own lengthy and kind of hilarious explanation about why there is an operatic-sounding sample of the word "stay" resounding through the chorus of the song. And she should probably relay that one to you herself. Regardless of how the sample was conceived, it works, as a sort of robotic command conveying a profoundly human emotion. This one sounds like a more sober take on "We Are Never Getting Back Together": "People like you always want back the love they pushed aside/But people like me are gone forever when you say goodbye… You were all I wanted, but not like this." Like, ever.
"Shake It Off" — Has this really only been out for 10 weeks? It's already built up 10 years' worth of ubiquity. That opening drum loop is going to provide bumper music for radio talk shows for years to come, and the "players gonna play, play, play" section will be a staple of sports events time-outs for… what, decades? The credits reveal what we suspected all along: that that's a real horn section aiding the earthquake, on an album otherwise mostly devoid of organic instrumentation. Anyway, this is "Mean" redux, sans banjos, sung by the girl after she moved to that big ole city.
"I Wish You Would" — Swift will never be accused of staying completely on-message, since this number (written with Jack Antonoff of fun. and Bleachers) sends the exact opposite message of the one heard in "All You Had to Do Was Stay." Which is: We are possibly, maybe ever getting back together. How does she know those are her ex's headlights coming through the window at 2 a.m., and not some random stranger making a Pink Dot run? Because she's Taylor Swift, and she can see for miles and miles.
"Bad Blood" — There's a fun, sing-songy quality to this tune that makes it sound like one of Avril Lavigne's lighter moments — which puts it slightly at odds with the serious Katy Perry dis track we were expecting. As beef tunes go, it makes "Better Than Revenge" sound like something out of the Death Row canon. But despite the lightness of the Martin/Shellback production, Swift manages to get off some lines with just enough inherent emotion to let you know there was a real wound there before it got turned into cotton candy. "Band-Aids don't fix bullet holes/You say sorry just for show," she sings, as we all leap to imagine the "whatever" face on the frenemy star who inspired the track.
"Wildest Dreams" — Here's where we get Swift at her most pragmatic about love… which is not to say completely and utterly un-romantic. But these days, she's all about planned (or at least foreseen) obsolescence. "I can see the end as it begins," she sings, going into soothsayer mode — and yet she sounds utterly at peace and even kind of excited about being in the heat of a relationship that has a sell-by date. Young fans who associate her with the belief in One True Love may be a bit surprised at her embrace of the ephemeral here: "His hands are in my hair/His clothes are in my room…/Nothing last forever, but this is getting good now." Is there joy as well as sensuality in impermanence? Take it up with your philosophy prof, kids… or maybe just with someone who's "so tall and handsome as hell."
"How You Get the Girl" — The one song on 1989 that really seems to express a belief in true, perpetually self-renewing love was… written for friends. Same thing with the bonus track "You Are in Love," which Swift wrote thinking of her collaborator Antonoff and his beau Lena Dunham. That kind of romanticism may not be where Swift is at in her life right now, apparently, but she can do a hell of a job of recommending it for pals. This one's so cheerful, it's nearly a girl-group song, in the same way that the title track of Speak Now harked back to that kind of innocent pop.
"This Love" — The first real ballad on the album… and one you're not surprised to see bears the name of Swift's original producer, Nathan Chapman, who makes a one-song return here. The acoustic guitars at the beginning are a giveaway (Martin and Shellback use them a few other times in the collection, but more for accents or dynamics than base instrumentation). Eventually, though, even this one gives way to a big, non-acoustic beat, so as not to seem too out of pace with the rest of the collection. It's unusually hopeful about the prospects of reunions working out… which is maybe why Swift is thinking it has less to do with her life right now and is considering dedicating it to military families.
"I Know Places" — Swift has said she wrote this about how protective she'll be of her next relationship, when that time comes, aiming to experience new love outside of the view of paparazzi — because "loose lips sink ships all the damn time. Not this time!" Then again, the mention of "green eyes" in these lyrics (and also in one of the bonus tracks) suggests she had a previous romance in mind, too. Although it's a bit celebrity-specific, "Places" suffices as a statement of purpose for young lovers who may face prying eyes that aren't even attached to cameras.
"Clean" — The standard edition's last and best song, an electronic ballad co-written with Imogen Heap, gives fans the more vulnerable and gobsmacked Swift they remember "All Too Well" from more heartsick previous albums. Clearly "Clean" is not about the fellow who inspired so many of the album's other songs, because in no way would this guy be considered a favorite mistake. "You're still all over me like a wine-stained dress," she laments, though a baptismal flood ultimately takes care of all that, after it nearly kills her. "Clean" is a reminder that Swift can still open the floodgates to explore the currents of real emotional wreckage… even as it's a happy development that, for the rest of the album, she didn't have to.