Taylor Swift is “Fearless” as she reinvents herself in a clean way

By Patrick Hoff

(Jeff Blake/The State/MCT)
(Jeff Blake/The State/MCT)

Two years ago, Taylor Swift released “Red,” an album that sounded mournful and sad at times, but had pop undertones – much more than any of her previous albums had. Fittingly, “Red” ended with a song called “Begin Again,” almost alluding to the reinvention that was already taking place.

Swift’s new album, “1989” is unlike anything she’s released before, but somehow not a complete surprise. Her fifth album has similar sounds to “Red,” due to collaboration with Swedish producer Max Martin on both, but Monday’s release incorporates much more pop than we’ve ever heard before in Swift’s music.

And it’s not the pop of other current artists – by looking toward the 1980s for musical inspiration, Swift somehow looks to the future, making music that’s popular now and won’t sound dated in years to come.

Swift’s last trailblazing album release was 2008’s “Fearless,” which made her a superstar with hits such as “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story.” By completely breaking free from the constraints of country music, Swift soars higher than she has before and completely seals her place in music history as a groundbreaking artist.

From start to finish, the listener can tell how comfortable and happy Swift is. Though not devoid of songs about ex-boyfriends, the songs are less about sadness or break-ups and more nostalgic, looking at the love and joy experienced during a relationship.

“1989” also tells a story more so than any of Swift’s previous albums have. Swift is famous for putting secret messages in the liner notes and lyrics of her albums, and “1989” is no different. However, instead of disjointed messages related to each individual song, the secret messages connect this time, telling the story of a girl who moved to New York City, fell in love but broke up with a boy, and then finally got over him and learned to love herself. Keeping that message in mind while listening to the album, it’s easy to hear the story that Swift is trying to tell her fans – this time not a romantic fantasy, like “Fearless,” but a realistic dream.

The album’s story comes through clearly as no song feels out of place. In the past, songs like “Breathe” from “Fearless” or “Never Grow Up” from her album “Speak Now” have felt like they don’t belong – not because they’re not good songs, but because they don’t seem to fit the album’s overarching tone. However, “1989” plays well from “Welcome to New York” until “Clean.” Even the deluxe version’s three bonus songs, which sometimes fall flat when compared to the album as a whole, seem to blend well with Swift’s tale.

The album’s highlights are the second track, “Blank Space,” and the penultimate track, “I Know Places,” both which Swift seems to have written based on experiences with media and rumors. Both written with Ryan Tedder, they serve as quasi-bookends. “Blank Space” is the real beginning of Swift’s story (“Welcome to New York” only sets the scene), while “I Know Places” is the climax before “Clean,” which serves as the resolution.

“1989” is a rebirth for Swift, moving away from the romantic fantasies of “Fearless” and “Speak Now,” and into a new age of idealism with a realistic focus. Even those skeptical of Swift’s music will be surprised by this new direction.

Patrick Hoff can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Hoff_Patrick16.