Big Machine Records
This poptimism is a worry – grown men telling you how wonderful the new Taylor Swift album is – as if that should ever mean anything. When you don’t like something, when you point out – or poke – holes in something that “the kids” are listening to then it’s just some old man yelling at a cloud, telling the kids to get off his lawn. But if you are filled with poptimism’s maxim – essentially another version of it’s good for what it is, but with this weird add-on: and therefore it cannot ever be criticised – you can be part of the cheerleading club. You can be male, and 40 or 50. And that’s okay. You just can’t pick on the young girl making music.
Taylor Swift’s 1989 isn’t exactly a shark-jump moment, there are pop songs here with hooks and all of that, sure, but it’s so clinical and cynical – so obviously pieced together in the lab: a little bit of this Katy Perry song, mix it with that track from Lorde – if there was ever a way to claim pre-emptive mash-up plagiarism then someone should be suing for Blank Space resembling the Frankenstein’s monster of Katy Perry vs. Lorde. Not content with taking her ideas from other songs Tay-Tay is even ruining the fun bedroom remixers used to have.
But it’s all a silly game for the suits to play – anyway. That’s what needs to be remembered when listening to 1989, not that Taylor was once “a serious artist”, not that this or that hook is clever or that the production is bold. This is a piece of product – created with only an interest in bottom-line/top-dollar and nothing else. And though that alone doesn’t exclude it from praise, trying to suggest it’s about anything more is insulting.
The bad blood track here, called, er, Bad Blood, is said to be Taylor Swift sounding off at “former friend” Katy Perry. And she does this, expertly, over a shadow of a song that could have been nicked from Perry’s nightstand – that comes replete with production from one of Perry’s production masterminds.
The Climie Fisher/Go West vibe of I Wish You Would has Swift hitching her wagon to a late-80s feel in some strange version of appropriation, a self-conscious attempt for the album-title to allegedly mean more than just the year of her birth. She’s in no way enraptured with the sounds of the late-1980s but it’s another marketing spin. No different to her “fighting the fight” and keeping her music off Spotify. That’s just a headline grab. And of course it worked.
But you can’t pick on any of the distractions around the music either – you’re supposed to, in these days of new rules, just play along and agree, just get distracted by them.
The big pop single here – the first of many, no doubt – is Shake It Off. And how ugly that vain and vapid gets to self-mythologise, with Taylor coughing up these lines almost without giggling, “Got a long list of ex-lovers/They’ll tell you I’m insane/But I’ve got a blank space, baby/And I’ll write your name”.
Well, some local hack did once refer to the lyrics of Lorde’s runaway hit as “the text”. I mean, please. This is probably being talked up elsewhere as super-clever, like ohmagosh!
1989 limps towards its finish with unconvincing ballad moments that continue to borrow from Perry (Wonderland) and sometimes (This Love) they’re not even that smart.
But none of that matters at all because the appropriation of Taylor Swift, with her backstory of being – once – “a serious musician”, of coming with “country pedigree” somehow means that even as she’s fully embraced playing a role there’s something more authentic about it, given she can sing and was raised around music. That should be the biggest announcement that this is the world’s most ghastly sell-out, but no. There’s already a cue of those grown men lining up around the block just to smell her hair. They’ll fight you for it probably. If they could only just get both hands free from their pockets.