Comparing “1989” to Taylor Swift’s earlier work almost isn’t fair, simply because it’s so unlike anything the 25-year-old has done before. Fans expecting another album similar to “Red” or “Speak Now” might be disappointed by the singer-songwriter’s fifth record for that reason. But if you take “1989” as a stand-alone pop album, it shines with a positivity that is classic Swift.
“1989” leaves behind Swift’s former gray area of blended country-pop for unapologetic ’80s-inspired pop. Her music has been inching away from her country roots and towards pop since her debut eight years ago, and in “1989,” she crosses the line without looking back.
The album rarely uses the acoustic guitar that made Swift famous as a teenager, focusing instead on produced synthetic beats. “Welcome to New York” is a fitting opener that signifies not only Swift’s physical move to the city, but her artistic shift as well. “Wildest Dreams” uses minimal instrumentation, sounding like a more optimistic version of Lana del Rey.
“Shake it Off,” the lead single and an upbeat dance number, is the best-known song on “1989,” but its true standout track is “Style.” Allegedly about ex-boyfriend and One Direction member Harry Styles, a catchy electric guitar opening and beat-driven chorus combine to make a song that’s impossible to get out of your head.
Swift addresses her usual topic of relationships for much of the album, but in a new way for her. There are no wistful piano ballads or songs of lost love; there aren’t really even any songs of vengeance (“All You Had to Do Was Stay” would be the closest to that category). Instead, Swift narrates past relationships with more confidence than vulnerability. In “Blank Space,” she teases her own reputation as having a “long list of ex-lovers.” Written about a feud with another artist, “Bad Blood,” one of the few exceptions to the relationship theme, comes across as more whiny than genuine.
“1989” represents an artistic shift for Swift and a venture into a new type of music. Although it’s a different brand of Taylor Swift than the one that captured teen girls’ hearts years ago with “Our Song” and “You Belong With Me,” she wears this new style well.
MOVE gives “1989” 4 out of 5 stars.