“[Taylor Swift] has taken care to create an entry in her discography that defines a growing child stumbling and faltering, but learning, how to live as an adult.”
I was planning on giving this album a few more listens before doing a write-up, which I probably should have, but I had such an onslaught of things to say during the listening of that I was just like fuck it. Okay here we go.
Taylor Swift gets polarized reactions from people most of the time. You either like her or hate her. Or you like her poppy songs and hate her country-tinged. Or vice-versa. There are a lot of polarities going on here. But she has set her career up in such an accessible way that she has just about every type of person imaginable to try to appeal to in some way. On her 2012 effort Red, the diversity seems to shine through more than ever. In terms of musical styles, this is by far a more varied collection of songs than anything you’ve heard before. You may have heard of her DUBSTEP-inspired track, “I Knew You Were T(wubwubwubwubwub)ble.” It’s actually trouble. That was a really bad joke. But the song is not oversaturated with the wobble basses and the elongated fart sounds. It’s a bold move that might piss off a lot of fans and haters alike, but honestly, it’s well-crafted and synthesizes her style really well without sounding too forced. Then there’s the song Katy Perry could have made at 22 if she weren’t busy writing Christian music, “22,” which is all about being young and having fun and hip and oh god this is obviously single fodder. It’s catchy, but it wavers between being forcibly childish for the sake of diversity and being ironic and intentionally self-deprecating. It’s a cute song and I like it on its own poppy, billboard-topping merits, but might be the one setback on this album in terms of subjective consistency. Her title track lingers into her country roots here and there, as well on “All Too Well,” but her lyricism projects an interesting new picture that could still lure in the most avid haters of the country genre, such as myself. I mean, Taylor’s never REALLY been a country singer, has she?
Let’s talk lyrics. What’s she got to offer this time around? Well it’s Taylor SWIFT I mean COME ON they’re obviously all about relationships and “young love” and omg I’m such a sad sheltered small town girl and there are so many boys that hate me. Right? Nothing else to discuss RIGHT? Well, okay, kind of, but there’s a case to be made here for the originality of her work. The best part of her confessional, personal diary-style of writing is that we get to grow up with her and chronicle the development of her feelings and the ways she expresses them. On Red, the now-22year old Shakespeare of the teenage girl crowd is clearly transitioning into adulthood. ADULTHOOD? HOW? HAVE YOU HEARD THE LEAD SINGLE?
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” the first single from Red, is an obvious attention-grabber, which topped the charts and got stuck in the heads of angry employees at retail stores everywhere. It’s disgustingly catchy, infectious, and poppy. A first single sometimes sets the stage for the rest of the album. Here, the first single almost seems like a fun self-parody of her younger years. If you don’t believe me, listen to “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” a standout song that shows Swift at her most mature. “You’ve got your demons, and darling, they all look like me,” she mutters over the saddest chord progression you’ve ever heard her strum. On a song embracing change, growth and risks, “Treacherous,” she sings, “This slope is treacherous, and I like it.” On her Ed Sheeran collab, a personal favorite, “Everything Has Changed,” Taylor addresses a similar topic in an even more optimistic light. The album closes on “Begin Again,” a song about finding new hope in unexpected change.
What do all these songs MEAN? Well, this is hardly the same Taylor Swift you heard whining on “Teardrops on My Guitar” or fantasizing wild stories of Prince Charmings on “Love Story.” She sticks with what she’s best at, relationships, but experience and age have naturally led into maturity. SO WHAT? EVERYONE GROWS UP AT SOME POINT. WHY IS THIS SUDDENLY THE COOLEST THING EVER?
Maybe it’s because I’m 20 and get to experience similar themes in tow of her. Maybe it’s because she’s one of the only chart-topping pop singers who has the ability to write a song that makes me give a damn about her life, feel empathy. Maybe it’s because I’m one of the most emotional males to ever exist. But probably, the best excuse for me lauding an album that a 10 year old would rock out to just to piss off her parents is that, she has taken care to create an entry in her discography that defines a growing child stumbling and faltering, but learning, how to live as an adult—a reference point in her career that pinpoints a specific, special, important era of her life. Too many artists disregard who they really are and what they really feel in favor of what styles are trendy and what hook is catchy. Too many artists remain in stasis putting out the same album over and over. Those artists won’t be able to distinguish one period of their life from another when they reflect on their legacy. There are also a lot of great artists out there doing what Taylor does, many before her. But somebody pressured from so many directions to conform into a product of the industry putting out an album as real and honest as Red speaks a great deal on her integrity as a musician—as a human being!
My verdict: If you’ve never followed Taylor beyond the singles, and you’re not in 5th grade, this album is a great place to start! It’s mature and diverse, fun and wrenching, and a step in a brave new direction for the artist. If you’ve always hated Taylor, I dare you to listen to her duet with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol and not feel a shred of emotion or just sheer appreciation for a well-crafted piece of art. If you’ve always loved Taylor, there’s really no reason for you to stop now. This album pushes forward new thoughts and ideas, branches out and offers powerful new concepts and great quotables.
I’ll give Red eight “ever’s” out of ten. Like… ever… ever ever ever ever ever ever ever.
The Last Time (feat. Gary Lightbody)
Sad Beautiful Tragic
Everything Has Changed (feat. Ed Sheeran)
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together – as if you haven’t heard it yet.
Stay Stay Stay