Sunday, November 16, 2014

1989, by Taylor Swift (Album of the Week)

This week, Robin and I listened to Taylor Swift’s “1989”, an album that represents a whole pop universe that is parallel to our own.  1989 was 25 years ago, a quarter century to me, but the entire lifetime to Taylor Swift.  That’s right – Taylor Swift is younger than our children, and by 1989 we were already living at our current address. 

I started off by rolling my eyes at this pretty pop confection produced by a slick marketing team featuring a starlet who has been pushing herself forward for a spot on the stage since before she was 14.  How is someone who won’t celebrate her 25th birthday for a few more weeks (12/13) supposed to win over a 54 year-old man who doesn’t even read the tabloids she lives in?

After a week of listening to this slickly produced, expertly marketed pop, I’m here to tell you, the kids are better than just alright, they’re pretty amazing.  Taylor Swift has a fantastic voice with great range, and the songs are clever, catchy, and enjoyable. 

I expected this album to be shallow, gossipy and absolutely without grit.  I just didn’t expect it to be so darned enjoyable.

In looking at some of the other reviews of this album, I see how utterly out-of-it I am.  Apparently, a more knowledgeable critic would have picked up on the Lana Del Ray influences in “Wildest Dreams”, but, to do so, I would need to know who s/he is.  Similarly, the references to Harry Styles (a new name to me, but I’m amused) in “Out of the Woods” flew right over my head.  Did you know that “Bad Blood” exists between Taylor Swift and Katie Perry, and, now apparently, Katie Perry’s boyfriend “Diplo”?

Listening to 1989 without a thorough knowledge of tabloid news is analogous to reading T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” without a working knowledge of classical literature.

Am I working toward a sneer here?  Am I comparing one T. S. to another in an attempt to belittle the latter?  Perhaps, just a tiny bit, because that is what grumpy middle-aged English majors do, but not entirely.  The point is a legitimate one – both works of art occur in a specific context, and your appreciation of the work can expand if the references buried in the work resonate. 

You don’t need to know whom Harry Styles is to enjoy “Out of the Woods”.  You don’t need to make sense of every line of the lyrics to bob your head to the catchy sound or the fun vocal embellishments.  This is fun music, and it’s easy to enjoy, whether you catch the references or not.

I'm not quite sure how to take Robin's review of the album. She enjoys the music, but she's not sure she could pick Taylor Swift out of the Top 40 line-up. 

Here are some tips for people of my generation trying to listen to Taylor Swift’s 1989.  Don’t look for grit – this album is high-gloss.  Don’t try to understand all the lyrics – some of them require cultural knowledge you most likely don’t have.  Finally, don’t fight the electronic drums, or the synthesized sounds, or the highly processed vocals – relax and let technology take you for the ride.  1989 is a truly excellent album by a talented musician working in the pop mode.  Enjoy it.

Next up: RTJ2, by Run the Jewels

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