‘1989’ is Taylor Swift’s radical reinvention: one to finally alienate her country audience and plant her flag firmly in pop soil. The lead single, ‘Shake It Off’, was no red herring. Swift produced ‘1989’ with hitmaker Max Martin, the man behind Britney Spears’ ‘…Baby One More Time’, and her aim is fixed squarely on the pop throne recently vacated by the AWOL Rihanna.
She was made for it. The 24-year-old has sold over 30 million records worldwide; her last album, ‘Red’, sold 1.2 million in its first week, the highest US figures in a decade. Just last week her label mistakenly uploaded eight seconds of hissing noise billed as ‘Track 3’ from ‘1989’ and it shot straight to the top of the iTunes chart. She’s outgrown her country roots (a process cemented by 2012 smash ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’), become tabloid fodder and parked her guitar in favour of breathless dance routines, as evidenced in the controversial ‘Shake It Off’ video. This record has a concept, too: ‘1989’, she told Rolling Stone, is named after “a very experimental time in pop music”. It’s also the year she was born.
But her fifth album isn’t just a nostalgia trip. It’s possible to plunder the ’80s and still sound fresher than Charli XCX, as Swift did on 2012 B-side ‘I Wish You Would’, which ripped boxy beats and thick synths from Fine Young Cannibals’ 1989 album ‘The Raw & The Cooked’. The chiming synths of ‘All You Had To Do Was Stay’ could be Phoenix; and ‘Style’, so ’80s-indebted with its thick piano-house and uplifting “Take me up” coda, echoes the retro-modern atmosphere conjured by the slinky cool of Electric Youth and Blood Orange.
Unlike them, though, Swift locates that sense of period without sacrificing the joy of the pop song: gloriously celebrating the Pennsylvania native’s new hometown with OMD synth jabs on ‘Welcome To New York’, working Beastie Boys beats into a bitter stomp on ‘Bad Blood’ and shrugging off the paranoia of troubled love on the intense, Roxette-like chorus of ‘Out Of The Woods’. Barring a late collapse into soft-rock mush on the drifting ‘This Love’ and weepy ‘Clean’, Swift’s plunge into pop is a success.