Taylor Swift’s 1989: The return of a pop music masterpiece

by The Insights

But it wasn’t until her next album that Swift found the full expression of her new pop direction. 1989 was met with enthusiastic reviews the first time around in 2014: Billboard called it “a sophisticated tour-de-force”, while Rolling Stone said “it sounds like nothing she’s ever tried before”. And it’s fitting that Swift’s retrofuturist masterpiece should be returning to the mainstream nearly a decade after its first release. It is an album out of time, shuffling its influences and eras both musically and lyrically, through proleptic narratives of memory and loss, looking simultaneously backwards and forwards.

A message of hope

Created alongside friend, collaborator and Bleachers frontman Jack Antonoff, at the beginning of his own super-producer ascendency, 1989 is a pitch-perfect exercise in musicianship and album structure, with diaristic lyrics accompanied by lush synths and vocal percussion. From the liberal sprinkling of glossy ’80s synths throughout, to the washed-out Polaroid cover, the album is nostalgic, while brimful of anticipation about the future.

Opener Welcome To New York is on the surface about arriving in an overwhelming city with “a kaleidoscope of loud heartbeats”, but underneath is about starting again, perhaps after a failed relationship, dreaming of a new beginning. Album highlight Out of the Woods features a woman in the present remembering a relationship in the past, and looking forward to the future. “I remember thinking – are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods? Are we out of the woods, yet? Are we out of the woods?”

The album’s message is one of hope, of making something beautiful out of something difficult. In her 1995 book, She Bop: the definitive history of women in popular music,  Dr Lucy O’Brien writes that in pop: “there is the impression of both embattled strength and fragility. It is in Dusty Springfield’s taut notes, Chrissie Hynde’s jangling rock guitar, Amy Winehouse’s bluesy contralto.” And it is in Taylor Swift’s 1989.

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