Taylor Swift’s 1989.

I, typically, am not a Taylor Swift fan.  It’s not because I have some warped idea that I am above listening to main-stream pop and country stars, because hello, I have plugged a few acts that have frequent radio plays.  I think the reason I never really advocated for Taylor Swift was because I was just beyond her target demographic when she began her career.  She was a sixteen year old girl singing about high school boyfriends when I was a sophomore in college thinking that I could not relate to the trouble of a high school relationship.  In actuality, dating in college is much like dating in high school: immature boys trying to have sex with girls who idolize Sex and the City and want people to consider them mature when in actuality they are just as emotionally stunted as the “men” they date… or maybe that was just my experience.  Additionally, she was a break-out star in the country genre, and at the time, I adamantly denied having any love of things country (although I hoarded Keith Urban tracks and began to develop a fondness for bluegrass; I was just unable to really get behind songs that capitalized on pro-nationalism in the face of a war I was against, or you know, couldn’t relate to how someone could be sexy while riding a tractor or  telling people to ride cowboys and save horses).

The farther she has come in her career, the more I appreciate her song-writing and lyric-writing.  She can encapsulate the whole myriad of experiences and emotions that young women inevitably face as they develop.  And she does it with this effervescent buoyancy.  While some young women in the public eye create whole personas of defiance as they age, Taylor Swift was able to remain relatively grounded despite the hoard of onlookers and commentators.  There was a vast jump from previous albums to Red, and I believe even more growth and development occurred between Red and 1989.  She officially transitioned from country star to pop star with this release, and the genre shift suits her.  She is able to translate that bubbly personality into a musical equivalency, with heavy synth-driven choruses and dance-worthy rhythm sections, and then adds her notorious spot-on lyricism.  A lot of the songs on 1989 are far more self-reflective than earlier work, or so it seems.  She discusses relationships on this album, but they aren’t there to eviscerate past-boyfriends, like her previous work.  Rather, she is able to pull away from a situations, and it drives her lyrics to newer, better places.  And kudos to her and her producers, because the music they wrote to accompany her lyrics and vocals take the tracks to unbelievably wonderful places.  They reflect Swift’s youth while adding elements of 80’s emotional rock à la The Cure.

Below are some of my favorite tracks, for those who wish to buy singles and not the entire album (although, you should get the full-album, because it is worth the price):

1. “Blank Space”: This song is my favorite track on the album.  She talks about her love life with witty self-reflection and doesn’t aim to embarrass or address any one specific situation.  It is the closest thing she has to admitting that failed relationships are the fault of not just one party, but both, along with variables, like age.  And she does it in a way that is humorous and very addictive (yes, this has been on repeat for most of the day).  She contemplates the truth that when entering a relationship there is a high chance that there is an expiration date, and uses her history as evidence.  But the thing that makes this song so wonderful is that none of the past experiences have jaded her enough to stop believing in love.  She starts the track as an introduction, as if she is talking to someone she finds attractive: “Nice to meet you, where you been?  I can show you incredible things; magic, madness, heaven, sin.  I saw you there and I thought oh my God look at that face, you look like my next mistake; love’s a game, want to play?”  She simultaneously trivialized love as a game, but also holds it up as something extremely desirable, natural, and inevitable, something that she does aspire to despite having been burned in “the game”.  I think the thing that I respect and truly appreciate about this song is that she still ends on a relatively positive and hopeful note: “I’ve got a blank space, baby, and I’ll write your name.”  Yes, it’s another player; yes, there is high potential for this to burn out; yes, there are these things that could conceivably ruin the relationship, but she’s got a blank space, and she’ll write your name.

2. “Welcome to New York”: This is the opening track to 1989, and it has an anthem-like quality to it.  It acts as an introduction to her new self, along with her new sound. She even sings, “It’s a new soundtrack, I can dance to this beat forevermore.”  It is a song about starting over and reinvention, which aptly describes the transformation she’s undergone from country star to pop star.  She also personify’s New York and equates the new locale to being in a new relationship, something a lot of New York natives and devotees have said about the city.  The track exudes excitement and confidence, and I can see this easily becoming the go-to anthem for the next generation of twenty-somethings moving to the city for opportunity, love, and to experience life.  She captures New York’s awe-inspiring visage and temperamental rhythm not only through her lyrics, but also through the varying electronic beats and synth driven melodies.  You can almost see the bright lights of the city and hear the divergent intersections of sound catapulted off brick walls; she manages to paint a picture through sound, and it’s crazy accurate in  how new residences often worship the city as an instrument for reinvention.  Welcome to New York, it’s been waiting for you, Taylor, and I think the move has done you good.

3. “Out of the Woods”: The way I develop these reviews is by putting the album on and listening to it repetitively for hours (I apologize to my co-workers, because today was the day I listened to Taylor Swift on repeat), and eventually certain tracks end up making their mark and lead me to further investigation and further repetitive listening.  This is exactly what happened with “Out of the Woods,” and what originally caught my interest was the music.  It reminded me of a ticking clock mixed with the action of rocking back and forth.  I could see this song being used in a film as the backing to an emotional scene of someone contemplating a relationship, which is essentially what the song discusses.  But something about the composition of the music and the delivery of the lyrics makes you really realize the depth of desire for a normal relationship, or as close to a normal relationship as Taylor Swift may be able to have. She asks, “Are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods?”  And, being Taylor Swift, it’s not just about getting through the initial stages of a relationship and dodging the typical pitfalls that lead to break-ups, but also contending with the barrage of obstacles brought on by being famous.  It really, really conveys her desire to find a lasting relationship.  And my God, you feel so empathetic as she sings, “are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods yet, are we in the clear yet, are we in the clear yet, are we in the clear?”  You want her to find love, you want her to be out of the woods, and you really want to offer words of encouragement, because she subtly lets her listeners know that it has and is taking its toll on her.

Other notable mentions: “I Wish You Would,” “Shake it Off,” and “All  You Had To Do Was Stay”.



Mr. West is in the building.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Released: November 23rd, 2010.

Rolling Stone began their review of this album with no finer, or truer, words: “Being crazy is this guys job, and from the sound of his music, business is booming.”  From the opening track to its finish, this album explores the depths of Kanye’s mind as he seeks to take apart the shimmering façade of fame and to show the truth behind it.  It seems only fitting that the album opens with a female narrator, eerily reminiscent of Brothers Grimm, she warns: “You might think you’ve picked a scene, you haven’t, the real one’s far too mean, the watered down one, the one you know, was made up centuries ago, they made it sound all whack and corny, yes, it’s awful, blasted boring; twisted fiction, sick addiction, well gather around children, zip it, listen.”

Once we drop down the rabbit hole, Kanye shifts from genre to genre.  However, he does not hesitate to uncover new ways of melding rock to hip hop, disco to soulful R&B, even adding tribal drums, so that each track runs smoothly into the next.  Where he went with sparse instrumentation in 808s, Kanye brings the big guns and makes everything bold and beautiful in Fantasy.  One of the best tracks on the album is “All of the Lights” which features guest vocals from Rihanna.  Effortlessly, Kanye brings together hip-hop club beats, an entire brass section, and classical piano all within five minutes.  Another phenomenal track is “Monster,” in which Nicki Minaj steals attention from other big hitters, Jay-Z and Rick Ross, who also lend their words.

Lyrically his arrogance is still there, although there are moments of self-reflection where his grandiose confidence is called into question.  The theme that keeps resurfacing throughout the album is the negative side to being such a commercial success, whether it is how he is viewed in the media, or how it affects his relationships.  This is most clear on the lead single “Runaway” where he sings, “I don’t know what it is with females/But I’m not too good at that shit/See, I could have had me a good girl/And still be addicted to them hoodrats/And I just blame everything on you/At least you know that’s what I’m good at”.  Echoing his words, the prickling piano seem like a clock ticking, as if counting down the moments until his lady-love leaves.  He tells her to run away, but conversely opens up and says he doesn’t know what he’ll do when she does.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an exceptional album.  Kanye went big and bold with the music, and let his emotions show, raw and real.  On My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye combines his talents with an impressive line-up of musical guests, including Rihanna, Bon Iver, Fergie, Elton John, John Legend, Rick Ross, Pusha T, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Kid Cudi, and others.  Despite how he acts in the public eye, one thing is for certain, Kanye is a visionary and musical genius.

Recommended tracks: “All of the Lights,” “Monster,” “Runaway,” and “Lost in the World“.