Judging You Like It’s 1989©

by Sarah Gorman

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Big Machine Records

In college, I wrote an essay claiming that Taylor Swift was a terrible influence. I’m not sorry for the points I made, and I still believe that at the time she kind of was. Her songs were dripping in slut-shaming and patriarchal romantic expectations. But maybe I shouldn’t have hated on her so much, because girl-on-girl hate is toxic and yucky. I still think she was wrong to throw that Madeleine Albright quote at Amy Poehler and Tina Fey when they made an innocent joke about her, but I’m at least glad that in the last few years she has embraced feminism and summoned a pretty boss group of female best friends.

Taylor made a huge splash with her most recent album, 1989. It’s been critically acclaimed as her best yet and the hype got to me so much that I couldn’t help but take a listen. And then another listen. And then a few more listens.

I’m on a long and complicated journey sorting out my feelings about Taylor Swift. Here are my impression, song by song. Here it goes. I guess I really am reviewing a Taylor Swift album.

***

1. “Welcome to New York”

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Big Machine Records

I don’t know why Taylor Swift is singing about New York. This song should be called “Welcome to the sidewalk right outside of ModelFit.” “Welcome to Karlie Kloss’s apartment, we’re baking vegan cookies.” I’d like that song a lot better. I just want details of Taylor’s life hanging out with her  celebrity girlfriends. Please include Lorde’s movie theater snack preferences in your next album, Taylor.

She just sang “the lights are so bright, but they never blind me.” Ugh. Was this song a reject from the “Thoroughly Modern Millie” soundtrack?  The proceeds of this single go to New York Public Schools, which is the only reason to buy it. This was not a good choice to open the album with, even if it does have the word “Welcome” in the title.

Grade: D

Like that weird blue jumpsuit thing with the letters on it Taylor wore to the VMAs last year.

  1. “Blank Space”

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Big Machine Records

I tried not to like this song when I first heard it, but then I somehow found myself singing it all the time. Moments like that make me think that Taylor may actually be implanting subliminal messages into her songs, much like the plot of “Josie and the Pussycats.” I suspect Alan Cumming and Parker Posey are behind it. Let’s be real, would any of us be surprised if those two just turned out to be devious cultural puppetmasters? No, we’d be like, “yeah, makes sense.”

Grade: A-

Like when Taylor wore that “no its becky” shirt.

  1. “Style”

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Big Machine Records

I just can’t get over the fact that this song, and the majority of this album, is about Harry Styles. Harry Styles is only capable of one emotion and it’s boyish mischievousness. He can’t have real relationships with people, he’s just goofin’ around being Harry Styles.

I just get really distracted throughout thinking about Harry Styles. If you reference Harry Styles, you need to have something REALLY good to keep me engaged or else I’m just going to have elaborate daydreams about Harry Styles. I think I speak for the entire world on that one.

Grade: C+

Like if Taylor invites you to her Rhode Island estate, but Emma Stone doesn’t even show up so you’re just left to hang out with Jessica Szohr and Jaime King.

 

  1. “Out of the Woods”

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Big Machine Records

 

This song is, again, about Harry Styles. It talks about paper airplanes and I guess they used to wear matching paper airplane necklaces (gross). And apparently it also references a snowmobile accident they were in (even more gross). What in the world are the Prince and Princess of Pop doing on a snowmobile?

People don’t talk about the stories of songs in critiques much, but Taylor Swift built her career on relatable storytelling and here she’s at her best. We all know that scary feeling in a relationship where it may be the beginning of something but you don’t know where it’s going. You hold on to those little specific moments like lying on the couch or moving the furniture to dance (but not snowmobiles because gross). Normally I don’t relate to the stories in Taylor’s songs because my love life feels more like one long Weird Al album, but with this one even I was like, “OMG it’s like she’s singing ABOUT MY LIFE.”

Grade: A+

Like when Kanye interrupted Taylor at the VMAs and it was a gift to us all.

  1. All You Had To Do Was Stay

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Big Machine Records

The high-pitched “STAY”  in this song is everything. I just want to throw out jazz hands every time I hear it. I kind of do already. It’s cheesy as hell and I’m so into it. I’m really into musicals if that explains anything.

Beyond that, I relate to the lyrics. Like, “that’s right! All you had to do was stay! And you couldn’t even do that!” and then suddenly I’m feeling things. You know. You get it. All whoever that person is in your life had to do was stay! This song is beautifully uncomplicated.

Grade: A

Like you’re hanging out on a yacht in Hawaii with Taylor and Haim. Your perfect beach waves are effortlessly middle-parted. You’re wearing high-waisted bikini bottoms and this time they don’t just look like you’re wearing a diaper.

 

  1. Shake It Off

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Big Machine Records

It’s hard for me to like this song because the music video has some not okay cultural appropriation and Taylor recently trademarked “This sick beat.” But with that aside, it’s peppy and fun. It’s stylistically very similar to that Jonas Brothers song about pom poms.

Another note, there’s only room in my heart for one song about haters who are gonna hate and players who are gonna play and it’s by the ladies of 3LW, thank you very much. But, like I said, this song is fun. You can’t help but tap your foot along to it. I’ve heard it’s a good song to listen to while running. I wouldn’t know.

Grade: B-

Like if you saw Taylor Swift on the streets of NYC, but she wasn’t even wearing knee socks OR carrying her cat, Olivia Benson.

 

  1. I Wish You Would

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Big Machine Records

This chorus kills it! The verses kind of suck, but I don’t care because the chorus is so bangin’. It begs you air-drum along. The lyrics are a little juvenile, but in the way that your feelings are juvenile about someone you care about. It’s what you loudly sing along to while driving around with your girlfriends, thinking about all the guys you’re still not over.

Grade: A-

That interview with Taylor Swift in “Rolling Stone” where she talked about how she and Lena Dunham wear old time prairie girl dresses together.

 

  1. “Bad Blood”

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Big Machine Records

“Bad Blood” sounds like bad cheerleading. Stop yelling at me! The only thing this song would be good for is a high school step routine.

I recently watched “The Godfather” for the millionth time and they talked a lot about having “bad blood” between the families and I laughed at Taylor using the same terminology for her feud with Katy Perry. “Band aids don’t fix bullet holes.”

Grade: D-

Like when Taylor Swift won the VMA for Video of the Year instead of Beyonce and Kanye hadn’t interrupted her yet.

  1. Wildest Dreams

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Big Machine Records

“Wildest Dreams” is just a Lana Del Rey knockoff. The chorus sounds exactly like “Young and Beautiful” actually. It’s also the second time Taylor mentions her red lips on this album. She really wants us to accept that as her signature look, huh? Sorry Taylor, pretty sure someone did it first.

What song am I even writing about right now? I already forgot.

Grade: C

Like going on a hike with Taylor and Lorde and Lorde casually slips into conversation that she was born in 1996. And of course, that makes Taylor start talking about being born in 1989 and you’re like, wait why are we hiking right now though?

  1. “How You Get the Girl”

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Big Machine Records

“How You Get the Girl” seems more like it belongs on one of Taylor’s older albums. I’m not a huge fan of those, so I’m not a huge fan of this song. She probably just included this to appease fans who might think she’s changing too much. Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate, Taylor.

Grade: C-

Like it’s your 22nd birthday when literally everyone you see starts singing “22” or asks you, “So, are you feeling 22?” and you’re like “Ugh, leave me alone, this birthday sucks.”

  1. “This Love”

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Big Machine Records

This is Taylor’s favorite song on the album, probably because it is emotional and deep and meaningful for her, blah blah blah. It’s better than the last two songs at least. I like its breathy quality, it kind of sounds like I’m listening to an ASMR video.

I can see some high school kids slow dancing to this at prom after a fight about how the guy has been prioritizing lacrosse over their relationship. If they played this song when a couple reconciled in a movie or TV show I was watching, I would cry.

Grade: B

Like when Taylor was in one of Jimmy Fallon’s “Ew!” videos and came up with a really elaborate backstory for her character and it was cute but a little much.

 

  1. “I Know Places”

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Big Machine Records

Apparently “I Know Places” is also about Harry Styles because one time he and Taylor went on a date and she wore a sweater with a fox on it and she mentions foxes in the song. Okay.

I like when she says “loose lips sink ships all the damn time,” because Taylor Swift saying “damn” feels adorably scandalous. Plus, “loose lips sink ships” is a fun phrase we used to scare people during World War II.

Grade: B+

Like when Kristen Wiig does her impression of Taylor Swift, but it’s only in the sketch for like two seconds.

 

  1. “Clean”

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Big Machine Records

“Clean” was the perfect choice to end the album. Co-written by the ever-ethereal Imogen Heap, “Clean” is like a palate-cleanser to get you ready to move on to life without 1989. It’s the musical equivalent of closing your eyes and taking a deep breath. Then you’re like, wait, is this song about overcoming drug addiction? Umm it might be. Not sure where Taylor got such insights, but it could just be about cleansing yourself of the human black tar heroin that is John Mayer.

Grade: A-

Like the nap you took after listening to “1989.”

***

I must admit, I enjoyed this album. Many of the songs are staples of my Winter 2015 playlist. I was a hater. I didn’t think Taylor could do it, but she did. Is it perfect? Not by any means. There are definitely some stinkers, but hey, not everything can be a Beyonce surprise album.

This album marks what will most likely be Taylor Swift’s biggest year ever and she deserves it. She’s finally growing up and it suits her. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m really excited to see what she does next.

Overall Grade: B

Like listening to a Taylor Swift album, realizing you don’t hate it, and feeling a lot better without all that negative energy.

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