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Review: Taylor Swift's '1989' pops with power (w/video)

Singer Taylor Swift shifts the focus from her love to life to her music on 1989.
Singer Taylor Swift shifts the focus from her love to life to her music on 1989.
Published Oct. 28, 2014

Tampa Bay in a Minute video: For Sean Daly's take on the album in less than 60 seconds, click here.

As testament to both her puppet-string skills as businesswoman and pop superhero, Taylor Swift's love life is now the least interesting thing about her. As her fifth album, the sugary yet conceptual 1989, was released Monday, the pride of Wyomissing, Pa., finally earns what she always wanted: more respect as an artist than a maneater.

In hyping the new record — whose title nods not only to her birth year but a Neo New Wave vibe (Madonna's in there, the Cars too) — the 24-year-old did two sly things. First, she said she hasn't dated anyone in a year. Secondly, she said she's not country anymore, opting for her first "pop" album. Both statements focused all attention on her music. She knew she had a winner with the rambunctiously crafted 1989, which features a litany of hot producers (Shellback, Max Martin) but is ultimately the playful, go-me vision of Swift herself.

And yes, 1989 is a "pop" LP; don't look for White Horse here. But the seven-time Grammy winner is too smart, too proud to chase chart-topping peers Katy Perry and Ariana Grande. The album isn't suggestive; it doesn't feature any bold-faced cameos and crummy rapper-of-the-moment breaks. And yet, it's still cool, still flirty, borrowing from the lush, swirly '80s without alienating modern tastes. Plus it ultimately has all the comfort-food warmth of SpaghettiOs on a rainy day.

First single Shake It Off is a colossal hit — and yet the Easy-Bake anthem is the most forgettable thing here. Much more captivating is Out of the Woods, a tag-team effort with Fun.'s Jack Antonoff that's epically layered, built with myriad infectious confections and lyrics that focus on an ill-fated fling ("Two paper airplanes flying..."). It might be about One Direction's Harry Styles, but who cares? Swift makes the nerve-fraying notion of a relationship bound to fail universal. Of course, it's also a blast to belt with the windows down.

Swift is one of pop-culture's sturdier role models, now more than ever. Oh, she still likes the dudes, but here she loves herself even more. Opening track Welcome to New York — driven by an insistent keyboard pound — is all about independence ("Everybody here wanted something more"). Built on a prettied up Run-D.M.C. beat, Blank Space eye-rolls at exes. She may not be done with bad boys ("Oh my God, look at that face, you look like my next mistake"), but she's done letting them control her emotions.

Save for the ballad This Love, 1989 is almost entirely upbeat, uptempo and resoundingly positive. It's not just a statement of artistry but of power. She's single; she's unbeatable. Several songs vie for her "best ever," and one of those is How You Get the Girl, which has all the rolling largeness and sparkle of Madonna's Open Your Heart. (Or maybe it's John Mellencamp's Jack & Diane?) So how do you get the girl — or at least get Taylor Swift? You beg for forgiveness, preferably in the rain. Don't try to convince her otherwise, gentlemen. Just buy an umbrella and respect the queen.

Sean Daly can be reached at Follow @seandalypoplife.


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