You like Taylor Swift?
Wait. Don’t speak. Why don’t you take a seat right here. Don’t mind the newspapers. Let me put on a record and see if I can change your mind, because I was like you once. Wait, take off your shoes.
Now hang on. Don’t give me that look. If you’re about to tell me…that you don’t like Taylor Swift…Paul, shut up and don’t speak. I’m going to put on Red, a controversial masterpiece and Swift’s first real foray into the dark side of confessional pop, although it became the bestselling country album of 2012.
This is “22,” and if you know country, then you know this is more Stevie Nicks than Tim McGraw. This is the first real indication that Swift was about to transition from schoolgirl crushes to something more tragic. Yes Paul, I’m talking about romantic vengeance.
“We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely in the best way,” aren’t we? Indeed, it’s “miserable and magical.” But as Swift says, “tonight’s the night when we forget about the heartbreaks,” and forget we will. Let me raise the stakes a little here. Let me introduce you to Fearless-era Swift. And just because I have my back to you right now does not mean I can’t tell that you’re enjoying this.
Now, Fearless, I wasn’t a big fan of. I didn’t understand her. I mistook her nuance for simplicity, but Taylor Swift is not simple, no. “You Belong With Me” is a melancholic reverie to the inevitability of heartbreak. Where 1989 is Swift’s magnum opus and Red is a plat du jour in its own right, Fearless is remarkable as it represents a metamorphosis for Swift. A realignment of values. Without Fearless, Red and 1989 would never stand alone. It’s not the isolated work that’s poignant, but the evolution that it represents within the artist.
Take off your jacket.
Now that you’ve sampled her early efforts, why don’t we take a look at 1989? It’s truly a reward, isn’t it? Like attaining Nirvana after a lifelong meditation. Not the band. The state of mind. What a meditation it’s been.
You’ve heard this one before, haven’t you? Now let me really blow your mind.
This? This is the immaculate 2015 hit 1989. If you think—hang on a minute—that that sounds familiar, that’s because, yes, it is. But no, I don’t just have two copies of 1989. This is an album of 1989 cover songs by the artist Ryan Adams. What do you think so far?
I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t particularly sold on Whiskeytown, and his Cardinals-era output was cloying and Tweedyesque at best. This? This is just a raincoat.
I mean, really, the Elizabethtown soundtrack? A mediocre follow-up to an altogether bland freshman effort. However, the means is far less important than the end in this case.
Because it’s not about where he came from or what he went through to get there, no, and in the grand scheme of things Whiskeytown was just a small blip on the road to 1989. While half of the songs blatantly channel Conor Oberst and don’t quite do justice to the Swiftian originals, and most people probably don’t ask themselves why he needed to change all of the pronouns to make the songs work from his perspective, there are standout gems such as this. This is “Bad Blood,” arguably the best take on the entire album.
Where Taylor belts with an unrestrained desire for retribution, Ryan emphasizes the visceral hurt behind her words, and most people will try to argue for one or the other, but you can’t really have 1989 without both, can you? Because you need Ryan’s crooning vocals to translate Taylor’s fierceness into a fragile masculinity; the message of 1989 is universal. It knows no gender. And you can’t really choose one or the other, can you?
Olga Lexell is a freelance writer and nerd based in Los Angeles. If you’d like to steal her lunch money, you can do so on Twitter.
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