Taylor Swift's New Direction: Putting 1989 in Perspective

August 24, 2014 | 4 min read

Note, I will use the past tense to refer to everything previous to Taylor’s new album, 1989, and the present tense to refer to the 1989 era.1

I haven’t been on the Taylor Swift bandwagon forever. When I first heard “Teardrops on My Guitar,” I wrote her off as kitschy and “a fad.”

But as things have their way of happening, no longer than two years after my initial sour reaction, my opinions changed. I saw past my first impressions and fell in love with her music.

Five years ago I couldn’t have told you what made Taylor’s music was so magnetic. It just was.

Now, though, I know what that “X-Factor” was.2

Here are two examples:3

I was attracted to the anecdotes.

When you think happiness
I hope you think that little black dress
Think of my head on your chest
And my old faded blue jeans
When you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think of me

The playful conversation starts
Counter all your quick remarks
Like passing notes in secrecy

Those moments full of feeling and depth. I was a part of Taylor’s life. I was a part of her freshmen year. I knew about her crush on that guy named Drew. I knew about the time when she thought she fell in love. She could match the massive appeal of Katy Perry while writing about one, single guy.

Which is way “Shake It Off” worries me.

What happened? I suppose this change was a long time coming. Taylor has sold more than 34 million albums,4 has won 226 awards, and lives in a New York City penthouse. So should I be surprised that Shake It Off lacks the small-town stories of yesteryear?

No. I shouldn’t be. It was clear from Red that change was afoot.

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (WANEGBT) was still personal, but all signs turned toward pop. The lyrics lacked passion. The days of faded blue jeans, old Chevy trucks, and princesses were gone. The song was no longer driven by songwriting. Instead, WANEGBT relied on the incessant beat of an electronic drum. Taylor even seemed to admit this herself by releasing a revised version of the song to country music radio stations.

However, even though Red signaled the impending change, it also reaffirmed Taylor’s country roots.

What to make of 1989?

From all accounts, 1989 will be an all-pop album.5 But can I blame Taylor? No. Her songwriting has always been based on her personal experiences. Living in New York City, flying in a private jet, and hanging out with other pop stars is her new life. But for Taylor, that creates a paradox. She got her start writing about issues common to all teenagers. She, more than anyone else, could capture the emotion, intimacy, and heartbreak of growing up.

But now, Taylor doesn’t live that life, which explains why Shake It Off lacks the “X-Factor” of her previous endeavors.

Don’t get me wrong, I think “Shake It Off” is a great song.6 But at its heart, it’s pop music.

In two years, I wonder if I will still be listening to “Shake It Off” and the rest of 1989. My guess is probably not. I will, however, still be listening to Taylor Swift, Fearless, Speak Now, and half of Red. Thinking about it that way, there really is nothing to lament about Taylor’s move to pop music. She has given me, and millions of others, hours of music that I love, so who am I to complain?

  1. 1989 era meaning late 2014 onwards. 

  2. Note, though, that what I’m going to say is far from novel. It’s been said many times before

  3. Can we all also agree that her old music videos were so much better? 

  4. 26 million from this 2011 press release plus 8 million from Red

  5. It won’t even be officially released to country music stations. 

  6. I’ve already played it 44 times according to my music app.