Music Monday: Taylor Swift's "Red" album

Monday, October 22, 2012

source: presumably one of her official sites
I mention every once in a while on this blog how much I like Taylor Swift, or maybe how much I liked her, as a songwriter. Although the novelty of her being a pretty, blonde, young singer-songwriter has sort of worn off over the years due to overexposure and, well, her growing up, the core of my admiration for her is still there.

I think it's amazing how long today's (and yesterday's) pop stars are able to sustain their careers. Honestly, how many of us thought, when Britney Spears came out with "... Baby One More Time" that she would become an icon in her own right and would still be around 15 years later? And Justin Bieber's made a relatively smooth transition into adulthood thus far ... I don't know if he's really going to last all that much longer, what with the "competition" of all those British boy bands, but anything seems to be possible these days.

Taylor Swift is a little different, but I'm always shocked at how much her marketing team seems to be aware of the built-in fan base she presumably has and presumably always will have. Every time she releases a new album, it becomes an epic event -- all media bows down to her, or clears their schedules for her. She's been introducing a new song a week on "Good Morning America," she has something akin to a residency at "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" ... and Target is always ready to offer her album at a premium price with the extra bonus tracks she lends them, along with t-shirt rights. And why wouldn't they, right? For all I know, marketing and promotions for the Backstreet Boys in their heyday was just as intrusive, but I was just too starry-eyed and naïve to care or notice.

But I'm not 14 anymore, and just like I don't love all that the Backstreet Boys do, I don't love all that Taylor Swift does. My biggest problem with Taylor over the years has been her seeming inability to let go of childhood fantasies -- princes and princesses -- and past slights. With her past two albums, she has repeatedly portrayed herself as a victim -- one who is vengeful, bitter and always looking for the last word ... and generally immature for her 20+ years. And the thing is, the more I adore an artist or musician, the more critical I am of the work they do, instead of blindly adoring. And it's with that sentiment that I keep listening to Taylor, in hopes that she will hit that sweet spot she hit with her debut album again, and live up to all of the hype surrounding her. And I think "Red" is the album that lifts her back to the height of that hype.

With the exception of the leading single "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," the rest of the album is surprisingly mature, considering what "Fearless" and "Speak Now" sounded like. Taylor does away with much of the bitterness on this album and hits a note of introspection. Even on angrier songs like "I Knew You Were Trouble," Taylor finally places the blame on herself rather the guy for the failed relationship. The sentiment behind "Back to December," the sweetly mournful apology song (her only one up until that point) on "Speak Now" runs free on "Red." In fact, "Red" hits a note of longing and sentimentality that I think comes at her age (22). On this album, Taylor masters the art of capturing moments rather than fluffing up clichés.

My one issue with "Red," if I had to have one, is that on many songs where the lyrics soar, the melody and actual music suffers ... and vice versa. Melodically, bonus track "Come Back ... Be Here" is average, but on second listen, the lyrics are exceptional. "Sad Beautiful Tragic" has a haunting and ethereal melody, but Taylor's delivery of her lyrics is mostly empty. But "I Knew You Were Trouble" is one example of a song that is equal parts poetry and mood-appropriate melody.

Favorites for me are "I Almost Do," a song that seems more like an unsent letter than a love song, a daydream about rekindling an old flame -- oddly (or perhaps not so much) placed immediately before the song "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." The aforementioned "Come Back ... Be Here" is sad and knowing, "The Moment I Knew" is sweepingly woeful, and a handful are catchy while painting canvases with select shades of love: "I Knew You Were Trouble," "Red," "Begin Again," "Starlight" (youthful without coming across as immature). I can hear definite shades of the musician Taylor Swift might become down the line, and I like it.

For all the business savvy, work ethic, worldliness and fame Taylor Swift has, it's hard for me to remember sometimes that she's 22 years old, just a year older than I was when I first heard of her. And where was I at 22? Clutching onto my young adulthood, plunging into adulthood, utterly confused and trying to make sense of the "real world." I don't know what the developmental trajectory of a world-famous pop star is, but maybe 22 is the same for us all.

source: Taylor Swift's Twitter account

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