Taylor Swift is sporting a sharper lip color as she transitions from being the nation’s “girl next door” to “the lady next door.” Swift, now 22, is famous for her impeccable wardrobe and her ability to translate the plethora of emotions that a complicated situation can bring into a three to four-minute song. This is why she has been able to pack millions of young girls and shameless boys into mega-stadiums. Yet, the context in which this ability is utilized has changed in Red, her album released this past Monday.
Working with a team of super producers, Swift is a blatant product of popular music. Often, the sound of the mandolin strumming in the background is the only allusion to Swift’s country roots. Autotune and other new tools of pop music are spells that Swift has not yet put herself under, although she surprisingly experiments with dub-step on her title track “I Knew You Were Trouble.” On the other hand, “Treacherous,” produced and co-written by Dan Wilson, recognizes the qualities of her more popular tunes from the past like “Fearless” and “Enchanted.” Only a few other songs besides this one can really scream Swift, and it’s clear that Swift is struggling to find her own musical identity.
A lot of scandalous, tabloid fun can still be had in deciphering who the lucky “man” is in several songs. Swift’s allusions to Joe Jonas, John Mayer and Taylor Lautner, have sparked controversy and parodies. Many have speculated that her bonus track “The Moment I Knew” is about Jake Gyllenhaal not arriving at her 22nd birthday party after their famous breakup last year. And this time, songs of new beginnings can be linked to her new beau, Connor Kennedy. Or maybe another mystery man “in London” in her other bonus track “Come Back … Be Here”?
Swift’s maturity has emerged not out of acts of drug usage or promiscuity like most coming-of-age artists. Instead, she sings about her insights from relationships, mostly romantic. Red says goodbye to immature teenage boys as Swift steps into a new arena of men.
Swift maneuvers her way to popularity and maintains it, while consistently residing within the same note range. In this respect, Red does not present anything new. The only refreshing aspect comes from the entrance of featured singers such as Ed Sheeran and Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol. Swift’s falsetto reaches its full glory in her duet with Sheeran, “Everything Has Changed.” However, the pleasant harmony they weave, can mostly be credited to Sheeran’s mellow vocals and the fact that the song is more Sheeranian than Swiftian. The same goes for “The Last Time,” performed with Lightbody. His dark vocals and his stylistic heavy guitar strumming bring in a gloom that Swift cannot yet conjure by herself. While listening to these songs, I constantly wonder if they should instead be featured on a Snow Patrol album. The question remains: can Swift bring versatility without the help of other reputable musicians?
Red remains close to Swift’s country roots and is reminiscent of Fearless. The new album has generally received favorable reviews, and due to her sheer likeability, Swift will likely add more accolades to her already vast collection as the year progresses.
Nevertheless, Swift’s knack for storytelling is evident. Her words still contain the same addictive flavor. She still divides critics because her lyrics appear juvenile at first glance. But what Swift understands is that everyone stays young at heart; some people just admit it more readily than others. “Cause here we are again in the middle of the night / We're dancing round the kitchen in the refrigerator light,” sings Swift in “All Too Well,” accurately capturing life’s smallest, most transient moments.
“All those emotions — spanning intense love, intense frustration, jealousy, confusion ... in my mind, all those emotions are red. You know, there’s nothing in between,” Swift says about her album title, which suggests that darker shades have been mixed into her palette. Red has shown that Swift’s music can mature with yearly progression. But only by small degrees.