Taylor Swift – “Welcome To New York”

Taylor Swift – “Welcome To New York”

3/5

2014

Promo Single from 1989

As Taylor Swift’s transition from country songwriter to dance-pop starlet makes nears its completion, a few questions were bound to arise. How will her dear-diary lyrics shift once she’s playing around with washes of sound and huge hooks rather than confessional verses? How will her songwriting change when facing the overbearing production that dominates contemporary radio pop? It’s not like any of this is unprecedented—Shania Twain did it in the late ‘90s with aplomb.

So far, judging from the poppier songs on 2012’s Red and the first couple songs off the upcoming 1989, she’s weathered the change pretty nicely. But “Welcome To New York” is starting to make me wonder. A sugar-rush of crystalline synths and beats, Swift’s new-in-town sincerity is on full display here, singing New York’s praises as a haven for wayward souls “searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before,” while otherwise mostly repeating the song’s title. Yet, while Swift is no stranger to injecting gee-shucks earnestness into her songs, this is a song that rings a bit hollow—not bad, per se, just more generic and inevitable than Swift’s singles have been in the past. Whatever you think of Swift’s music, it’s generally distinctive and recognizably her. Not so with “Welcome To New York.” Anyone could have made this.

Swift’s music works best when she’s written a strong song first and then slaps on a production that subtly enhances its virtues and overcomes any of the occasional shortcomings in her lyrics. If that isn’t quite the case here, part of that blame rests with Swift, sure, but she’s also brought on OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder to co-write and co-produce, a man who excels at shiny surfaces but also tends to favor a chilly vibe that has a tendency to squash an artist’s character out of a song. In other words, what’s supposed to be a fun, warm, open-hearted anthem sounds distant and calculated, a mismatch in tone that is nevertheless still pleasant Top 40 fodder. “It’s a new soundtrack/I could dance to this beat forevermore,” Swift repeats, but the whole song’s undercut by a rather stolid rhythm that can’t quite tip into nirvana the way it wants. What Tedder did for Beyoncé’s “Halo” and Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” simply doesn’t work here—it’s not that kind of song.

Now I don’t want to get too down on “Welcome To New York”: It’s fine as things go, not offensive by any means. It’s well-constructed and certainly sounds good in the moment, enough to get your head happily bouncing around for a few minutes. Slotted to be the first track on 1989, it’s a friendly but forgettable introduction, surely not meant to be the barn-burner that the fabulous “Shake It Off” was but agreeable enough to certainly make it onto a few “I ❤ NYC” playlists/mix-CDs that will join some starry-eyed kids road-tripping to the Big Apple.

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