Taylor Swift – Red
You don’t even have to listen to Red to know that Taylor Swift is trying something new here—just look at the cover. Her name isn’t handwritten. Her face is obscured in shadow. She has bangs. All this screams that the 22-year-old Swift wants to be taken more seriously, and after her dear-diary breakup songs pigeonholed her as an eternal teenager, who could blame her? But as the lead single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” indicates, Swift isn’t ready to give up her bread and butter. Like her other records, Red is mainly packed with songs about regret, heartache and puppy love, her lyrics jumping between poignant, endearingly clumsy and just plain awkward.
Instead, what sets Red apart is how she finally makes the great leap from country to pop, successfully making the crossover like no one since Shania Twain. It’s something Swift was inching closer and closer to with each successive record, but what’s surprising is the extent to which she embraces new styles. She tries a little bit of everything, collaborating with Britney producer Max Martin for her forays into dance-pop (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “22”) and faux-dubstep flourishes (“I Knew You Were Trouble”); she takes stabs at quirky indie pop (“Stay Stay Stay”) and melancholy, dreamy folk (“Sad Beautiful Tragic”), and finds the time to duet with Ed Sheeran and Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody. Meanwhile, she draws on U2’s majestic stadium rock on the magnificent opener “State Of Grace,” where she shows a greater sense of dynamics than ever before.
But for all the musical adventurism, it’s still Swift who takes center stage, and she commits fully to her eclecticism in both her songwriting and performances. Other then the occasional banjo or lovelorn ballad, the only thing remotely “country” about Red is that she still lays all her sentiments on the surface, which bodes well for when she mines new lyrical territory like on the carefree yet conflicted “22” and the borderline paranoid “The Lucky One,” where she begins to doubt that there’s a happy ending to her Cinderella story. Since Red has no real musical center, it can sometimes come off as overlong or disjointed, since Swift doesn’t seem sure which direction she wants to head in. Yet even if it’s a transitional album, it’s an often superb one, catchy and captivating in equal measure. And if nothing else, that means that Swift is not only maturing as a person but maturing as an artist.