Swift Demonstrates Newfound Maturity On Compelling ‘Red’
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
To her skeptics, Taylor Swift’s music is antagonizing, participating in a gender bias that’ll stop nowhere short of recasting original sin on Adam, while also ironically weakening the case of many feminist ideals. For them, her work is plagued with naivete, its appeal stemming from Swift’s bubbly, innocent nature. However, her fourth studio album, Red, makes it entirely evident that Swift is done coasting on any starry-eyed persona. Instead, she reposes herself (not without growing pains) as a refreshingly genuine artist.
The album opens with “State of Grace,” a love ballad expressly written for a generation that treats relationships not unlike their handheld devices (“All we know is touch and go”). Starting the album off on a new foot, Swift quickly distances herself from victimization, and instead reflects on why she ends up in less-than-desirable relationships (“You were never a saint / And I loved the shades of wrong”). Perhaps an even greater development, Swift ditches the country genre almost completely for a decidedly alternative pop sound on Red, a clear distinction from previous efforts.
“Red,” the title track of the album, offers a slightly cynical and clearly matured view on love, with Swift opting for fiery passion, marked by the almost inevitable burn-out (“Like the colors in autumn / So bright just before they lose it all”). On occasion, Swift makes Romney-esque references, namely what some listeners will find out of touch (“His love is like driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street”), but to others, these moments simply show that Swift’s songwriting isn’t in Kansas anymore.
After a long history of appealing to the 13-year-old girl worldview, Swift moves on to slightly more mature imagery (“I’ll do everything you say / If you say it with your hands”), although when compared to industry standards, it’s like moving from Nickelodeon to the Disney Channel. Regardless, Swift’s perspectives certainly have been tainted, and those exhausted by her latte songwriting will be pleasantly surprised by the shots of espresso packed into this album (“A new notch on your belt is all I’ll ever be”). This all begs the question, how horrible could John Mayer possibly be?
Swift beautifully captures the loss of innocence with “All Too Well,” and although the song’s written in her typical girl-meets-boy format, the workings of it are almost entirely introspective (“But you keep my old scarf from that very first week /Because it reminds you of innocence and smells like me”). It’s Swift reconciling maturity with roots, and expresses both a fondness for and a resentment toward the past. With all her focus on relationships, it’s refreshing to see Red finally addressing Swift's relationship with herself.
“22,” a solid and effectively bubbly effort, is a reminder of just how bizarre being both Swift and 22 years old must be (“We’re happy, free, confused and lonely in the best way / It’s miserable and magical, oh yeah”).
The ukulele-driven “Stay Stay Stay” sounds like it belongs on the credits of a romantic comedy, but when Swift describes a romantic interest putting on a football helmet when she concedes “you should never leave a fight unresolved,” it’s endearing to see Swift poking fun at herself. “We Are Never Getting Back Together” is the album’s one example of Swift trying to be every 16-year-old girl’s best friend, but it’s a huge improvement from the painfully juvenile tracks we’ve heard from her in the past.
“The Last Time,” featuring Gary Lightbody, and “Everything Has Changed,” featuring Ed Sheeran, are two of the album’s most striking moments, both adopting a sound similar to that of Sheeran’s own album, Plus. Its minimalistic production, paired with curiously complex musicality is a promising development for Swift. “Everything Has Changed” focuses on the simple act of “opening up the door” for someone, a symbol for the chivalry and interpersonal openness that Swift celebrates in her music—it’s a key strength of Red.
At 16 songs, Red feels a bit long. Songs like “Sad Beautiful Tragic” and “Starlight” probably shouldn’t have made the final cut. That being said, Red otherwise is a compelling package, an entertaining narrative of a maturing artist. In an era when Carly Rae Jepson can creep into the top ten, Swift’s maturity is a welcome development.