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Album review: Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ cliche, easily shrugged off

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A few years ago, it was not hard to ignore Taylor Swift. After her first album, she found herself among the Nashville country-pop stars, whose fan base was large, yet specific enough that the average listener wouldn’t hear her early hits like “Our Song” or “Teardrops on my Guitar” regularly.

But that began to change a few years ago. Swift slowly replaced her cowboy boots with something a little more hipster, and the country twang with a dubstep-ish bass wobble and BOOM — she became one of the biggest pop stars on the planet.

“1989” is Swift’s furthest departure yet — perhaps too far. “Red” was a major success because it matched Swift’s best early musical instincts with her new pop tendency, but Taylor caught “Minaj disease,” and discarded her original genre entirely for pop on her latest LP.

That is not what makes “1989” a bad album — great pop music is alive and well in 2014. Nor does it make it a failure — it will undoubtedly be one of the two or three biggest records of the year.

Still, Swift’s fifth album disappoints.

An optimist might hold out hope that the record opener “Welcome to New York” would be a snarky criticism of the multitude of problems facing the city (lack of affordable housing, poverty, stop-and-frisk), but they would be, unsurprisingly, wrong.

Instead, the song’s lyrics gush about the bright lights of NYC and how much she loves the city and the freedom it gives.

The song is embarrassing and barely listenable. Swift is a 24-year-old multi-millionaire, for whom New York is a playground, and is rich enough that she can afford to be naïve about the magic of Manhattan. It comes across as incredibly cheesy.

“Blank Space” is her take on being “young and reckless,” while “Out of the Woods” is the most obvious example of an ’80s influence on “1989.” Echoing snare drums and synths that sound straight out of Cyndi Lauper’s heyday both characterize “1989.”

“Shake It Off,” the album’s lead single, is undeniably catchy and will be logged in with the rest of Swift’s biggest songs. As perfect for radio as it is, “Shake It Off” is devoid of substance, which would be forgivable were it not in an entire album devoid of substance.

Full albums are a tricky thing for pop stars. They are important because they are where the singles are chosen from, the tracks that actually define success or failure. So the rest of the songs on the album are eventually forgotten and are easily forgettable even the moment after listening to them.

And albums with only a few memorable songs generally do not generate great reviews. I’m sure that is fine with Taylor, because she knows her audience. She’s been lucky with the press so far, but ultimately, critics do not matter, fans do, because fans will buy the album, attend shows and defend Swift against criticism. Any rating will do, as long as people are talking.

But many people are not blinded by Taylor loyalty, and they should know that “1989” is not a good album. There are bright spots, such as the album closer, “Clean,” co-written by Swift and English singer Imogen Heap. But again, it doesn’t matter that “1989” doesn’t hold up to its predecessor. We all know Katy Perry’s hits, but many of us probably could not name her last LP. Swift is going to be fine when “1989” hits No. 1, and I’ll be fine when I don’t need to listen to the full album ever again.



  1. So cynical in this review. I was the biggest Taylor fan when she was country but I find this album to be amazing. I couldn’t stop listening. Just because you can’t relate doesn’t mean the songs are “devoid of substance” and “cheesy”. That’s a really one-sided way to look at it. If you don’t enjoy pop music, maybe you aren’t the right person to be reviewing this album. Taylor Swift is an incredibly talented song writer and singer. With this album, she’s fully embraced her new genre (because let’s be real, she hasn’t been a country artist since her first album) and came out with many songs that are catchy and touching.

    “But many people are not blinded by Taylor loyalty, and they should know that “1989” is not a good album.” — Don’t tell people what they should and should not know about music. The great thing about music is that it touches each person differently and it’s important to respect that. Do you want someone criticizing the music you love or the songs that fill you with emotion? If someone loves this album, who are you to tell them they should “know its not good”?

  2. Ah, yes. This reviewer sounds like the type who goes to Starbucks and orders a modest drip coffee while sneering at the “basic” girls in all their North Face, Ugg + PSL glory.

    Demanding depth out of a pop album is a tall order for any pop artist and yet for some reason, this reviewer is holding that against her. It’s a pop album. They’re usually a little cliché, a little cheesy and void of any real commentary. Knocking the album because it isn’t profound enough is like opening Cosmopolitan and expecting the New Yorker, and subsequently reading the rest of the magazine as though it didn’t meet its goals.

    Look at the album for what it is. For a pop album, this is fantastic. I’m not a Swiftie by any means, but I do actually truly enjoy Taylor Swift. For all of her fame with bubblegum romances, she is actually one of the few artists who is credited partially or fully for writing all of her own music, she runs her own label, is a philanthropy junkie and overall good human being. She picked great collaborators (e.g. Imogen Heap) and put together what I felt was a great POP album. No, this isn’t going to bring tears to the eyes of hipsters the way that Sigur Rós can, but that’s not what its intention is. It’s supposed to make you sing the words without realizing it, it’s supposed to make you a little sick with sugary lyrics, and it’s supposed to deliver beats that make you dance.

    So did it do that? Yes, it did. Quite well. I would have given this album a 4 out of 5. I think the reviewer went into it went the wrong criteria.

  3. If every major news publication is giving 1989 a positive review, why is The Lantern ripping it apart? I’d encourage this reviewer to take another listen, seeing as this album is slated to pass the 1 million sales mark in the first week. Mess of a review.

  4. This is a piece suitable for a blog post-not an album review.

  5. This review is terrible. Too personal. Reviewer is trying too hard to be “snarky.” It’s not funny. And making up references without explanation? I’m sorry, what’s “Minaj-disease”?

    Also, this review doesn’t educate the readers whatsoever. We know that singles are derived from the album. Why waste the breath to say that? Ironic that you said her album was “devoid of substance.” If you’re reviewing an album, give us a reason to consider you an authority.

  6. All these fools saying the album is “good for a pop album” need to reevaluate their inderstanding of music. It would be awesome if everyone recognized that Pop music has become catchy noise with oversimplified,
    Uniformed beats and chord progressions. Then we could have “music reviews” and “pop reviews” in separate categories.
    Of course, every pop review would be the same: “fools and shallow dolts will enjoy this.”
    But I digress…
    Taylor swift has very little actual talent, and no depth at all. I would not mind her writing about being rich, having fun, and whining about boys, but for the fact that her success has forced her into the role of role model. And now our children have this empty sham of a woman to learn from.
    For meangful lyrics and talented musicians (who can also play their instrument well live) Listen to some Dave Matthews Band people, a new album is in the works for 2015!

  7. Wait, empty sham of a woman? She’s turned herself into a multi-million dollar industry – she owns her own record label and invests/flips real estate in addition to her own career as an artist. I’m completely fine with my future daughter looking at Taylor Swift and going, “Hey, I’d like to do that.”

    It sucks that you think you have any right to call people who listen to pop music “fools.” I didn’t realize I couldn’t listen to and enjoy multiple genres of music. I can go from Andy McKee to St. Vincent to Taylor Swift with little issue and zero shame.

  8. An optimist might hold out hope that the record opener “Welcome to New York” would be a snarky criticism of the multitude of problems facing the city (lack of affordable housing, poverty, stop-and-frisk), but they would be, unsurprisingly, wrong.

    That makes no sense, first of all. Why wouldn’t an optimist want her to be happy about being in new york? You are unbelievably cynical. So what if she sees NYC as a big beautiful playground? I’m not rich and I see it the same way.

    Also, it is incredibly clear from this review that you only listened to about 1/3 of the album. Educate yourself on music and writing an accurate, fair review before you take another stab at being a critic, please.

  9. TSwift songs are as deep and original as a paper copy

    You literally said she turned herself into an industry. You have become the product.

    I don’t want to live on this planet anymore

  10. There is a thin line between reasonable criticize and I-don’t-like-you criticize. This cynical review has already crossed that line.

  11. What??? A song about New York should be about the social problems plaguing the city or it’s not a worth while song..that’s odd cause every famous song about New York from old blue eyes to Jay Z are on the same track has Swift’s and some are considered classics…
    Sorry but this review just reads petty and ridiculous and to be honest more about trying to knock down Taylor Swift then to give a honest review about her latest album… the review doesn’t even make auguring that the album might sell some but that’s it ….. .ah no it’s a critical success and the only album to sell a million copies in week , the only artist this year to go platinum besides to do it their first week sales.

  12. This album is such a definition of an era of popular music. Taylor is extremely personable, relatable and multi-talented. She has a major fan base, one that has proved to push over a million copies of a record within a week and will prove that again this time around. She is competing in a world where she is her best competition. Of course she is going to experiment. Her live shows sell out, her work ethic is incredible and she still finds time to please fans.

    She’s been in a constant cycle of posting photos of fans ALL WEEK. Not like once a day, I’m talking 100’s of pictures this week. She invited fans to her house. HER HOUSE…. months before the album was out. AND THE MUSIC IS GOOD. Literally, go listen to Jamie xx or Modest Mouse or some other underground Pitchfork catalog pick. You chose to write this album with a vendetta for her like you were out to prove something. She’s heard it all, she literally has a song that says “who’s Taylor Swift anyways?”

    In summary, while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world. You could have been getting down to this. sick. beat.

  13. TSwift cannot sing live

    I’m just of the opinion that if you truly like Taylor Swift for her “Musical talent,” you are a complete and utter Sap.

  14. For a lot of you wondering why this is a bad review, its becasue the albums sucks it big time. Those of you who are wondering why major publications give it a good review it is easy to understand if you understand the business world. so if you all are willing to read this I will tell you .It isn’t because the album is good. This is as quickly as I can explain it. Big publications get early access to new albums so they can review it and you the reader will flock to there site, magazines, etc, to read their reviews, thus making them money buy clicking their adds or buying subscriptions and or magazines. The only way they keep getting early access is to assure people like Taylor swift and her label and P.R. that they will give her a good review so that people will rush to buy her garbage and make her money. It is all about you pat my back ill pat yours, and making money. I know a lot of people refuse to believe this but the music business and entertainment business as a whole is just that ..a business. Taylor has been pushing this album for months and is everywhere in the last two months promoting it even more for a reason. because the album is awful. The reason you are seeing a lot of really bad reviews on this album now is becasue the people who didn’t have early access had to wait like the rest of us to actually hear it and they have no reason to lie and kiss taylors you know what. When you have 40 year old plus men and women at major publications telling you they love taylor swift music which is written produced and marketed for tween girls you know their review is complete B.S. and that is all their is too it. For those of you who are too young to have taken business in college or those of you who dont understand how the world works when large amounts of money are involved I hope that this sheds some light becasue it is how it is. At least this reviewer is being honest which is more than you will get from big publications. Their job is too build a buzz and tell you this album is the greatest thing ever so you spend your money on it before real, honest reviewers like this one get a chance to tell the truth and make you question if the albums good or not..how many of you are starting to feel like you’ve been made a fool out of by the big publications now? This is how the real world works Im afraid, to them your all a bunch of followers(sheep). Believe what you will but this is the honest truth. and yes I listened to the album and I think its awful too!!

  15. The critics of this reviewer seem to be Swift fans who feel they have to defend their idol, as if they knew Swift personally. If they actually were interested in Swift herself as an artist, they would know by now that she doesn’t write music– only lyrics…so the image that her promoters foisted on these, her fans, of Swift being a “songwriter”, was a false one. These fans should take a step back and question whether or not Swift actually has that much to do with the musical part of her recordings. They need to separate the reality from the myth that is being sold to the public. A Taylor Swift CD, like most CD’s, is a collaboration of many parts. Swift not being an actual musician or talented vocalist means that she is not able to contribute as much to her CD’s as the public is being “imaged” into believing. The close-minded loyalty that these fans display at the appearance of any anti-Swift criticism is just the as-usual result of show biz manipulation– not because she has ever displayed any extraordinary talent.

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