By Jac Bergenson
The “Red” phenomenon is sweeping the nation, but that doesn’t make it a flawless album.
With her fourth studio-album, it is clear that Taylor Swift has become the country’s pre-eminent pop star by selling 1.2 million albums in the first week, in an age where albums just don’t sell that much, that quickly. The sales were hardly unexpected–her devotees follow her with an almost cult-like fervor–but she is making her fortune while abandoning her country roots.
As a doe-eyed, almost too-innocent teenager, Swift’s lyrics had a sort of resonance. With her breakout hit, “Tim McGraw,” in 2006, and other sensational songs like “You Belong With Me,” in 2009, she perfected the art of story telling. Swift’s lyrics rang clear with the longings of a teenage crush, the devotion of young love, and the heartbreak that comes with its inevitable break-up.
Attempting to author a more mature album, many of the sixteen songs on Red are about breakups or failing relationships, so much so, that the album feels monotonous on the whole. She’s not just sticking to her strengths, but leaning on them as a crutch.
That’s not to say that the lyrics don’t carry weight: she almost forces the tears out with “All Too Well,” a thinly-veiled song about her failed fling with actor Jake Gyllenhal, and “The Last Time,” with Snow Patrol front-man Gary Lightbody. Swift has come out with some strong lyrics on this album, but she isn’t consistent in her effort.
Songs such as “22,” and “I Knew You Were Trouble,” are laced with more self-speculative lyrics. In the former, she acknowledges that she just needs a night out with the girls, and in the latter, she puts herself on blast as the cause of her heartbreak.
On songs like these, she branches out with electronica and dubstep. In short, she is betraying a genre by labeling herself country-pop. The dubstep elements don’t hit the way they should, and fans of the genre will surely laugh at the attempt. She minimizes the impact of her lyrics by trying her hand at half-hearted club anthems. Teenage girls will no doubt love it, but the album as a whole feels immature, whiny, and backwards.
No one was expecting her lyrics to be as innocent or as jubilant as her older efforts, but Swift’s album comes across as immature and unsure. Swift wants to be the cross-genre sensation, but many of the songs on Red will fizzle out and fade as time goes by. This happens when an artist has no real sense of identity.
Sure, her album will sell like hot-cakes in the mid-morning. That doesn’t make it gold—or platinum, as Billboard would have it—just popular. Vanilla Ice was popular at one point, too. Red is Taylor Swift’s weakest album to date. The term gets thrown around too loosely nowadays, but Swift has most definitely sold out.