Pop music hit its cumulative low-point in September of 2001, with the release of Britney Spears’ single “I’m A Slave 4 U” and its accompanying music video.
The sight of a grungy Spears, hair knotted and cheeks flushed, dancing with scantily clad men in a deserted cityscape was repulsive, both on a literal level and for what it represented: the apex of exploitative measures undertaken by the music industry to sell a commodity.
Soon after, Spears fell into a personal and professional tailspin, and new, increasingly empowered female artists—among them Kelly Clarkson and Beyoncé—came to pick up the pieces with a brand of songwriting. They combined confessional qualities with pop musical sensibilities (the reemergence of a trend that had proved lucrative in the 90s under the guise of singer-songwriters like Jewel, Alanis Morissette and Lisa Loeb).
Taylor Swift’s rise to prominence was a definite product of this liberation of the female pop star. Like Clarkson and Beyoncé, she represents the ideals of independence, strength and moral fortitude.
And, even better, her music appeals most to impressionable adolescent girls who will soon be forced to choose between those two different identities as women: the wrung-out and discarded Spears persona, or the vaguely unsure, but independent and moral Taylor Swift model.
So, as a concept, Taylor Swift (and I say this knowing full well that her real identity has been tweaked at least slightly by her record company) is appealing and beneficial from multiple vantage points.
In fact, she generates so much appeal it’s a shame her actual music does not do the same.
Like all her preceding albums, Swift’ latest release Red predominantly contains a more than healthy dose of hybrid country-pop with lyrics that seem to be a stuck within a Sisyphean cycle of adolescent fantasies concerning both love and heartbreak.
Additionally, the album runs for a total of sixty-five minutes, which detracts any good it may receive by being breezy and unremarkable and effectively deadens it. Songs like “Red,” “Treacherous,” and “I Almost Do” seem to string together into an unfortunate wall of aural blandness.
That said, Swift notably breaks away from her traditional musical sensibilities and, in the process, offers up an occasionally catchy tune.
Most exemplary of this is Red’s lead single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which holistically blends a simple guitar melody with a synthesized rhythm section to create a wonderfully dense wall of sound. Additionally, here Swift seems to shed any lyrical teenage pretensions about relationships and instead aggressively asserts her maturity.
There certainly isn’t enough content on Red to warrant any sort of positive recommendation for the album as a whole, but it does point to the possibility that Swift may now finally be transitioning out of her respectable, but naïve teenage persona into music that fits her as a woman.
While that may not make any of her music remarkable, it may at least prove better at holding listeners’ interest.