Have you heard Taylor Swift's latest single yet? The first from her new album 1989, It's a doo-wop, girl band tinged party jam about meeting a guy with “hella good hair”. It's also quite a far cry from her country-tinged roots. While it's no secret she's parted ways with the country world, it's a surprise to see the type of star she's become.
Good pop stars understand the formulas that make them sell-able. Great pop stars know just how to shake up those formulas. For instance, Madonna knew that bold, sexually-charged pop songs were what fans loved about her. Her ability to re-incarnate into more looks than a phoenix is what pushed her into great territory- it created a mystique beyond the music.
What makes Taylor Swift's new album noteworthy is that she is now poised at the tipping point between good and great. She knows that the wide-eyed songs about love and betrayal will always sell. But she isn't content with being a miniature Miranda Lambert or Faith Hill. So, she slowly lost her twang and ironed out the curls in her hair. 1989 shows the emergence of the end result of her slow, deliberate make-over. She's transformed from cookie-cutter country diva to full-on cookie-cutter.
Wondering what I mean? Taylor Swift's songs are always slightly familiar, even on your first listen. This is because her voice, while being very good, is not distinctive in any way: she doesn't have the equivalent of Lady Gaga's range or Beyonce 's grit in her voice.
Then there's the songs themselves. In her country days, Swift sang unremarkable songs no different than the hits of her peers- lovelorn lyrics, twangy guitars, etc. Basically, nothing made her songs stand out amongst the rest, aside from their monster sales. As she's moved into pop the story remains the same. Her songs on 1989 borrow from pop of all eras [doo-wop to dreamy '80s synth] but is not doing anything new with these conventions. She's not even layering these references to other eras in a new way. [Blondie blended doo-wop vocals with '80s pop back on Heart of Glass and the rest of pop has moved on from referencing the '80s in favor of a '90s deja-vu.]
Even in fashion Swift chooses to not follow the latest trends like Rihanna or dress outlandishly a la Lady Gaga. Instead, she chooses sweet retro pieces like fit-and-flare dresses, girly florals, and high-waist bikinis. These styles were made iconic by movie stars of old such as Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page and were brought into modern culture via fashion news makers like Anna Nicole Smith. In essence, Swift's signature style has been penned by dozens of others first.
While it might seem like this means Swift has nothing to offer, however, it is actually proving just the opposite. In a brilliant play of reverse psychology, Taylor Swift is making her mark by being something we've seen before. And, in the sea of outlandish one-up-manship and “look at me” that is pop music [thanks in part to the legacy of Madonna, ironically enough] this choice to be basic vanilla while everyone else is trying to re-invent the wheel makes sense.
Just like we always go back to our favourite flavour of ice cream, we will return to looks and songs we know we like. Yet, pop culture's breakneck speed is built upon our desire for the next new thing. Swift has maintained longevity, and could even rank herself among the lasting icons of pop, by understanding this. She chooses to churn out new outfits and songs fast enough for even the most gargantuan consumer appetite but in such a familiar, been-there-done-that way that it feels, for her fans, as if they're revisiting an old favourite.
It would seem, if Swift has her way, that the hot new thing isn't actually new at all.
about the author
Hi! I'm Morgan Mullin, a coffee-loving vegetarian from Trout Brook, Canada. Raised in the country but always a city girl at heart, I love travel, adventure and all things fashion. When I'm not traipsing around town highly caffeinated in unpractical footwear, I'm working on my blog, Hedonist In Heels. It's a place where I discuss how fashion and culture and daily life mix (along with lighter topics like city guides and boozy recipes). My favourite season is fall and my favourite author is Jack Kerouac. I love black and white movies, romance, and carbs of all kinds (but especially the ones that come from pasta!).