Many have come and gone in music attempting to replicate the profoundly detailed specificity that comes from a Taylor Swift song. Though many have come and gone with this mentality, one singer has made her mark. Coming from one of the flagship Disney+ series, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, breakout star Olivia Rodrigo has gone viral with her debut solo single, “drivers license.”
The 17 year-old songwriting pop hopeful releases the track fresh off her new deal with Interscope. In the vein of Swift, the track details confessional lyricism over a chamber of guitars and bedroom pop electronica. Its a simple, focused lament of losing one’s first love. Also in the vein of Swift is its instant media coverage appeal. Allegedly crooning to her co-star and ex, Joshua Bassett, Rodrigo gives fans of the series and newcomers have their latest scandal to escape into in an era when the news has never felt more chaotic or depressing.
Rodrigo cleverly utilizes a specific memory, a point in time when hope flooded the rooms of conversations with her partner. Teaching her to drive, her ex is now nowhere to be found when the singer earns her license. Left to her own devices, she solemnly drives through his street and the encompassing suburbs. A little bit “White Horse” a little bit “Green Light,” the single hits.
What made “drivers license” viral wasn’t necessarily its quality. It’s strong singer-songwriter pop, but the viral nature of its continued success is credited to a few things bigger than the track itself.
In a new year continuing to be characterized by grief, solitude and nostalgia, listeners are flocking to the melancholy. Like SZA’s latest single, “Good Days,” Rodrigo’s tune capitalizes on today’s collective consciousness. Additionally, the general public’s continued reliance on technology, namely the social media smash hit TikTok, has boosted the reach of the single and its mass resonance.
Finally, on top of it all, the themes of the song actually give listeners a socially distant activity to partake in during this prolonged quarantine. They can now shout scream the song and its sticky bridge and film themselves while doing so. Thus, the cyclical trend will flood the gates of TikTok until it exhausts itself.
More interesting, though, will be how Rodrigo capitalizes on this surprise and abrupt success. All eyes will be watching as this rising talent continues her upward trajectory into the digital age of pop music.
They say lightning never strikes in the same place twice. They also said that Taylor Swift’s career had likely met its peak during the 2017 release of reputation. Unsurprisingly, the singer-songwriter continues to prove skeptics wrong in disrupting the conversation surrounding her music and personal life. This deep into her career, Taylor Swift still subverts expectation.
Merely 5 months after her career capping masterpiece folklore immersed listeners in a world independent of the bleak reality that is 2020, the singer announced yet another surprise full length LP. The record, evermore, is a direct continuation of folklore. The first of Swift’s albums to be serialized, the release is the singer’s closest attempt to The Beatles’ White Album. Does it succeed? Astonishingly. evermore doubles down on the strengths of folklore, decidedly adding a contemporary edge not necessarily as overtly present on the preceding instant classic.
The storytelling that sewed together the tapestry of folklore continues on evermore. There are tales of Hollywood’s Dorothea (“’tis the damn season,” “dorothea”), aching glimpses into heartbreak at all stages of life (“happiness,” “tolerate it”) and joyous expressions of love (“willow,” “cowboy like me”). Ever-present on evermore is Swift’s now expected ability to instantly compel listeners. Each subsequent track feels novel and lived in simultaneously. What’s so impressive about the more uptempo folklore sibling is this immediately timeless sound.
Excluding perhaps on its predecessor, Swift has never sounded this authentically self assured. There’s a reason evermore is displayed in color. It’s brighter, more animated than the pensive, delicately delivered folklore. The autumnal album sees Swift lean more heavily into her past pop-rock influences.
Most notably applying this style is “long story short,” a quietly revelatory account of the last few years of the singer’s personal life. Fans of this poppy style seen many times over throughout Swift’s past work can also find pleasure in this and many of the tracks on evermore. “long story short” will likely become the latest TikTok trend seeing content creators throwing it back and twerking their way through the woodlands. Swift’s uninhibited vocals reflect back on her spirit that encompassed her seventh record, Lover. Sharper and more focused, the singer has mastered what she set out to in folklore, wiping off the tattooed media press informing her image and owning her narrative with a well veiled allegory.
Swift also takes the fictional storytelling of folklore to exciting new places with collaborators old and new. On “no body, no crime,” she uses her real life friendship with Este and the rest of the Haim sisters as an entry point for a crime thriller reminiscent of The Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl.” The country-folk banger showcases a playful Swift. Listeners will practically hear her smirks throughout the song’s vocal.
Other collaborations are just as fresh, with Swift uniting with the remainder of The National members on the quietly devastating “coney island.” A relative to folklore‘s “exile,” it successfully incorporates the band’s signature style to bring together a rich group dynamic. One of the album’s most pleasant surprises is the mystery collaborator on “cowboy like me,” a chess match turned authentic love affair. Now confirmed by Swift as the one and only Marcus Mumford, the two act as con artists fooling themselves into a relationship.
Individually, Swift continues to manifest what has given her the boundless platform she has today in “marjorie.” There’s perhaps no better track to encapsulate Swift’s mastery of songwriting. It’s here where Swift ruminates on her relationship with her grandmother and her later learnings of Marjorie’s life through familial inquiries. It’s a one-of-a-kind, universal observation of loss. The song details what it means to realize one’s naivety in approaching their relatives early in life. That epiphany cuts short what could’ve been a powerful relationship that informs that person’s life. At the song’s center is Swift’s staggering delivery of every last shred of her emotion.
Mirroring the more alt/indie sensibilities is deep cut “closure.” The song will almost definitely be overlooked by the majority of listeners, but it’s an endlessly interesting blend of the album’s overall sound and jarring electronica.
The album closes with the flawless “evermore.” Surpassing “exile” as the superior Swift/Vernon collaboration, the climactic finale once again pits two artists vocals against one another. Bon Iver swoops in to bring the tempo up before slowing it back down for Swift to deliver the final blows. It encapsulates the melancholic atmosphere Swift, Dessner & Antonoff have orchestrated in her music this year.
evermore is nothing short of epic. It elongates a magnum opus to provide the world with what many would consider a double album. It adds enough singularity, individual depth, and fresh sound to enrich the already scrupulous development of the world of folklore.
“The road not taken looks real good now,” Swift croons with a tongue in cheek grin on “’tis the damn season.” This knowing nod to her releasing evermore when not even her most devoted fans had anticipated it, Swift proves this.
The tumultuous unpredictability of 2020 forges on in its final few weeks, and with it comes more and more music from artists around the globe. Taylor Swift is one such artist, whose had as busy a year as any in her career. She has just announced yet another surprise album, her third record in just over a year. Before evermore, foklore‘s sister album, is released, take a look back at the sensation’s collection through the years.
A Definitive Ranking of Every Taylor Swift Album:
8. Taylor Swift (2006)
Taylor Swift was just a taste of what would become of Taylor Swift. The pop phenomenon’s first record was her only true country album. It spawned the timeless hits “Tim McGraw” and “Our Song,” but simply does not compare to her subsequent, sweepingly epic saga of albums. There is a lot to love, and it provides enough intrigue to give the next few albums a listen, but Taylor Swift does not match up to the quality of Swift’s later records.
Best Track(s): “Our Song,” “Cold As You”
7. Speak Now (2010)
Speak Now is a perfect example of growing pains. After the immense success of her second album Fearless, Swift was forced back to the drawing board. How could she top a multiple-Grammy-winning smash hit of an album? Switching gears, perhaps. Swift made one of the boldest moves in her ongoing career, penning the lyrics and composition of Speak Now completely alone. What came out of Speak Now were raw, unfiltered glimpses into Swift’s diary. The record is too long, but it possesses some of the singer’s most impressive, haunting songwriting. Though some songs are skippable, Speak Now would be considered many other artists’ magnum opus.
Best Track(s): “Dear John,” “Enchanted,” “Long Live,” “Last Kiss”
6. Lover (2019)
Lover is as imperfect as its unapologetic creator. In embracing the facets of her personality and the genre experimentation that has defined her career, Swift continues to prove her longevity. With the exception of the swift closing of the narrative to reputation in the album opener “I Forgot You Existed,” Lover is very much a direct sequel to Swift’s most culturally influential album 1989. Adopting a similar, 80s inspired pop sound, Lover exists as most sequels do– it’s bigger, more ambitious, and often less polished than its predecessor.
Best Track(s): “Lover,” “Death By A Thousand Cuts,” “Daylight”
5. reputation (2017)
After Swift established world domination with the instant classic 1989 and its subsequent world tour, she faced immense backlash in the media. The singer was branded a snake and a fraud. Many saw this media storm as the abrupt end to the once prolific career of the country-pop goddess. In true Swift fashion, the singer-songwriter took back her narrative. She owned the snake, her past mistakes, and dropped one of the best videos of her career. Its accompanying single remains one of her worst tracks, but the album has a lot to offer. reputation shows Swift further experimenting with perspective and narrative writing. The sonically adventurous reputation is a violent, brash, cathartic reflection of Swift’s most turbulent year of fame.
Best Track(s): “Call It What You Want,” “End Game”
4. Red (2012)
Red is a complicated record in that it showcases the best and worst of Swift. The album showed the singer at a crossroads. Released in her early 20s, Red represents the uncertainty of young adult life within its lyrics and sonics. Red is a lot of things, but boring is not one of them. The album contains elements of dance pop, country, alternative, folk, and rock. It is the most Taylor Swift of Taylor Swift’s albums. It features her best song to date, “All Too Well,” but drags on with overly melancholy cuts that could’ve been left off the final LP. With Red, Swift bid farewell to the country girl and laid the groundwork for what would become a pop phenomenon. Red marks the turning point of the singer’s career in a thrillingly chaotic way.
Best Track(s): “All Too Well,” “State of Grace,” “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
3. Fearless (2008)
Fearless was just that. The 13-track LP was a cohesive, lyrically driven, country-pop smash. Each song said something compelling and found its place on the album. It is incomprehensible how, at 18 years old, Swift was able to articulate such a vast array of emotions through these traditionally arranged country songs. Its raw authenticity, emotionally resonant vocals, and strong production made Fearless Swift’s shining moment. It launched her from being an artist to watch to standing among the biggest pop stars in the world.
Best Track(s): “Change,” “You Belong With Me,” “Forever & Always”
2. 1989 (2014)
1989 marks the best concept, promotion, production, and delivery from the artist. Swift managed to retain her good girl persona while growing up and adopting a bold new sound. It was the riskiest move in her career, and it very well may be her best decision. The album marked a rebirth in sound and mind. Swift named it after her birth year, drew influence from the music of that time, and astounded even the biggest of skeptics. 1989 was a true gift and will go on to be remembered as one of the best albums in 21st century pop music.
Best Track(s): “Blank Space,” “Wildest Dreams,” “New Romantics,” “Out of the Woods”
1. folklore (2020)
Reinvention, novelty, surprise, and quality. Pop stars are plagued with the task of accomplishing all of these, many times over. Those that withstand the brutal, often sexist tests of time become immortalized. Taylor Swift is one of those women. Though a far cry from maintaining a perfect public persona, Swift has always retreated from her mistakes and found solace in songwriting. In a year when the public was longing for solace in their respective isolated bubbles, Swift once again rebirth herself and her sound with folklore. Swept away were the heavily curated promotional cycles and replacing them were inspired, richly imagined songs that for the first time transcended Swift’s personal life and its incessant coverage. In many ways similar to the now classic 1989, folklore has unlocked the latest chapter in the living legend’s career.
Best track(s): “august,” “invisible string,” “the 1,” “the last great american dynasty”
Another year, another chaotic and unpredictable string of nominees to read across the screens of music fans, lovers, and critics as they hear the nominees for this year’s Grammy Awards. Pleasant surprises and shocking oversights were to be expected, but the biggest surprise this year is The Weeknd’s complete shut out. Receiving 0 nominations in a year when the artist is at what many consider his peak, After Hours‘ failure to be recognized is baffling. The first smash album to come from the pandemic, After Hours is the cinematic escape from reality that listeners could latch on and relate to. Where it didn’t literally relate to the year at play, it thematically weaved together concepts like isolation, grief, and loneliness in an extremely profound way. It’s just one of many shockers to come from one of the most baffling lists in Grammy history yet.
Take a look a look at the snubs, surprises, picks and predictions for this year’s ceremony:
When it comes to bubblegum, sometimes, if chewed too long, it grows stale.
The recently tumultuous career of pop superstar and record breaker Katy Perry has reached an impasse. After 2017’s Witness was a personal disaster for the singer, Perry felt the need to recalibrate to the sound that shot her to fame. It;s not a strange move for a pop star of her level. Actually, it’s more of a learned track; a crutch used to course correct a media attacked image. From Taylor Swift’s reputation follow up Lover to Britney Spears’ Blackout successor Circus, pop stars often toe the line between light and darkness driven by their public perception at the time.
The problem with notions like these is that, because these artists are so far removed from the everyman, they often overestimate how necessary sonic retreads are. Witness, while a huge underperformer relative to Perry’s previous work, had its moments. “Chained to the Rhythm” is an expertly crafted pop single that painted the national political anxiety that was suddenly spread throughout America.
The entire LP was a failed experiment, but that doesn’t suggest an artist should stop taking risks altogether. Unfortunately, musicians at this level of commercial success often feel the pressure to appeal to the masses at the expense of their artistry. Smile is a symptom of that – a fine, middle of the road pop record that the listener will listen to once, hopefully in full, and immediately forget about once it’s completed its run.
Even fireworks have to fizzle out eventually.
The album’s narrative largely tells a tale of personal redemption. Opening with “Never Really Over,” a year-old smash single, Perry expresses the undying nature of a deep love. Regardless of its existence in the present moment, it marks her forever. Sampling Dagny’s incredible “I Love You Like That,” the song remains the strongest on the album.
The following songs are disappointing, spreading platitudes of self-love, growth, and resiliency. The latter theme spotlit on “Resilient,” is a grating chant with little to offer but juvenile lyricism. This plague continues on “Cry About It Later” and “Teary Eyes.” The former, meant to be the anchor single of the album’s release, features one of the weakest hooks in the singer’s discography to date. At the time of this writing, its difficult to recall what “Teary Eyes” sounds like – it’s that forgettable.
Draping her best Post Malone costume, Perry adopts a hip hop beat with “Not the End of the World.” Again, it’s not a horrible track, it simply lacks a personality sharp enough to leave an impression on the listener. Perry, as fans know her from Teenage Dream and Prism, dissolves beneath the smoke and mirrors of desperate mass appeal.
This is perhaps no more obvious than on the title track, single “Smile.” Its repetitive, concise, and boring. Where most songs have bridges, the track showcases what was meant to be a dance break, but instead feels like a rapper missed his deadline to throw a watered down verse in support of the singer.
The album, while filled with cavities, beams in moments. Most previously released tracks are great. “Daisies” accomplishes what other positive anthems on the record fail to get across. Its stadium boom and powerful vocal elevate it from the crowd of shrugs. “Harleys in Hawaii” is another tasty treat. It features Perry’s signature lower register, seductively taking listeners with her on a one on one vacation. She’s in love on the track, and rarely for this album, it feels authentic.
The final two tracks, “Only Love” and “What Makes A Woman,” continue the conclusion on a high. The former, surely succumbing to the clichés of earlier moments on Smile, is set apart for its honest lyrics. The track is truly personal to Perry’s experience, allowing the viewer a chance to empathize.
The soft punctuation of “What Makes A Woman” ends the album well enough. It encapsulates the main takeaway of the record; Perry has recovered from personal strife, but her music has yet to progress and push any more boundaries.
Taylor Swift wasn’t kidding when she exclaimed, “I promise that you’ll never find another like me!” The hook to her 2019 album Lover‘s laughably bad lead single, the statement has never reigned more true than it does today.
Gone is any trace of that pop star. In her place is a daring songwriter unafraid to explore the depths of her emotion and mastery of narrative.
On the eve of its release, Swift announced folklore, a 16 song collection of indie folk songs birthed from the imagination of an indefinitely quarantined Taylor Swift. In describing the album, Swift states, “I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing from the perspective of people I’ve never met, people I’ve known, or those I wish I hadn’t.”
This diversity of perspective and point of view enriches Swift in a way listeners have yet to hear. In reflecting on her own life, Swift thinks of a childhood friend with a difficult home life (“seven”), cloaks herself in a fable of a woman seeking vengeance on a town that has wronged her (“mad woman”), and celebrates unconditional love (“invisible string”).
Swift extends her talents beyond herself, applying her imagination to the folklore that aptly titles the record. Blurring the lines of history and fiction, Swift creates a trilogy of nostalgic tracks. These songs (“cardigan,” “august,” and “betty”) play with time and perspective, depicting a high school love triangle and its permanence in the memories of each party.
Further expanding the already quietly epic saga are songs alluding to history. On “the last great american dynasty,” Swift tells the story of Rebekah Harkness and her Holiday House, the Rhode Island mansion Swift would come to own. Like “mad woman,” Swift delicately sprinkles herself in the story, weaving her own mistakes into the fabric of Harkness’s life and story. Similarly, one of the most poignant moments on the record comes in “epiphany,” during which Swift pays homage to her grandfather while empathetically thinking of health workers working on a new kind of front line.
Much of the strength of folklore lays in the proof that overexposure and fame taint even the strongest of creative minds. In fact, the singer’s strongest musical statements were created from the privacy of her several homes across the globe. From reputation‘s “Delicate” to Lover‘s “Cornelia Street,” Swift has come into her own as a private person.
This newfound seclusion has really given Swift the necessary space to thrive in her exploration of the craft that brought her so much obsessive scrutiny and attention.
With folklore, Swift takes this isolation a step further, veiling once on the nose songwriting in freshly tinged metaphor. With the help of The National’s Aaron Dessner, longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff, and indie king Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Swift begins again.
For the first time, Swift desolves beneath the surface of these stories. The music is no longer the diary of a naive suburban girl. This is a fully matured woman collecting scattered memories and stories, weaving them together in an intricate tapestry broadcasting the emotional spectrum. At its center, as it always is with Swift, is love.
This is an album Taylor herself needed to write, but the constraints of superstardom, pressures of pleasing the masses and those who dare lock her in a box prevented that, until now. Drawing inspiration from artists like Lana Del Rey (“cardigan,” “seven”) The Cranberrys (“august,” “mirrorball”), and sprinkles of her own past work (“Safe & Sound,” “Holy Ground”) Swift amplifies her songwriting. She shatters the magnifying glass that is the modern media’s exploitative infatuation with women in power.
In this deconstruction, Swift finally sheds the image she’s been running from since 2017’s reputation. With Lover acting as a necessary palette cleanser and closure to the pop chapter of the singer’s career, folklore is a new beginning in so many ways.
Many albums of this length, including some from Swift’s discography, unavoidably include a few duds. With this album, though, not a single song is worth skipping. While the final third of the album is noticeably slower, it only brightens the spotlight on Swift’s astonishing, unparalleled lyricism. Closing the album with “peace” and “hoax,” Swift challenges listeners to think of a better songwriter in the industry today, and they’ll likely struggle to muster one.
For anyone to doubt the limitless talents and constantly impressive metamorphosis of Taylor Swift at this point is as fleeting as the romance the singer relates on “august.” Unlike that subject matter, it will take more than a bottle of wine to sip away folklore.
Taylor Swift’s narrative has become bigger than the artist herself. At this point in her career, having accomplished so much and broken innumerable records, Swift’s imprint on the music industry is a looking glass experts can utilize in analyzing the future of the industry. Her sales prowess and transition into the streaming age is equal parts an insight into the industry’s evolution as it is to the artist’s continued longevity as a pop superstar.
With Lover, Swift attempts to equate the unparalleled successes of her past four records, each achieving first week sales of over 1 million copies domestically. As the week nears its end, Swift’s Lover already has the biggest sales week of 2019 and, although she may not eclipse the numbers of reputation, this success is no small feat.
The question is, why has Taylor Swift managed to maintain massive success for over a decade, when most pop stars only achieve this with, at most, a single project? The answer lays in her sweeping, epic 18-track seventh album. With her most cohesively produced, confident, and lyrically rich record, Swift creates an album that will perhaps be remembered as the defining moment in her impressively lengthy career.
With the exception of the swift kiss off of the narrative of 2017’s reputation in the album opener “I Forgot You Existed,” Lover is very much a direct sequel to Swift’s most culturally influential album 1989. Adopting a similar, 80s inspired pop sound, Lover exists as most sequels do– it’s bigger, more ambitious, and often less polished than its predecessor.
At 18 tracks, the album suffers from a lack of the refinement that made 1989 such a groundbreaking collective work. Without a “Blank Space,” “Style” or “Wildest Dreams” supporting the record, no single track feels like a huge standout upon initial listen. “The Man” is the biggest signifier of this pitfall, with an underdeveloped chorus retracting what could have been an incredibly powerful single. With that said, lyrics like “If I was out flashing my dollars, I’d be a bitch not a baller” make the verses and biting bridge strong enough to allow the song at least partially succeed. It shows Swift forgoing the Max Martin tinge in favor of an emphasis of lyricism and the storytelling that made her a mainstay.
Although Lover may not contain the strongest one-offs in Swift’s pantheon, it exists with the purpose of being an album. It presents the most expansive production of any Swift album, managing to blend genres in the vein of Red, the narrative depth of Speak Now, and the euphoric joy of 1989.
This is encapsulated on the crux of the album, “Lover.” The single sways with the ease of reputation sleeper hit “Delicate,” the 70s doo-wop of Red deep cut “The Lucky One,” and the immersive storytelling of Speak Now tracks “Mine” and “Speak Now.”
Building upon the single, the remainder of Lover showcases some of Swift’s strongest songwriting, proving her ability to create an easy to follow narrative under the guise of a glossy pop confection. This is evident on the Avril Lavigne inspired “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” and “Death By A Thousand Cuts.” On the former, Swift utilizes an extended metaphor of high school drama laced with the harrowing political climate to create a mini universe in which she and her lover undercut their noisy environment to inhabit their own nugget of existence. With the latter, Swift pops off with one of her most passionate bridges since “All Too Well.” These are just a few of the many well-written tracks on Lover.
Swift proves her growth further in vocal prowess on many of the collection’s more anthemic moments. This is notable on should’ve-been-single cut “Cruel Summer.” Co-written by frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff and alt rocker St. Vincent, the bop is reminiscent of “Style” with enough flair to stand on its own. Ms. Swift’s baby growl is an album highlight, as she chants “He looked up, grinnin’ like a devil!”
Just when Lover seems to begin to lose steam, the final act offers three incredible moments in “Afterglow,” “It’s Nice To Have A Friend” and album closer “Daylight.” Each track shows a rare perspective from Swift. On “Afterglow,” she admits her faults to her lover. On “It’s Nice To Have A Friend,” the singer incorporates Caribbean steel drums and a choir with a restrained, hook-less vocal. On finale “Daylight,” she cleverly alludes to past lyrics and exhibits how much she has grown as an artist.
For an album with this many tracks, its all the more impressive to see the quality song after song. The only truly ill constructed single is the album lead “ME!” featuring Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco. What could’ve been an alt-pop banger in the vein of Urie’s past work with his group, “ME!” comes across as a weak ploy to promote individuality and course correct Swift’s sound. It’s a truly puzzling track from a promotional standpoint. Is the effort to de-individualize her image and provide a clean slate? Perhaps. Is it successful in doing that? Maybe. Was it worth releasing one of the worst singles in her career? Probably not. Its conceit is ironically discredited by her catering to bubblegum pop cliches – something she pleasantly avoids with the majority of the record.
Lover is as intentionally imperfect as its unapologetic creator. In embracing the facets of her personality and the genre experimentation that has defined her career, Taylor Swift continues to prove her longevity.