A while ago, Jason Kottke wrote a brief blog post in which he argued that, whereas Facebook is like your hometown, Twitter is like moving to New York:
For a certain type of person, changing oneself might be one of the best ways of feeling free and in control of one’s own destiny. And in the social media world, Twitter feels like continually moving to NYC without knowing anyone whereas Facebook feels like you’re living in your hometown and hanging with everyone you went to high school with.
I immediately thought of this post when I heard the opening track of Taylor Swift’s new record*, 1989, which sees her leave the yoke of Country radio behind and come out – hard – as a pop artist. It won’t have escaped your attention that 1989 was the year Ms Swift was born, and the message is clear: this is a rebirth. She’s confident enough to leave all vestiges of her previous life behind. The ALL CAPS digital booklet is a way of shouting this loud from the rooftops.
WELCOME TO nEW YoRK / IT’S BEEN WAITING FOR You / WELCOME TO NEW YOrK / WELCOME TO NEW YORK / WELCOME TO NEW YORK
I thought about other artists I admire who moved to New York as a kind of artistic statement. Chely Wright, who came out in 2010, and released a fairly non-Country album, Lifted off the Ground. Tift Merritt, whose career was hamstrung by being labelled as a Country artist in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. Rosanne Cash, who perhaps needed to escape Nashville and being mentioned in the same breath… for her own reasons. Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, I’m sure there are more.
In the ‘foreword’, Taylor Swift writes,
I WROTE ABOUT MOVING TO THE LOUDEST AND BRIGHTEST CITY IN THE WORLD, THE CITY I HAD ALWAYS BEEN OVERWHELMED BY…UNTIL NOW. I THINK YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU WANT IN ORDER TO TAKE ON NEW YORK AND ALL ITS BLARING TRUTH.
I’d previously resigned myself to not buying 1989. I thought her last album, Red, was very good, but having read that she was going 100% pop, I figured I’d be so far beyond the target market that there would be nothing on it for me to like. Then I heard the single “Shake It Off”, laughed aloud at her antics in the accompanying video, and immediately pre-ordered 1989. Not the Deluxe edition, I’m not that far gone.
While Red had its share of drum loops and pop songs, it was interspersed with more singer-songwriterly fare, songs that seemed written in a traditional guitar-and-pen (or piano-and-pen) way. 1989 seems to be more completely constructed around loops. I don’t think this will come as a surprise to anybody who has been paying attention. The record label seem to be turning it into a major statement, but that’s probably because they’re a lot less comfortable with this move than Ms Swift’s fans will be. Red didn’t survive two years on my iPod/iPhone playlist, and I don’t expect this will, either. Which is not to say that 1989 isn’t superb in its own way. “Welcome to New York,” “Out of the Woods”, “Shake It Off,” “I Wish You Would”, “How You Get the Girl” – all dangerously earwormy.
Here’s what I like about this version of Taylor Swift. However much of it is marketing, the message she’s sending to her young (and old) fans is that you can be happy without being welded to a man. You can say fuck you to the horribly sexist world of Country radio in the way Miranda Lambert did (by swearing all over the record you know they wouldn’t play anyway), or like this: by just not giving them anything that sounds remotely like Country or singer-songwriter. I’d like to think there’s an army of Taylor Swifts out there, ready to throw off those possessive boyfriend arms around their shoulders and move to New York and have some fun.
She finishes the album on a telling note:
RAIN CAME POuRInG dOWN WheN I WAS DrOWNING
THAT’s WHeN I COUlD fINALLY BREATHE BY MORNING
GONE WaS ANY TRACE OF YOU
I THINK I AM FINALLY CLEAn
*iTunes calls it a Playlist. The words “album”, “LP”, “record” etc. seem to be leaving the vocabulary.