I have a very active thought life, and I have a game that I like to play. It is called “What If Taylor Swift Made the Album I Am Listening to Right Now?” Here’s how you play: you take whatever album you’re presently listening to, and you pretend that Taylor Swift is performing it. It never fails to delight. Perfect for long road trips. Hours of entertainment, I’m telling you, especially if you pick an album that is particularly incongruous with Ms. Swift’s normal musical stylings. I’ve mentally choreographed an entire stadium-sized 1989 World Tour dance routine to “Territorial Pissings” by Nirvana, and it kicks. fucking. ass.
Anyway, I have been thinking of this game a lot lately. Why, you might ask? Well, Ms. Swift’s got an album coming out next month. As the first teaser of this album, she released a mediocre, choppy single and a fun, campy, self-deprecating video. And I was a little worried. But I said to myself, hey; she always does this. She always releases the biggest, cheesiest track as the single. There will be better, more subtle stuff on the album. Stuff that shows off her considerable command of songwriting and composition. “Shake It Off” was followed by “Out of the Woods,” right? “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together” was followed by “Begin Again.” This is just how she operates. All will be well.
But then… then she goes and releases the worst song of her career, a track which would have been crappy enough even if she hadn’t performed the whole thing in Rihannaface, affecting a bizarre Caribbean accent and, like, clearly going for dancehall? And it’s like, Taylor! There is such a rich tradition of white people music you could draw from instead of singing “island breeze” in Barbadian patois. So I started to get really worried, because in all her long, illustrious career, she’d never made a misfire of this magnitude.
And I guess Taylor heard me, because she certainly drew from white person pop for her next single. Specifically, early-2000s Radio Disney pop written for child stars with no discernible talent. When critics discuss Taylor Swift’s songwriting skills, they put her in the same category as Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen. Here, she pens a chorus that relies on rhyming “sad” with “mad.” She namedrops the intersection of Sunset & Vine to evoke romance. Sunset & Vine is a Walgreen’s, a Starbucks, a Chase Bank, and a Bank of America. And the production is honestly, like… like, Rebecca Black would have turned this down. I apologize. It is disrespectful to Rebecca Black to make the comparison.
I don’t want you to think I’m a Taylor hater. I have been listening to Taylor Swift since puberty. I would probably die for her. And that’s why it’s so upsetting to see her doing… whatever the fuck this is. So, Christ, with all that in mind, I’m going to suggest seven new-ish albums that would make better Taylor Swift albums than the one she’s actually putting out. That way, I can momentarily manufacture a world in which Taylor Swift is still making good music.
7. Sleep Well Beast – The National
Taylor Swift’s sixth album, Sleep Well Beast, is her best. It is a watershed moment in her career, a breathtaking display of mature vulnerability which demonstrates the considerable growth of her songwriting talent. From the moment that first haunting piano chord reaches out from beyond the veil at the album’s introduction, it is clear: we are in a new era of this remarkable artist’s life.
Lead single “Day I Die” has been barnstorming radio for months, quite possibly her biggest hit to date. It is all the more powerful in context, a drum-heavy firecracker surrounded on all sides by more moody, subdued ruminations on love and loss. The imagery she conjures is gorgeous, particularly in “Nobody Else Will Be There,” as she narrates the end of a relationship suffocating under the weight of fame. One can practically see her pleading with Harry Styles at a Hollywood bash: goodbyes always take us half an hour; can’t we just go home?
Another break-out hit is “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness,” already a fan favourite. The song’s stadium-sized chorus is seemingly engineered for call-and-response sing-a-longs: I cannot explain it! Any other! Any other way! Stylistically, the song is a major departure for her, but the switch to guitar-and-piano-based rock musicianship melds perfectly with her lyrical sensibilities. “Guilty Party” was, apparently, originally composed as a pop ditty for 1989; here, it is a devastating slow burn. I know it’s not working, she sings, against spare, skittering drums and a low piano line; I’m no holiday. It’s nobody’s fault. It is the most honest, eviscerating work of her career, and it further cements her status as the finest songwriter of our generation. 8.8 BNM.
6. Out in the Storm – Waxahatchee
OMG! IS TAYLOR SWIFT’S NEW SINGLE THE ULTIMATE KISS-OFF TO KANYE & KIM? CHECK OUT THE LYRICS AND DECIDE FOR YOURSELF!
I spent all my time learning
How to defeat you
At your own game, it’s embarrassing
I walk around like
This is the last strike
I love being right
Especially with you
Everyone will hear me complain
Everyone will pity my pain
You’ll play defense
Evading the nonsense
Does it make you feel good to watch
Me stumbling in the dark
You walk around like
It’s your god-given right
And you love being right
You’ve never been wrong
5. I’m Not Your Man – Marika Hackman
By now, there is nothing left to be said about the shocking collection of paparazzi snapshots by which Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss’s romantic relationship was forcibly made public. To her credit, Swift has weathered this indignity with grace, and continued to insist upon her privacy and Kloss’s. But many wondered what this would mean for her music. Swift, infamous for a long streak of relationships with famous men, is now quite possibly the most famous lesbian on the planet.
After reportedly scrapping the planned follow-up to 1989 in the wake of the Kloss photographs, Swift now emerges with I’m Not Your Man. A blistering declaration of her fury, her sexuality, and her radical self-respect, I’m Not Your Man is Swift’s best work to date. She bravely interpolates elements she’s never dared to touch, borrowing from the giants of feminist rock to create a bold statement all her own. “Boyfriend,” the record’s lead single, is a canny bit of songwriting, as catchy as it is clever, and a firm reclamation of her private life. Elsewhere, on standouts “Gina’s World” and “Cigarettes,” she channels Liz Phair for spooky, brooding takes on mortality, privacy, and human connection. It is, perhaps, a tired cliche to call Swift’s work here “courageous;” nevertheless, the descriptor is well-deserved. 8.3 BNM.
4. American Dream – LCD Soundsystem
If 1989 was Taylor Swift’s foray into the world of synthpop, American Dream is her assertive declaration of mastery of the form. No longer content merely to churn out omnipresent pop gems, Swift and lead producer James Murphy are crafting elaborate soundscapes, the sorts of compositions that demand careful attention, repeated listening, obsession. “Oh Baby” is among the finest love songs Swift has ever penned, sure to score prom scenes in teen films from now until eternity. Her first steps into clubby dance-punk are utterly convincing, particularly the slinky, seductive “Tonite” and the bubbly, new wave attitude of “Other Voices.” In the title track, we have an irresistible pop confection with a mournful edge; on “Call the Police,” she is unafraid to evoke the grandeur of U2 in a bold, declarative statement of purpose. Fans have waited a long seven years for this follow-up to 1989, but every moment was well worth it. 8.5 BNM.
3. I Love You, Honeybear – Father John Misty
hahahahahahhahahahahaha jesus. can you even imagine. A stadium full of ten-year-olds singing, “I WANNA TAKE YOU IN THE KITCHEN LIFT UP THAT WEDDING DRESS SOMEONE WAS PROB’LY MURDERED IN SO BOURGEOISIE TO KEEP WAITING DATING FOR TWENTY YEARS JUST FEELS PRETTY CIVILIAN.” Every Taylor Swift stan on the internet now has a handle like mascarabloodashcum.tumblr.com or, like, twitter.com/waywardauntschizophrenia. Jezebel is hysterical about the overt misogyny of a diss track entitled “The Night Katheryn Hudson Came to Our Apartment.”
But hey, it’s not that implausible. “True Affection” sounds like a 1989 outtake anyway. Also: don’t ever doubt this, my steadfast conviction; my love, you’re the one I want to watch the ship go down with? Already a Taylor Swift lyric.
Okay. Post over. I’m not gonna top this one.