How brilliant is “Blank Space”?
When I was with my girlfriend, I couldn’t listen to it. It was a laughing warning sign, taunting me that all this happiness is bound to end. When she dumped me, I still couldn’t listen to it. It laughed harder and bragged how it told me so. It’s more than a take on Taylor’s ‘serial dating’. It’s a song that acknowledge the futility of the Pursuit of Love.
We all know that most relationships won’t last. Marriage is just a fancy ceremony. Yet we keep going, still trying to find that person. Taylor takes a look from above and laughs how repetitive it all is. There’s hope that it might be worth all the work (“You can tell me when it’s over/if the high was worth the pain”) but that’s it. Taylor doesn’t even consider the possibility that this time it might work.
You’d think that in the age when science and atheism are popular, people would be more cynical. I’m surrounded by people who have a strong faith in love and that we will all find The One. “Blank Space” is a rarity in a world whose view of romance is almost cult-ish.
That song is a towering achievement in an album where nothing tries to match it.
Taylor made a career out of singing about heartbreak. That’s not unique, but to her credit she always had some insight to add to that never-ending subject. On 1989, it sounds like the subject is no longer important to her.
There are a lot of songs about relationships that failed, but there is no sorrow here. The reason we sing about heartbreak and listen to those songs is because we can’t just get over it. Someone in the world has it worse, but heartbreak is a painful experience even when it’s boring. We’re afraid of taking chances because every hurt makes it worse.
Taylor sounds like she can afford to get hurt. It fell apart on about 5 songs here, but Swift just shrugs it off. These are not anthems of resilience. These are songs about heartbreak where the singer moves on after a week. It’s like Ed Sheeran, only less creepy.
Maybe this is how reality works now. I know 3 girls who exited relationships and immidiately found new suitors. Taylor is a beautiful and successful singer, so I’m sure she has plenty of hot guys at the door. When you can get so many hot and famous guys, does it really matter when it falls apart? A replacement is on the way. It’s better than Ed Sheerans’ attempt at having one night stands with girls dying for romance, but it still misses the point.
The hotness of the guys is important. Taylor discovers sexuality on 1989. When young Pop stars discover sexuality. it’s scary. Many try to use sex as a form of rebellion. They dress half-naked in the music videos and we’re supposed to think they’re unique for having sex (like everyone else does?).
Taylor’s sexuality is different. She’s closer to Tove Lo than Nicki Minaj. She doesn’t brag about how many guys stare at her ass. She’s simply enjoying being found attractive by attractive guys, and being attracted to them. There are no explicit songs about sex, but the delivary is very sensual. “Style” sounds like Kylie Minogue, only more tame. “Wildest Dreams” is all about sex. She doesn’t throw herself at the subject like Tove Lo or Minogue, but it’s her first steps towards it and they’re great. If Taylor made an album that’s all about sex, it will turn out great. The way she sings ‘a tight little skirt’ is sexier than anything Minaj or Lady Gaga will ever do.
Speaking of “Wildest Dreams”, it’s the song that symbolizes the main problem. Everyone said it sounds like Lana Del Rey. Why it’s not as good as Lana is what’s interesting. Lana Del Rey made songs about being attracted to Hot Bad Guys and about all the fun and tragedy it involved. She put the excitement right next to the fall and asked us if it was worth it.
There is danger in “Off to the Races”. There is tragedy in “Born to Die”. There’s nothing like that in Taylor’s song. The guy she’s into is tall, handsome and is good at being bad. She doesn’t address how it affects her. The relationship doesn’t last, obviously, but where’s the heartbreak and the pain? Where is the grieving? Taylor sounds invincible. She wishes that the guy would remember her and that’s it. That’s not the brave-face act that made Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over” so good. That one had cracks in the surface.
Taylor was never an outsider. She tried to paint herself as such in songs like “You Belong to Me”, but it’s hard to be a beautiful outcast in a society where female beauty is worshipped. 1989 is a step in admitting that she’s one of the Beautiful People. That’s why “Style” sounds so honest. That’s why on “Shake It Off” she doesn’t diss her haters or prove to us she’s strong but celebrates herself. Both of these are a lot of fun.
The rest of the songs sound like weird celebrations of being attracted to Hot Bad Guys who know how to get the girl. I’m happy for Taylor she can now afford to jump from relationship to relationship without suffering heartbreak, but it’s not good material for heartbreak music. At worst, she sounds smug and unpleasant, disconnected from How People Feel. El-P’s frustration over “Welcome to New York” makes sense. New York must seem great when you’re a beautiful successful singer, but all these underground rappers have a different perspective. Hot Bad Guys aren’t a problem when you’re attractive, but when suitors are less common then every one matters and every one hurts.
There are few songs that sound like leftover from a different era. “Out of the Woods” is Midwest Emo lyrics in a Pop song. It uses imagery over spelling out how the narrator feels, and Taylor sounds vulnerable and unsure in the chorus. Although she abandoned country completely, the narration of the song makes you wonder whether there’s a Bluegrass demo of it. “Clean” also helps conclude the album with the realization that Taylor is strong, she left the heartbreaks behind and she can move on. Does that mean we get her sex album now?
At least Taylor’s talent for hooks isn’t gone. 1989 doesn’t fail like most Pop albums do. There are no shortage of good hooks here. Despite Taylor’s detatchment, “I Wish You Would”, “Wildest Dreams” and “Bad Blood” all have poppin’ melodies. She also saved the melodies for the best lyrics, so the result is overall a pleasant, but disappointing album. At least Taylor doesn’t sound out of steam. She’s probably just not out of the woods yet.
3 blank spaces out of 5