Obsessing over The Beatles has long been taken as a sign of musical maturity. Expressing a liking for Taylor Swift, on the other hand, has become synonymous with aesthetic immaturity. Taylor Swift is often dismissed as pop culture’s vocaliser of teenage heartbreak; a writer of adolescent break-up bops that are only to be played ironically.
This week, however, Swift has made music history, becoming the first artist in half a decade to have three albums reach number one in less than a year. What’s more, the female artist has beaten The Beatles’ record, reaching number one three times in 259 days; over a hundred days faster than Liverpool’s revered boyband.
In August 2020, amidst the chaos of coronavirus, Swift released folklore. While all of Swift’s albums shift stylistically, representing different stages in the artist’s personal and musical development, folklore constituted a stark departure from the electro-pop beats of her most recent albums. Swift opens the album by playfully asserting ‘I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit’; a line which resonates with the artist’s decision to abandon her usual practise of writing for the charts. folklore is not an album for the dance floor, but an ethereal cacophony of softly told stories. The tone shifts from track to track as Swift explores romantic pain, guilt, fulfilment, female rage and present trauma through velvety vocals and fictional lenses.
Despite the unconventionality of folklore, Swift’s eighth studio album was a huge hit with fans, topping US charts for eight consecutive weeks. Its success led Swift to release her ninth studio album evermore in quick succession. ‘In the past I’ve always treated albums as one-off eras and moved onto planning the next one after an album was released. There was something different with folklore,’ Swift wrote in the twenty-four-hour build up to evermore’s release. ‘To try and put it more poetically, it feels like we were standing on the edge of the folklorian woods and had a choice: to turn and go back or to travel further into the forest of this music.’
Swift’s evermore is very much a ‘sister album’ to folklore, maintaining the balladic style and acoustic register of its musical forerunner. ‘In the disbelief I can’t face reinvention’, Swift sings on the album’s seventh track, acknowledging the album’s maintenance of folklorian themes. Yet evermore also marked Swift’s return to her generic origins, with tracks such as ‘cowboy like me’ and ‘no body no crime’ recalling the twangs of American country music.
The country resonances in evermore may have stemmed from the fact that Swift was re-recording her earlier albums alongside her new projects. In 2019, Swift announced that she would be re-recording and re-releasing her earlier works following her break from Big Machine Records and subsequent loss of rights to her musical masters. Swift vowed to re-record the six albums she recorded with the record label to create replica alternatives that she herself would own.
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is the first of six re-recorded albums to be released and constitutes Swift’s third chart-topping album since the summer of 2020. Fearless was originally released in in 2008, when Swift was just nineteen. In many ways, this early album represents everything that Swift’s critics now scorn: self-pitying songs of teenage trauma, innocent country ditties and melodramatic cries of adolescent fury. Yet, for fans, Swift’s second album constitutes a trip down memory lane; an emotional and nostalgic account of growing up.
While casual listeners may not be able to discern the difference between the original Fearless and the new Taylor’s Version, for fans, Swift’s latest release presents radically different versions of old-time favourites. True, there are moments when Swift’s teenage writings stumble uncomfortably from the lips of the thirty-one year old singer, but other songs carry a sharper emotional cut when sung from a deeper and more developed voice: the lyrics of Swift’s ‘Fifteen’, a song in which the singer asserts ‘I’ve found time can heal almost anything, and you just might find who you’re supposed to be ’, is reinvigorated when sung with a over a decade’s worth of retrospect.
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) has become the fastest-selling country album of the last six years, as well as Swift’s third number one in nine months. Swift’s record-breaking achievement comes just a month after Swift became the first female artist to win the prestigious ‘Album of the Year’ Grammy three times as folklore joined Fearless and 1989 as one of Swift’s most critically acclaimed albums.
Swift’s success over the past year stands testament to the artist’s right to be taken seriously as a songwriter. No doubt Beatles fans will continue to roll their eyes whenever ‘Love Story’ or ‘Shake it Off’ breaks over the dance floor, but they will do so with the same determined disapproval that the parents of the swinging sixties showed to the first generation of Beatlemaniacs. With rumours already speculating that Swift’s second re-record – which looks set to be her second Grammy winning album, 1989 – will drop over the summer, Swift seems ready to push musical records even further and attempt a fourth number one before the calendar year is up.
Love her or loath her, the country singer is determinately making her musical mark. In rejecting her music, Swift’s repudiators are only confining themselves to the peripheries of pop culture, persistently resisting the temptation to ‘say yes’ and join in the fun.
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