If you think this is a great album, please take the time to consider if you have enough self-respect.
So this is the best our culture can do? This is our collective zenith, our most heralded work of music this year? That’s depressing. That opens up a whole other can of worms about what turned sour along the way with our society’s musical desires, but I’m here to discuss this album alone. I will begin with breaking down the lack of melodic intrigue. Swift’s melodies were often rhythmically based, and involved changes of metric placement from the usual word accents. This came to be the sole unique feature of the melodies, and it hardly amounted to anything. It simply wasn’t enough to move the accent of an important word by half a beat, or to continue with straight eighth notes and just repeat the text again on different metric accents. Sadly, that was the height of Swift’s attempt at a grasping melody. Only two songs had a worthwhile enough melodic shape in the chorus to be somewhat pleasing; the rest fell considerably flat and unwanted. Melodic shape, pitch-wise, was Swift’s biggest weakness on this album. She typically spent too much time on single notes that weren’t giving any direction. The worst parts were the annoying and unnecessary repetitions of infuriatingly stupid melodic figures at the ends of phrases. I’ve yet to come across a strong argument as to why that technique continues to be used in today’s awful pop music. She also failed at giving melody a life of its own with poor decisions regarding the use of non-chord tones, being either annoyingly diatonic or just too lost. At least they had moments of energy, and even that was spotty. Now let’s go on to the lack of harmonic creativity. It came to be my highest scoring category by a hair, and the harmony did provide the only noticeable, recurring points of musical worth. It also happened to be one of the most overused techniques on the album, which diminished its returns. The technique was the chord substitutions of the lambasted I, V, vi, IV progression. Swift understood to a degree that this base progression is a recipe for failure in her kind of straightforward, single dimension music. So, she not-so-sneakily substituted one of those chords for a related yet different diatonic chord, giving a slightly new edge and feel to the song. The most common one was her substitution of ii for V, which happened to produce the most vigor. It’s not a very strong technique; it’s like step 1 in the process of finding a desirable harmonic language; but she used it practically everywhere. This was her best attempt at creativity, and yet again it came to very little. The absence of any engaging rhythm, with most every song blasting a quarter note or half note harmonic pulse, deteriorated the music further. Perhaps the most acceptable sections in the music overall was when there was a simple one note drone. To top it all off, let’s go over the lack of timbral effectiveness. What was meant to be the layer of the music in which Swift’s maturity shown through turned into nothing more than an assortment of different synthesizer techniques that sounded quite unoriginal and unimpressive. As always, I don’t care about the career trajectory or direction of the musician when reviewing music, so it doesn’t matter if this heavy synth pop timbre was a new, daring ground for Swift. As an isolated work, the overall sound carries very little excitement or any strong, layered deliveries. The upbeat mood stays rather consistent, and although the repeating verse-chorus form was quite irritating, I didn’t necessarily mind the obvious texture and dynamic changes between sections, mainly because it meant the end of a boring musical idea I didn’t want to hear anymore. Its consistency kept it afloat, but there were hardly any improvements made to the changes in synthesizer sound over the basic dance floor wash. Only the last song had a worthwhile, positive use of an instrument, and it happened to be the smallest and softest texture of the album. Musically, those are my overall reasons as to why this album is bad. I’d like now to discuss my personal reaction to this album’s place in our culture. Nothing, absolutely nothing, on this album is musically unique. It’s nothing that couldn’t be written by any pop musician. It was the most anticipated album release in the world this year, and it seems to be at a level of many people’s expectations in terms of quality. As many anticipated, it’s the best selling album of year. I have a theory as to why, and it unfortunately has nothing to do with the music, even though it obviously should. It has to do with the musician. Taylor Swift has been artificially built up to be a human icon. She has grown into something that many people feel compelled to be invested in. Human nature seems to have a peculiar tendency to want to grasp onto singular beings and watch their every move. Our culture has tirelessly watched Swift for several years now, and people are obviously rooting for her to succeed, which in turn makes them happy. Of course, like every long-term thing we invest in, we want to see some sort of story. We want a beginning, middle, and an end, even if we have to fabricate it. Swift’s story is a real one, because she’s an actual person. This album represents the next chapter of her story, and because everyone is so wrapped up in the narrative, it’s the best selling album. She could have done anything musically and it would most likely get the same attention, coverage, and a Grammy nomination lock for next year. For those of you who love this album, I actually think you really just love Taylor. Putting the musician above the music is not good for your overall musical experience. It gives me a sign that you actually love Taylor more than yourself. Idol worship is dangerous; it leaves you empty and gives you no reinforcement. If you think this is a great album, please take the time to consider if you have enough self-respect. You shouldn’t be in love with someone else before you take the time to be comfortable with who you are as a person. After that, you may realize that Taylor Swift is not worth worshiping.
Final Score: 72/180