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Friday, May 24, 2024

Taylor Swift’s genre-hopping music evolution

Reviewing the singer’s discography after a recent return to her country roots

With Taylor Swift’s most recent performance at the Academy of Country Music Awards (ACM Awards), people might wonder “how did she get here?” In her most recent years she’s switched over to pop, baffling most of her long-term fans with the sudden switch from her usual country genre. This dive into all of her albums will show you where she started and how she found her way back home. 

Taylor Swift (2006)

The self titled album was released in 2008 with Big Machine records when Swift was 16. She hand-picked songs that she wrote in the beginning of her freshman year of high school. The album held a steady ranking on the Billboard 200 chart for 200 weeks, debuting at No. 19 and peaking at No. 5. Swift’s debut album broke charts, but didn’t gain enough traction to win many awards. It was, however, enough to light a spark that would last for her entire career. The 16-year-old singer-songwriter would move on to break multiple records and become a ten time Grammy award winning artist. 

Fearless (2008)

Fearless” brings nostalgia everytime I see her curls on the cover. The 2008 studio album won the Grammy award for Album of the Year, Best Country Album and the Academy of Country Music Award for Album of the Year. Swift received her first Grammy award at the age of 20, which made her the youngest artist to be a solo winner of album of the year (now replaced by Billie Eilish). Her second album was a stark contrast to the recognition she gained from her EP, bringing her a small taste of the fame that she would soon be receiving. 

Fearless” has classic hits that everyone seems to know, as most popular Swift singles go. But timeless songs like “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me” will forever be ingrained in our generation’s memory. In this era, Swift was also working on the “Hannah Montana: The Movie” set and co-wrote “You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home” and “Crazier,” both songs featured in the movie. She was slowly inching her way into the catchiest songs of our childhood and we didn’t even know it was her. 

Speak Now (2010)

Speak Now” won two Grammys with Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance, both due to her song “Mean,” a song written about a music critic that wrote nasty things about Swift. As the sole writer of this album, she stuck true to her country roots, but it was the last album that fans would see Swift focus solely on country.  

The enchanting lyrics and playful vibe created my favorite album of the early Swift albums. “Speak Now” was the album where people started to realize that this 20-year-old would write songs about her past relationships and absolutely crush them. I was here for it; I sang along to “Better than Revenge” like I was the one who got cheated on and dumped over a 27 second phone call. “Long Live” consistently brings fans to tears when she sings it in a concert, knowing it was written for them. “Innocent” was the first song that Swift wrote about the Kanye West incident, forgiving him for taking the microphone from her 19-year-old self. This era displayed her songwriting skills and brilliantly made her past experiences relatable. This era, while I didn’t fully comprehend it at the age of 11, was when I started to love her artistry and was anxiously looking up theories on who each song was about. 

Red (2012)

“Red” is categorized as Country Pop. It was the first transition where fans saw Swift dwindling away from her country roots and exploring new alternatives that still fit in with her genius songwriting. During this time Swift wrote “Safe and Sound,” a song for “The Hunger Games” soundtrack and won the Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media. The album was the start of her transition to a pop artist—featuring a flood of pop that wasn’t exactly seen before in previous albums. While her songs normally had country with a mix of pop, “Red” songs had pop with hints of country. Despite this, Swift won the Billboard Music Award for Top Country Album and the American Music Award for Top Country Album. “Red” was robbed of all Grammy nominations and didn’t receive the recognition it deserved.

The album that invented the Fall season for Swifties will forever be a fan favorite. “Red” allowed a 14-year-old me to grieve a heartbreak that I never experienced because the lyrics were simply that powerful. 

1989 (2014) 

1989” is a stark contrast to Swift’s early albums. Her lead single “Shake It Off” sent fans backwards, wondering where this new Taylor came from. But this also became a pivotal point in Swift’s career. “Shake it Off” became Swift’s second No. 1 single to hit the Billboard Hot 100. The 2014 studio album won album of the year at the Grammy’s and for good reason. Her new music featured ingenious productions such as using her heartbeat as a drum beat in her songs.

“1989” was the fun album that transitioned her from the Southern country artist we all knew and loved to pop Taylor Swift. With classic dance songs and theatrical music videos (See: “Blank Space”) it was hard to not pay attention to the young singer-songwriter. During this era Swift gained a lot of her fame. While she previously wrote about what it was like to effortlessly fall in love and dream of a playful romance, she now spoke of the pressures that the media pushed onto her and her love life, a new side of Swift that fans hadn’t seen before. 

Reputation (2017)

This era focused more on pop with some elements of rock, winning Swift the American Music Award for Favorite Album Pop/Rock and Billboard Music Award for Top Selling Album. During this era Swift took the initiative to write her own articles and do her own interviews instead of someone writing them for her, taking complete control of her narrative. 

Reputation” was truly Swift’s rise back to fame. She hid herself from the public for two years after the Kimye scandal so when fans first saw the “Look What You Made Me Do” music video with her literally rising from the dead, it was the perfect entrance to a sell-out stadium tour that critics assumed would fail. But fans were more than happy to take back this “new” Taylor, or rather, her fans never left. They stood idly by her side as she hid in luggage bags to avoid paparazzi and fell in love with the treasured Joe Alwyn. Compared to previous eras of light and airy tours, Reputation was filled with black outfits and snake-themed merchandise. The dark themes were the beginnings of a new, fiercer Taylor and a break from her whimsical character. But of course, opening the album with “Look What You Made Me Do” and including the line “oh, she’s dead” didn’t indicate that Swift’s old songs were truly gone. With dance pop songs like “Gorgeous” and “Call it What You Want,” it became clear that while her single attested to her old self being dead, her other songs sat in the lyrical beauty of all Taylor Swift classics. 

Lover (2019)

The continuation of the pop genre that she previously stuck with was not a shock to fans. This album came with many overlooked hits that deserved more attention, such as “The Man” where Swift finally writes a song that perfectly describes how the music industry would treat her if she were a man. Or songs like “Death By a Thousand Cuts” where she got her inspiration from the movie “Someone Great,” making a full 360 circle between the movie and Taylor Swift (the movie itself was inspired by Swift’s song “Clean” from “1989”). “Lover” won the American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Album and the ARIA music award for Best International Artist. The album broke multiple sales records, including the pre-sale record at Target.

Lover” was another beautiful transition and is underappreciated even among Swift’s fans. While “Reputation” was more of a cathartic era for Swift and allowed fans to revel in the bitterness that she tasted the previous two years, “Lover” showed us the light that she found at the end of the tunnel and that light is Joe Alwyn. “Lover” has pages ripped straight out of her diary. Songs like “Cruel Summer” and “Paper Rings” were created for fans to tear it apart, line by line and find the hidden meaning and backstory behind the relationship; a wonderful addition to what Swift fans are used to doing now as she frequently hides Easter eggs in everything she does. It was also beautiful to see the “Taylor Swift Productions” at the bottom of music videos after the unfortunate mess involving Scooter Braun and Swift’s long-time disappointment of a manager, Scott Borchetta. 

Folklore (2020)

“Folklore” is something fans have been waiting for since we heard Swift sing “Eyes Open” and “Safe and Sound” on “The Hunger Games” soundtrack. The mystical vibes that we once received were a sort of longing for many, craving a sound from Swift we never fully got. For people that weren’t fans, the indie alternative album gave them something they never knew they needed. This album, and aesthetic, has something for everyone. “Folklore” really emphasized that Swift isn’t just a beautiful lyricist, but a storyteller. Songs like “Last Great American Dynasty” portray the story of the past owners of her Rhode Island home. She also created a teenage love triangle using the song “Betty,” “Cardigan” and “August” where each song is told from a different point of view. The whole album consists of different stories, some of which aren’t even Swift’s, compiled into a beautiful album that grabbed the attention of many. 

But what got the attention of the ACM Awards is the love triangle in Swift’s story-telling. “Betty” is a country song, something fans haven’t heard from Swift in years. While some fans craved Swift’s old sound again and others fell in love with her pop songs, “Betty” earned it’s attention for the storytelling of the undeserving James who is singing a song to his ex-girlfriend. This song brings Swift back to where she started: writing a country song and singing with an acoustic guitar. Where she once feared that fans would get sick of her, the public embraced this album in the middle of a pandemic. Swift has reinvented herself multiple times throughout her career, but fans clearly know what’s next: her re-recording her albums. The only thing left to wonder now is how she will sound on her old albums without her once adored southern accent. 

Written by: Itzelth Gamboa — arts@theaggie.org


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