Like it or not, Taylor Swift is an inescapable part of pop-radio — you will hear her on virtually any mainstream radio station. But when one considers her pop counterparts — think Katy Perry, Ke$ha or Justin Bieber — Swift is clearly a cut above.
In her fourth studio album, Red, Swift continues to walk the tightrope between pop-country and just plain pop. There are precious few songs that sound like the ones on her very country-sounding 2006 self-titled debut, meaning a significant reduction in mentions of pickup trucks per song. However, there is no doubt that Swift refuses to totally abandon her banjo and mandolin roots on this album, although they seem more like requisite homage rather than featured parts of the songs.
The quality that has served Swift best in the past, and continues to serve her well on Red, is her earnestness. Even though she is sometimes clearly using her best guess of what life is like for people who aren’t international celebrities, when you listen to her pounding out ballads, lamenting not fitting in during high school and swooning over guys named Drew or Stephen, it still sounds very real. Unequivocally, this is Swift’s finest talent.
When examining the song-writing credits on Red, it is no coincidence that standout tracks “State of Grace,” “Starlight” and “Red” are written solely by Swift and free from the writing influence of music industry types. However, Red has moments where Swift completely sheds all country pretenses in favour of huge bass beats and synth lines. Here Swift swings and misses, and ends up sounding more processed than McDonald’s cheese.
Though it is reasonable to expect that by album number four, Swift would have to branch out to new genres, no one buys a Taylor Swift album looking for a song to get their drank on. Swift should be cautious about entering the hyper-saturated world of club-pop and stick to her guitar.