Taylor Swift’s ‘Red’ shows musical growth, lyrical stagnation

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Taylor Swift is never, ever going to cease turning experiences from her love life strife into songs that make teenage girls scream and bag on heartbreakers.

“Red” is Taylor Swift’s fourth studio album, and although the stories are the same, they are told slightly different than before. Slick synths and filthy guitars indicate Swift is no longer just a country darling.

Swift’s transformation is evident with the first track, “State of Grace.” The drums slam, and, dare I say it, the lead guitar is reminiscent of The Edge from U2’s tone. An interesting instrumental section fuels the song only to be let down by a repetitive, malaise end; the lyrics on “Red” often clash with the ambitious rhythms.

The title track and “Treacherous” are electro-country. Keyboards and vocal effects mixed with slide guitars and violins are interesting. In addition, early songs on “Red” show Swift has improved her vocals and has become more versatile since the teardrops hit her guitar.

The standout song, though, ditches the twang and Nashville vibe completely.

“I Knew You Were Trouble” screams Kelly Clarkson and other pop princesses of recent years. Swift’s vocals sound nothing like they ever have, and the break is so punk and pop that cowboys will holler in disappointment and betrayal.

Despite bright spots, not every change on “Red” is pleasant. At 16 tracks long, numerous songs either fail at branching out or go back to the formula that made Swift’s previous songs successful on the top-40 charts.

“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” shows despair, pain and complexity of teenage love, just like every other popular Swift song ever. This song is an anthem for the ladies, and when Swift sings, “And you will hide away and find your piece of mind/with some indie record that’s much cooler than mine,” it shows she has added wit, but it would be nice to see different emotions.

However, Swift sometimes refrains from showing any emotion or depth.

“Stay Stay Stay” is catchy, but Swift degrades “self-indulgent boys” who did her wrong without going into detail; “Sad Beautiful Tragic” tells of a relationship that ended poorly, but there’s nothing in the lyrics that show what happened and why the situation was so difficult. If Swift wants listeners to fume over her stories of despair, she must humanize and build-up the antagonists in her songs, rather than mentioning their shortcomings passively. 

In the end, it is refreshing to see Swift try new things, but if she wants to continue to advance as an artist, she must change the way she writes songs. Whether she does so or not, though, Swift will be adored by fans who connect with her predictable, boring lyrics.

Final Rating: Three out of five stars.