Why 'Red' is Taylor Swift's Best Record
Do Personal Opinions on Art Matter? (Or: Why I am Such a TERRIBLE Person for Liking Taylor Swift)
7/18/17, 2:10 EDT
By John Corry, photo from DeviantArt
This is tough…
I know I have to say something, but I’m not sure how…
Internal confliction doesn’t belong in art (obviously)…
I guess I’ll just do it (JUST DO IT)…
I’ve got a bone to pick–
A friend of mine (and this is all hypothetical *ALL *AllHypothetical #SoHypothetical) and her ASSHOLE boyfriend just displayed to me the darker side of obsessive T-Swift fandom when they sent me a text reading, ‘Red is Swifty’s WORST album’ (caps mine). It made me a upset (for several reasons, to be detailed at a later date), so I decided to write this article.
For those of you who do not like Swifty’s music or artistic appeal, please feel free stop reading now, and to those want to be dicks about it, unto you I say />
Now onto business. As a quick note, I want to make this as clear as I can: I am not the arbiter of judged musical greatness (or any greatness for that matter), but I do have an opinion, and it is an educated opinion– I am quite well-versed on this subject matter (because it’s awesome, and I don’t care what any of you sell-outs have to say about it (yea, I said it (go listen to MetallicR (Megadeth’s better anyway (bitch (because I’m uncomfortable with who I am (INTERNAL CONFLICTION DOESN’T BELONG IN ART (<troll))))))).
Premise: First off, Red is full of bangers, however, albeit, some which may take a few extra minutes to reveal themselves as such. Excepting her debut, all of Swifty’s records are full of bangers /> but nowhere are they as diverse, and deep, as they are on Red.
Premise: On Fearless–probably her best all around general-artistic statement (although 1989 and Speak Now both come close)–the songs flow close-to perfectly and are just varied enough (technically and emotionally– the difference between which I characterize as a difference between motives (motives here (in music): action and thinking) to combine to make a record that is far from simple, one-sided or boring, but, in addition to its depth-in-beauty-and-complexity, Red also follows a different format…
Point: This is how most good records go (examples being: Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, Radiohead’s OK Computer, Nas’ Illmatic, Mastodon’s Crack the Skye, Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers: there’s a banger of a start, an epic middle, and a climax at the end. They can generally be understood in three acts, or as a collection of really good songs, with a clear forward movement overall. There’s not much ‘technical’ diversity as far as the way the music sounds generally (given the more ‘general’ place of it (the aforementioned flow and no-filler), but that only serves to put the album more into focus, and to turn it into a more direct experience, and, therefore: a more easily understood and, consequently, likeable ‘a-work of art-ahhh.’
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Point: No one can deny that great records are great, but it is rare that they are risky within themselves.
This is because great albums are usually created as full works and not as individual parts, or, more so, (created) with an understanding of the balance inherently drafted within, and between, the two in any work of art of any medium. Kid A was certainly a risk when Radiohead made it, both as a whole and in its individual parts, but the record still doesn’t venture very far from its overall mood (which is far from a bad thing (again, it puts it more into focus (and yes: putting Ok Computer in the first category was a joke (kind of)))). This is because it is difficult to do that without the record completely losing sight of itself, and, in turn, almost serves as a warning that that is exactly what will happen if not taken on a more consciously focused route (as technicality is much more easily quantified than emotions are). That is the risk: when where the album is going is a more complex (emotional-wise) endgame, it risks losing focus. (I’m ignoring the fact that most artists simply wouldn’t want to do this– sooner or later, something of a ‘transition album’ is likely unavoidable (I would argue that Hail to the Thief is Radiohead’s, though all records and artists are different (and therefore: where that album is placed as far as the artists repertoire goes ;D)).)
Red not only manages to avoid succumbing to this fate (by becoming subconsciously (emotionally), distractingly unfocused), but that seemingly conscious emotional ‘bipolar-ness’–something inherent in Swifty’s overall sound since her debut, much more than most artists (which is far from a bad thing)–actually helps the record to be both a better record, and a truer Swifty record, than any of her other records, given how emotionally up-front and stage-center she’s always been in the emotional aspect of her music (which is, again, much of her appeal (from an aesthetic perspective)).
Going from a song like the moody, happy-not-happy slow-country with a pop/rock underscore ‘Treacherous’–lyrically about taking risks and enjoying the ride to see where they go–to a song like the dubstep, pop-out-the-ass, and wildly lyrically opposing to ‘Treacherous’ ‘I knew You Were Trouble’ would be ludicrous and fatefully contradictory on almost any other record–even one by Swifty herself–and especially only three songs into the thing, but it works because it gives the record a bigger feel, and enables similar song-to-song transitions throughout the rest of the record, subsequently focusing a theoretically '‘un-focusable’ perfectly and within the context of the Swift having a history of this type of back-and-forth on her previous three records.
To get more detailed: through ‘State of Grace’, ‘Red’, ‘Treacherous’ and ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’, Swifty shifts from big-stadium/arena rock, to classic country in a style she’s never done this well, to slow country with a rock tinge, to straight-up dubstep, all with almost as many emotional highs and lows in each as a Smiths record. These first four are then followed by what true Swifty fans know as her best song (and which I am in agreement with, though it’s close), ‘All Too Well’, with at least two more classics in ‘22’ and the melancholy ‘I Almost Do’, filling in songs 6 and 7.
Point: This string of songs (and especially the following 9 (to the end)), keeps in line with the record’s emotional infidelity which it makes so compelling, both from an emotional and a technical point of view.
Think about it: ‘All Too Well’ is generally-sad, about romantic nostalgia, while ‘22’ is happy, about living in the moment having almost nothing to do with romance (unless it’s a call to not give a fuck about it). ‘I Almost Do’ is sad, about wanting to go back to the good ole days even though you know it’s a TERRIBLE idea, and yet ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ is about never looking to the past again at all, with an almost cynical undertone!–
I can understand why people may say that song alone (‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’) is the reason Red is her worst record (and trust me, I was there once), but I ardently disagree anymore: if you can get past its insane cheeky-ness (was it on purpose?), ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ is one of Swifty’s most honest songs–you can hear it in her voice at least as much as in any other song she’s ever recorded–and it’s passive aggressive as fuck, another oft-looked-over aspect of Swift’s unique, almost spontaneous-yet-somehow-still-subconsciously-focused sense of melody, song structure and lyricism, not to mention its place on Red–
In other words: it serves as a center-piece with the opposing positive ‘Stay, Stay, Stay’ (her best straight up country song ever, followed by 'Red') (again: the bipolar thing is part of the appeal), with another two acts on the back end, continuing the bipolar trend, and adding to the record’s conception of it: the heartbreaking ‘The Last Time’, the heartwarming (and most up-beat non-dubstep song on the record) ‘Holy Ground’, the super-sad ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’. From ‘The Lucky One’ to ‘Everything Has Changed’ to ‘Starlight’ to ‘Begin Again’, Swift takes the bipolar established from the very get-go (“We are alone with our changing minds />
We fall in love 'til it hurts or bleeds or fades in time /> And I never saw you coming /> And I'll never be the same,” is the end of the first verse and start of the chorus on ‘State of Grace’ (the first track)) to its logical conclusion: existential understanding. There is no such thing as ‘getting over’ bipolar disorder, only learning to live with it, or learning to use for something bigger.
Unnecessary side-point: No other record of Swift’s has shown such an understanding of how ‘transition records’ could possibly flow emotionally (to an extent: all of her albums are ‘transitionary’ albums, in that that’s really what they’re all about), and no other record showcases her ability to charge straight into it. I’ve always said that Swift’s musical career has mirrored that of metal giants Mastodon’s (partly as a joke, but not totally), and that Red was Swift’s Blood Mountain in regards to its musical and emotional diversity, its flow and the songs themselves, and its representation of where the artist was come from, artistically speaking, and where they were headed (that last part most of all). Swifty’s music has always had a poppy side, just as Mastodon has always had a prog-rock tinge; it was inevitable that these roots would eventually come out in a more focused fashion (on Swift’s 1989 and on Mastodon’s Crack The Skye), but it’s rare for it to happen so potently over one album. Even rarer is that album’s predecessor (Blood Mountain and Red), the one which introduced the recognized shift (for Mastodon it was Leviathan; for Swift Speak Now)–and, therefore, was also a kind of prelude to ‘the risk’–to be arguably just as good, and where the songs are the best, and arguably the most representative, of the artists’ career (Leviathan has ‘Blood and Thunder’, ‘Megalodon,’ and ‘Hearts Alive; Speak Now has ‘Mine’, ’Innocent’ and ‘Last Kiss’ (the latter of which introduced yet another element into her style which I think Swifty has yet to capitalize on: sad, melancholy-yet-hopeful, more singer/songwriter-type songs (hence my associating of her with Radiohead (kind of)) #ComplicatedMusicMayNotSellAsMuch,ButItMakesForBetterArtAnd,Therefore,BetterPeople #ChangeTheWorld,ChangePopularMusic #SpotifyShouldPayItsArtists).
Conclusion 1: Regardless of opinion, Red is a cool record if you’re into Taylor Swift’s sound (though: far from her ‘only’ cool record). It solidifies her ability to hit on a potently emotional level, but it also expands her sound more than anything prior or since (by quite a bit actually). Every song is cool, the flow is original, almost flawlessly executed, and the record altogether is a perfect representation of Swift’s overall M.O. But I’m not the only person in the world, so maybe my ‘friends’ are right (if they’re not on drugs (and if ‘friends’ is what they really are (is music a drug?))).
Either way, sorry for the strong words, fam; I’m a little lost on putting this one out.