It's a Red-lettered album for Swift

Taylor Swift’s new album, Red, shows her evolution from country musician to pop singer. (credit: Courtesy of Eva Rinaldi via Flickr) Taylor Swift’s new album, Red, shows her evolution from country musician to pop singer. (credit: Courtesy of Eva Rinaldi via Flickr)

Taylor Swift became famous for her bright country-crossover sound and instantly captured the coveted teen girl demographic upon the release of her eponymous first album. While her new album Red is definitely a departure from her usual style, it is still largely a success.

The album’s title track, “Red,” is one of the clearest examples of Swift’s changed style. “Red” addresses the same classic Swift themes of young, passionate, unrequited love, built on the remains of her original country sound — the original demo recording even opens with the twang of a banjo — but with a new infusion of pop. “22” uses a strong backbeat and feel-good lyrics to chronicle Swift’s slightly more mature emotional outlook as a 22-year-old. Similarly, the hit single that preceded Red, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” combined a catchy, upbeat tune with just the right amount of teen angst to top the charts for weeks.

Perhaps the most surprising song of the album for many long-time Swift fans is “I Knew You Were Trouble,” which combines a catchy refrain with a wailing beat. Though this song does a good job of exhibiting Swift’s impressive voice, it seems a little confused in its purpose.

While her musical style may have changed in Red, Swift definitely decided to go back to her roots when it came to subject matter. Red doesn’t add much to Swift’s somewhat tired themes; the songs flit from celebrating young love to bitterly denouncing it with the same element of girl power that originally made her music so appealing. While many see Swift’s stylistic adaptation as a bad thing, Red continues the trend that started as far back as her second album, Fearless, and continues in her third, Speak Now. All of these show a move to a more pop-focused style for Swift as she gradually strays from her original country sound.

Despite the pervasive new style, Red also carries a heavy load of standard Swift-style ballads, including “Treacherous” and “Come Back... Be Here.” Songs like these align more closely with what many Swift fans are probably expecting and do a good job of tying the album back to her roots. More charged songs like “Starlight” also appeal to a traditional Swift demographic; with its passionate crescendo of a chorus and sometimes unfamiliar electronic beats, “Starlight” is as evocative as similar power ballads from her previous albums, but with a new, more synthetic twist.

Overall, Red represents a broad sampling of Swift’s traditional offerings with a few surprises thrown in. Although her exploration of musical style might alienate a few traditional followers, her more electronic, pop-laden sound might also attract a few new ones, and stalwart fans will be intrigued by the evolution.

Swift also threw in a few collaborations, including “The Last Time” with the largely unknown Gary Lightbody and “Everything Has Changed” with the ever-more-popular British artist Ed Sheeran. Songs like these appeal to a broader fan base. Swift collaborates especially well with Sheeran, whose music falls into a similar genre as her own.

There’s no doubt that Red has a few missteps; sometimes Swift ventures a little bit too far out of her comfort zone. In the song “I Knew You Were Trouble,” she experiments with her sound in a way that just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album. However, the outlook on the album is generally positive.

Red will undoubtedly spark claims that Swift is a sellout who has abandoned her original fan base, as new albums from big-name artists always do. However, Red exemplifies Swift’s diversity as an artist and her willingness to experiment, rather than her pandering to the masses. Like Swift’s previous work, Red will still be the go-to album for the average teenager at the happy start of a relationship — or more often, at the bitter end of one.