Musicologists can at last sleep soundly knowing that the simmering debate over Taylor Swift’s genre has indisputably ended. Red, Swift’s fourth studio album, boasts powerful dubstep pulses, refreshingly mature themes, and a timid but not unwelcome push into instrumental experimentation, pointing to one unavoidable conclusion: the former teen country-pop star is growing up.
Swift does not abruptly abandon country music altogether; the title track is backed by a twanging electric guitar and a steady banjo rhythm as the 22-year-old recounts yet another breakup. Even on “Red,” however, the lyrical content is more forceful. “His love was like driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street,” concludes Swift, as the listener realizes that the days of high school drama and pickup trucks are gone.
The more upbeat, blatantly pop tracks on Red could easily have migrated over from a Katy Perry record in terms of both quality and subject matter, especially given “Part of Me” and “I Kissed a Girl” co-writer Max Martin’s input into Red. “22,” for instance, is dominated by a kick drum and electronic rhythms which almost entirely obscure the acoustic guitar struggling to be heard. The vocals perfectly match this instrumentation, as Swift shouts assorted adages promoting living with reckless abandon.
“I Knew You Were Trouble” emulates this formula, pushing into a full-blown booming dubstep chorus complete with Swift’s occasionally distorted and simplistic, repeating lyrics.
In spite of the commanding instrumental lines, the measured, more meaningful love song from Swift’s repertoire is in no way absent from Red, as “All Too Well” epitomizes this style. Clocking in at nearly six minutes, the track is the longest on the album, but not a second is wasted. A soft flattop paves the way for a crying electric slide as Swift once again reminisces about her fondness for the occasional relationship gone wrong. A drum set, a subdued series of piano notes, and crunchy guitar chords build to quivering, potent vocals at the chorus before subsiding into a lone acoustic guitar that fades into silence at the conclusion.
At over an hour in length, Red is a massive album, made even more so by the vast array of content and experimentation pumped into the 16 songs. While not completely convincing, Taylor Swift’s cautious evolution is certainly a step in the right direction and, at the very least, provides her with more options for complaining about her seemingly endless boyfriends and breakups.