Right up front here, let me first admit that I have Abba and The Carpenters in my CD collection (and thus in iTunes).
I’ve written recently (well, recent in this blog’s timescale) about my discovery of new music. Of how a series of events have built up to make me take a closer look. In this way I found The Naked and Famous and London Grammar. And now it has happened again, but this one is somewhat surprising and that’s the reason for my opening paragraph.
I’ve often said (if not here, then in real life) that I tend to avoid hype. Mostly that applies to movies but in some measure also to music. The more ‘screamingly popular’ a musical artist is, the less likely I am to check out their work. This is as a result of becoming seriously jaded by “mainstream” music over a lot of years. I still rarely listen to the radio and when I do I am rarely impressed by what I hear.
So imagine my surprise when I began to seriously consider checking out the music of Taylor Swift. The first catalyst was when she appeared in a performance on Australia’s X Factor show final.
I quite liked the song, Shake It Off. It’s definitely a highly produced Pop song, which is often where I turn off, but it was also catchy and I got a sense that it wasn’t so ordinary as I had expected. There were subtle parts to the song which caught my attention. But what really clicked for me was after the song was finished and Ms. Swift reacted to the audience and spoke with host Luke Jacobs. I saw a real person then. Other “top artists” had performed throughout the show’s run this year and some came across as plastic or even fake personas. Not so, Taylor. Take a look for yourself.
She even took the time to do an audience walk during the number – something all the contestants took advantage of but many of the invited guests did not. Respect!
For a while I didn’t really think much more about it, although I did seek out and watch the above YouTube clip again. Then the next catalyst popped up.
The influencer was Twitter philosopher Zac Cichy. Zac also implored his followers to check out Miley Cyrus, and I did, but her sound is not to my liking. With Taylor’s new album 1989now available (including Shake It Off), Zac said:
btw 1989 is the best album of the year.
— Zac Cichy (@zcichy) November 23, 2014
So, I decided I should check out the album. But how? It is famously not available on streaming services so that was a bit of a challenge. I’m a huge fan of not just spending my money to see if I like something (hmmm, don’t ask me how many iOS apps I’ve bought, though).
Here’s another admission. I found an ‘illicit’ copy online. I downloaded it with the intent of listening to it from end to end once. After that I would delete it. And that’s exactly what I did. The unknown at the start was whether I would want to own a copy.
Yes, I liked it a lot.
I’ve since listened to the album from end to end a couple of times. There are some real gems on there. Sure, there are definitely a number of straight up Pop numbers with high levels of sound production, but even those are done intelligently. Then there are the slightly less “Pop-py” sounding songs, one of which has become a firm favourite.
Another thing I often say (yes, I do talk a lot) is that one of my biggest musical penchants is powerful female vocalists. Something in my brain just clicks with the female voice belting out epic notes. But I also appreciate real vocal talent – where the singer doesn’t just “sing words to music” but puts real nuance and effort into using their voice as an instrument.
I can’t quite decide what it is about Welcome to New York that ticks my boxes. Perhaps it is the punchy synth (reminiscent, for me, of OMD). Perhaps it is the simple chorus with all its twists in delivery. Perhaps it is Taylor’s subtle and beautiful vocal twists especially in some of the later verses. Probably it’s all of those things together. It’s a good ‘un!
Since the original version of this post was released, the video of Welcome to New York, performed live on David Letterman’s show, has been removed and there are no good performances now available.
So, I implore you, check it out. This is not cheap, over-produced, mainstream Pop trash. It is quality music created by a lady who cares about what she creates. Click on the album cover to find it in iTunes.