Pop Talk: Underground Artists Review Taylor Swift

2014’s best-selling album, Taylor Swift’s 1989, is still dominating pop charts in 2015. The record has earned countless accolades, and a week after Swift bagged eight Billboard Music Awards in May it reclaimed the second spot on the Top 100. Still, the album’s relevance in the mainstream seems worlds away from the underground. But are there connections? We’ve attempted to bridge the gap by tapping four artists to tell us how they feel about the megahit. Here, American rapper Cakes Da Killa,Tri Angle Records associate WIFE, and two SHAPE artists—experimental trance composer Lorenzo Senni and Drum Eyes member/improvisational violinist Kathy Alberici— weigh in.

Taylor Swift’s impressive, no-filler songwriting makes doom-psych maestro Kathy Alberici wish she were twelve again.

It seems strange to write a review of a record that is already so omnipotent that I can hum the choruses of half the tracks on there. I played the album today in the car as a drove round the streets of Berlin anticipating the need to switch it off pretty quickly, but damn, it’s too catchy. There’s no fluff, no filler, just straight out joyful pop music making me wish I were 12-years-old so I could dance on my bed miming with a hairbrush. Each song is a perfectly crafted piece of sing-a-long sunshine. There’s nothing revolutionary about this music, just all the right ingredients for great pop: a girl who can actually sing, writes all her own songs, and pumps out enough hooks per track to make anybody believe they know all the words. Dangerous stuff.

He’s not twelve years old. He’s not a fan of the middle class. He is sick of heteronormativity. The man who calls himself WIFE doesn’t like a lot about 1989.

I expected to like some of this record and thought it could at least hold a candle to some of Katy Perry’s best tracks, but it falls very short. The tracks are catchy enough, but none of them are outstanding or even particularly good. What’s really difficult about the whole thing is that it has the lyrical appeal of a prepubescent diary. Tay Tay’s anecdotes might seem reasonable when you’re 12 years old, but by the time you hit 16 you know that it’s all garbage. It sounds like the pinnacle of the upper-middle class: too safe, too white. It’s drenched in nostalgia, but not that real nostalgia that comes from a human with a heart that feels real things; it’s the kind of nostalgia that is born of an 80 minute rom-com. Throughout the record I hear a person without any emotional investment in what they’re doing, and anyone who has seen a man and woman on skates singing “A Whole New World” will understand that this record has a lot in common with Disney on Ice.

Rapper and New Jersey native Cakes Da Killa on why Taylor Swift writes songs for That Hoe Over There.

There’s no denying that Taylor Swift is an industry heavy hitter. With writing accolades from NYC to Nashville, millions of records sold and a few Grammys in tote, she’s literally America’s favorite girl next door. The first track on her album 1989, “Welcome To New York,” would be the perfect jingle for a rush hour stroll through Time Square, which any sane person would avoid. The second single, “Blank Space,” is clearly a candy-coated thot anthem. Honestly, this line alone sold me on the track: “…and I thought, ‚Oh my God/Look at that face/You look like my next mistake.” Genius! Swift’s pen game is clearly polished but some of the hooks sound too much like commercial mind control, especially in tracks like “Shake It Off” and “I Wish You Would,” which is a cute track because I know Taylor was trying to say “I wish a bitch would” but in a cute way – well played, miss Swift. The last track, “Clean,” is a personal favorite, maybe because I’m love starved, or maybe because I need to do laundry. I don’t know. This album was made for those drunken karaoke smackdowns we regret getting tagged in later on Instagram but it was cute night nonetheless. The moral of the story is that Taylor Swift is lusty as fuck.

Dance music dissector Lorenzo Senni hears something in Coldplay that he doesn’t hear in Taylor Swift—something only an emoticon and an unedited review can describe.

OK the record cover reminds me she is in her mid-twenties and i’m wondering why she is showing only her lips. that’s probably the best way to say to all the girls out there, “hey i’m one of you!” Instagram, Facebook, we are all a bit insecure about how we look.

After a couple of listenings i tried to focus more …i’ve been looking for cool sounds, a nice texture, a very well shaped synth line. Sure i can expect it from OPN, Hecker or Gigi Masin but here i could potentially see how to make it work inside a more fixed structure, in the economy of a song with its rules etc etc. Doesn’t need to be always challenging but we often underestimate how sensible our auditory system is to all these sonic events. This is what i’m interested in, especially when big studios and Pro-people are involved in the making of a pop record. But the album stream was not giving any help to keep listening to it, and unfortunately i had to give up on my research.

I realized that my brain already digested singles like “Blank Space” and “Shake It Off”, i’m sure i was infected (not in negative way, just objectively contaminated by a poppy virus) by this tracks listening to the italian radio while i used to wash my dishes. I’m talking about tracks that count more than 839.501.567 views on youtube, global hits …and as i’m listening to a lot of pop music i have to say that I’m a bit disappointed when i realized that this record is not providing that ubiquitous Trancy feel that even Coldplay in “A Sky Full Of Stars” presented as an uplifting coda. “Style” is the only track i’ve been tempted to listen again out from this review, i was driving and was working well. We all know that pop records needs just a couple of big hits to reach good results, but this won’t be enough to write the history.


This article originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine. Click here to read more from this issue.