Our Arts Editor Hannah Story would like to passionately advocate for Taylor Swift's '1989' as the album of the decade – mostly because it scored her drunken house parties.
Taylor Swift’s 1989 is the best record of the ‘10s. No other album has had the same cultural impact, winning the Grammy for Album Of The Year, and setting the tone for the next five years of commercial pop. And what makes good commercial pop? Catchy songs with straightforward lyrics about love and loss and finding inner strength, paired with beats that gallop persistently forward, and invite listeners to feel something.
No other album this decade has so perfectly soundtracked a drunken house party, so jam-packed as it is with dancefloor belters. Or upped the vibe on a long car drive down the coast. Or made people unknowingly break out into a strut on the way to the office.
And who else sums up the weird culture of the ‘10s – everything is content, everyone is morally questionable, the world is ending and that’s terrifying so shall we dance – more than Tay?
"Taylor Swift unwittingly or not (I’d suggest not) became a symbol of the decade."
In 2012, Swift dropped Red, an album which saw the country singer start to test out her pop songwriting chops with tracks like We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together and 22. She followed it up with this glorious, flawless pop album – 13 songs, zero filler, driven by the technical nous of Swift and mega-producer Max Martin, with the assistance of people like Imogen Heap and Jack Antonoff, to take us away from traditional ‘90s pop formations a la Britney Spears or Madonna. The ‘edgy’ effort of Reputation followed in 2017, seemingly a response to that Kanye West Famous scandal, before this year’s saccharine (in a good way) love letter to Swift’s partner, Joe Alwyn, Lover.
Do you remember where you were when Shake It Off pissed off the entire world? Taylor Swift biting back at haters only managed to confirm their reasonable suspicions of her, as she used Black bodies as props in the cheerleading video clip. But then she released a collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, easily the rapper of the decade and one of the most powerful commentators on race and class in America right now, for Bad Blood, a song which was believed to be a provocation to Swift’s longtime rival, Katy Perry. It wasn’t the only seemingly referential track on the record either – who could forget feeling clever for understanding the obvious joke at the core of third single Style, a perfect description of Swift’s ex, Harry Styles.
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1989 stuck in the Australian zeitgeist in 2014/15 with #TayForHottest100 – now-#MeToo accused Ryan Adams’ cover album of the record was eligible for the Hottest 100, but Swift was not, despite it featuring arguably the single of the year. The decade of Taylor Swift then collided with the revelations of the #MeToo movement, the artist suing morning show host David Mueller for sexual assault in 2017. She became an extremely flawed white woman pin-up for a movement built by Black activist Tarana Burke, and went on to become more political from there, actively advocating for people to vote for the Democrats in the 2018 midterms.
Taylor Swift unwittingly or not (I’d suggest not) became a symbol of the decade. In discussions of race politics and the representation of sexuality her failures were often gleefully picked apart, from Shake It Off to the cringey You Need To Calm Down, but also provoked a necessary conversation about cultural appropriation and the limits of allyship. That’s without even beginning to pick apart the way her current dispute with Scooter Braun is putting artists’ tenuous rights over their own songs into the spotlight.
Over the decade, Swift had a series of high profile romances, with people like Tom Hiddleston, Jake Gyllenhaal and Calvin Harris. She ended it all with the focus not on her songs, like the wink and prod of The Man or the song for this season, Cruel Summer, but by taking a starring role in that most cursed of summer blockbusters, Cats.
"Am I arguing that 1989 is a break-up album?"
But ultimately this is all faff. It’s a way to intellectualise something much more viscerally felt. The real reason 1989 is the best record of the decade in my eyes is because it’s the album that gave me the most joy – and articulated my anguish for me.
All You Had To Do Was Stay and I Wish You Would scored my first adult break-up, when my ex moved to the other side of the world. Bad Blood then summed up all the rage – and the generous serve of pity – that followed and Blank Space that delicious period where the fractured self starts to almost, not quite, be ready to date again. Eventually, years later, singing along in the shower to Clean, dwelling on that image of neglected flowers, proved that I was finally at peace with the end of a relationship that I had felt marked me in some permanent way.
Am I arguing that 1989 is a break-up album? Maybe. Or at least it felt that way to me for most of this decade.
But it’s also a record I associate with drinking too much wine and jumping up and down in excitement in friends’ living rooms, people careening into each other as the lyrics come spilling out onto the carpeted floor. It’s the album that my friends and I sung along to at the top of our lungs in houses from Sydney to New York to London. It seemed to pull together all of our young adult angst and excitement and burning emotion and wrapped it in synths and “sick beats”.
Now, it’s just an album I like to put on the record player to dance to and cry out along with, which helps me to inhabit and console a past self, because I’m finally Out Of The Woods.