Until recent years country music was listened to with hesitance in the UK. The once uncool genre has, over the years, become a beacon of popularity with the likes of Shania Twain, Lady Antebellum and Carrie Underwood all flying the flag of twang and heartbreak for our American counterparts. Though the genre has changed dramatically over the past decade, finding its way into the mainstream by adopting a crossover pop quality to it, one act in recent years has been at the core of the genres makeover and that star is Taylor Swift.
Swift’s first big release in the UK came with her phenomenal sophomore record, Fearless. With chart topping singles that included ‘Love Story’ and ‘You Belong With Me’, Fearless quickly established Swift as one of music’s most acclaimed and successful country crossover acts. ‘Speak Now’, Swift’s third studio album, further solidified America’s sweetheart within music’s history books, selling one million copies in its first week of release and sent the songbird on the road for 13 months to perform to over 1.3 million fans on the ‘Speak Now’ World Tour.
At just 22 years old the starlet has achieved more than some of her legendary peers selling an impressive 22 million records globally and raking in the awards, taking home six Grammys, six Country Music Awards, 10 American Music Awards and countless others to add to her mantle. She has also taken to acting, appearing alongside the likes of Julia Roberts and Shirley MacLaine in the romantic comedy Valentine’s Day as well as more recently, The Lorax alongside Danny DeVito and Betty White.
Swift releases her fourth studio album this week. Titled Red the album is already being hailed as a success for the musician following the records lead single, ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’, securing of the number one spot on the Billboard 100 charts and instantly becoming the singers biggest single chart success so far.
Red is a much more mature release for Swift than her previous offerings and sees the musician dipping her toe into other genres quite extensively on this last record. The ever evolving superstar seems reluctant to find a permanent musical nesting spot with her talent at genre blending finding its place more predominantly with each passing release.
It’s a powerful addition to Swift’s growing catalogue with notable characteristics being the album’s diversity and experimental bravery as we hear the musician genre hopping periodically, a quality to the record that keeps things not only fresh but varied for us listeners as well as for herself as an artist. Swift’s roots lay in country and that is heard throughout Red with the likes of the gorgeous, acoustic guitar driven balladry of ‘I Almost Do’ and the closing slide guitar laced ‘Begin Again’ grounding the singers musical roots here.
‘The Lucky One’ unleashes a soft-rock ballad rich in sweet breathy tones and some raw guitar-work which take centre stage on the track. A series of complimenting chord changes and a chorus that Swift has sculpted to remind herself not to take her success for granted add to the already memorable quality of this track which confidently holds its place as one of the albums most inspiring additions.
UK musicians get the nod on Red with Swift collaborating with two songwriting notables both hailing from UK shores. Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol joins Swift on the enchanting piano led for ‘The Last Time’. The deep and slow paced keys welcome in Lightbody’s distinctive vocals which find themselves draped around Swifts eloquent serenading. A gorgeous harmony filled vocal arrangement unites the two within a track that is lyrically aching for forgiveness and an instrumentation that combines both Swift and Lightbody’s individual styles perfectly.
The second collaboration sees Swift welcoming the UK’s biggest success story of the past year, Ed Sheeran, onto the sweet ‘Everything Has Changed’. The song starts with Sheeran asking Swift if she is “good to go?” before the songs dives straight into acoustic waters and sounds raw and acapella with all but Sheeran’s acoustic guitar and an occasional string section providing the backdrop for the duet as the pair unveil a track that hits all the right notes in terms of a successful and memorable duet.
‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ finds its place on too, as one of the more ‘commercial-pop’ influenced additions. Produced by Swedish super producer Max Martin, the man behind many of the industry’s most successful pop records from the likes of Backstreet Boys, Britney Speaks, Pink and Kelly Clarkson, the track is another highlight on ‘Red’ with its strong Euro-pop sensibilities. The song, which tells of Swift’s attraction for the bad-boy types and ignoring the red flags, overflows with a rich dubstep beat and mainstream teen-pop appeal. Proving that no style is a challenge for this superstar, Red is a fantastic collection of 16 new hits for the American superstar.