Taylor Swift's Red is bulletproof -- an album that's impervious to any sort of critical assault. Of course, the naysayers can say the production is too poppy, the lyrics trite, and the overall sentiment stolen from the diary of an overwrought teen. But if you don't think self-exposure, self-involvement, and self-consciousness are crucial to Swift's success, you don't really understand her.
Most self-evident on the new album are her attempts to expand her sound, working heavily with producer Shellback (Pink, Britney Spears) and pegging alt-band boy Ed Sheeran to write and sing on "Everything Has Changed." But as with Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, sound and image go hand-in-hand when you're a pop star. Taylor Swift isn't just a singer, she's an entertainment experience -- a ride, an event, a product. Now getting older (she's 22), the singer is making an obvious effort at rebranding.*
Rest assured, you can judge Taylor 2.0 by its cover -- from the Instagram-era artwork to the less childish typeface. (The new font is Tungsten, a "compact and sporty sans serif that's disarming instead of pushy -- not just loud, but persuasive.") For the listener, the modern-retro sensibility is in full-force on "22," where post-adolescents get their meta-kicks by pretending to be poseurs, that is "dressing like hipsters."
While we're on the subject of authenticity, let's go ahead and ask the question: Does Taylor Swift have anything to do with country music anymore? Probably not, not that it matters. And, rest assured, the singer is determined to sidestep that issue with the ease of a political candidate. Making the case that Swift still has roots in something passingly acoustic are the wistful "I Almost Do" and downright catchy "Begin Again."
Nevertheless, after all this circling about how Red is resistant to the arrows of critical writing, reviews these days are still required, and required to have ratings. In the interest of statistical evaluation, which the marketing professionals among you will appreciate, I'll let the numbers do the talking.**
Here are the averaged results from my track-by-track review of Red:
Album Rating: 3.6875 = 3 1/2 stars (out of five)
Pop Quotient: 3.6875 = 3 1/2 stars (out of five)
Country Quotient: 2.625 = 2 1/2 stars (out of five)
And more importantly:
First week album sales: 1.208 million
* That's middle-management-speak for changing who you are perceived to be.
** I made up the raw "data," but who will know the difference?