Pop Song Review: Taylor Swift, “Style”

Despite my best attempts to keep up with all things current, somehow a new Taylor Swift single managed to pass me by. I’m beginning to think I’m not putting enough effort into this whole “eye on the mainstream” thing; either that or it’s not worth the effort I do put in. Anyway, here’s my review of the new Taylor Swift song, “Style”.

First impressions: I don’t mind this. Nice minimalist groove in the background there, decent melody… sounds like a good song to take a night-drive to.

The music: First things first, “Style” is probably the first official single from Swift’s latest album, 1989, that sounds like it could actually have been written and recorded in the Eighties, or at least the early Nineties. It’s got that slick New Wave vibe to it in those shimmering surfaces, while the choppy funk-guitar groove runs smoothly alongside the synth pulse, giving the track a nice and vaguely danceable beat. Comparisons to Depeche Mode are a bit of a push (though would at least succeed in aggravating a Depeche Mode super-fan friend of mine) but there is a certain sensuality to the sound here that that band often pull off with ease. I like that it’s not too vigorous, either – the lean, dark synth lines and minimalist vibe add a sense of fatigue that chimes well with the lyrical subject.

I kinda wish the chorus (the first one, at least) had more of a payoff than that “out – of – style” non-hook, though. What cadence is that the chorus ends on, anyway? I appreciate it’s not a typical perfect pop cadence, but it’s still a bit jarring. Also, something about “Style” reminds me of Swift’s breakout hit, “Love Story.” I think it’s the chorus melody, the way those syllables hammer the tune one by one. This is very much a dance-pop song, though, so the synths fizz and glide (as they do) while everything builds to that big whooshy rush. Calculated, perhaps, but still effective.

Unfortunately, although my first impression was quite positive, a second listen isn’t particularly rewarding. It’s certainly polished but apart from that (admittedly neat) little groove there isn’t much going on under the hood, while the shiny production makes the music about as intimate an experience as pressing your ear up against a window. That said, there is a warmth, a heartbeat to “Style” that, for me at least, makes it a far more pleasant song to listen to than something like “Blank Space”. For the most part, though, style trumps substance here – so, fitting name, really.

The lyrics: Initially (based on the title alone), I figured Swift had written a female-centric retort to David Bowie’s “Fashion” which, frankly, would have been great. Instead “Style” is written about an ex. Hey, nobody complains that all Sam Smith sings about is how lonely he is (except me, from now on). Besides, it’s a little more complicated than that… actually it isn’t, but let’s continue, anyway.

“Midnight, you come and pick me up / No headlights / Long drive, could end in burning flames or paradise.” Without his headlights on, one of those outcomes is looking a lot likelier than the other. But okay, it’s about a late-night hook-up. How long a drive, though? If it’s more than an hour or so I’d recommend dropping the whole thing for the night. Remember, nothing good happens after 2 a.m.

“I should just tell you to leave cause I / Know exactly where it leads but I / Watch us go round and round each time.” Each time? Right, so this has happened before. Fair enough. Does he leave his headlights off every time as well? Details are quite scant at the moment, so if this is about a specific ex then TMZ have their work cut out for them this time. Also, she’s still in his car at this point – if anyone’s leaving, it shouldn’t be the driver. This is less a song than a PSA for Think!.

“You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye / And I got that red lip classic thing that you like.” Well, men do generally prefer red lips over, say, green ones. Admittedly there is something about that classic, early- to mid-twentieth century aesthetic that remains appealing: the glamorous women, the slick-cool men, all tearing up Hollywood with their parties and films and general disregard for the worries of the world, until about half of them met their end in a hotel bedroom or the mangled remnants of a motorcar. Speaking of which, that headlights line is still bugging me.

Also, I would have liked it if she’d drawn another comparison from that era; instead she just leaves it at Dean. Is that the only person she wanted to throw in there? She could have fleshed it out a bit. Were there no other classic actors she could have mentioned whose style never went out of… er, style? Perhaps a woman – Ginger Rogers, maybe? Grace Kelly? Mae West (going back a bit here)? Marilyn Monroe’s a bit of a cliché but still a worthy choice. Also, I need to go play some L.A. Noire, like, right now.

“You got that long hair, slicked back, white t-shirt / And I got that good girl faith and a tight little skirt.” Okay, so we’re talking specifically James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, except Dean’s hair wasn’t all that long in that film. Well, long by 1955 standards, I suppose, but… hang on, isn’t the album called 1989?

“I say, I heard that you been out and about with some other girl / He says, what you’ve heard it’s true but I / Can’t stop thinking about you and I / I said I’ve been there too a few times.” Wait, that’s it? That’s the payoff? They’re just all, “yep, we’ve both done some stuff. Anyway, bed?” That can’t be it. Surely there’s more to be explored here – conflicting feelings about hooking up with an ex? The question of whether this’ll turn into something more or stay what it is? I thought Swift was a good storyteller, or at least a competent one. There are Amazon reviews with more interesting narratives than this song.

“Just take me home.” You’re already home. Remember, “he takes me home”? Just go to sleep, you two. You’re clearly knackered.

By Swift’s standards these aren’t great lyrics. Two exes hooking up and still having the hots for each other is an old story but one that can still be handled well with some originality and detail. Unfortunately the narrative here is uneventful and lacking in the information required to make a decent story out of it. They’re not bad lyrics, just not particularly good either; and from Swift we can probably expect better by this point (though by someone like Katy Perry’s standards they’re practically Dickensian). Even tabloid junkies looking for another fix of melodrama aren’t going to find much to chew on here.

Verdict: 3 out of 5, I think. My brain’s telling me the lyrics are unfulfilling and the music is lacking in depth, but my heart’s not bothered by any of that, and the point of this song, I think, is that the heart wants what it wants. So there we are.

Today’s double-up is “She’s in Fashion” by Suede. See what I did there?


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