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Everyone here was someone else before**

Having enjoyed a number of hits from Taylor Swift's 1989 album, I decided to buy the CD. And I enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) it very much! It's a rumination on the various ways you can feel and react during a love affair, how you can feel such intensely contradictory things at different moments (or in different relationships, but really, almost all of the emotional states could be reactions to the same relationship, but in different moods and states of self-perception).

I lent it to Wakanomori, who had a take-it-or-leave-it reaction, but remarked, "She really does go on about her own red lips, doesn't she." And she does. Three songs, two of them sitting cheek to cheek on the CD, feature red (or cherry) lips.1 Is that body-positivity? Vanity? Conforming to traditional femininity? Enjoying herself? Probably all of those. But what it got me thinking about was how many images repeated across songs, sometimes word for word. This could be the sign of someone with a very small word horde, who has to keep reusing things, but what if we gave her the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was artistry? What if it's the album equivalent of creating a sestina? Since thinking that, I've been meaning to do an analysis, and . . . Here it is!


The songs are listed in order of appearance on the CD, with two songs on the sidelines, "Welcome to New York" (which comes first) and "Shake It Off" (the first big hit from the album; it occurs at about the two-thirds mark). Those two songs, unlike the rest, express liberation from the love game; they're confident, outward-looking, optimistic. As you can see if you turn your head sideways, they share some words too. But it's the links in the main sequence that interest me.

The words and phrases she repeats are breathless, grab my hand, perfect storm, go down in flames/burn it down, daydream, red/cherry lips, mad love, bullet holes/bulletproof, wildest dreams, scars/permanent mark, cheeks and kisses, and rain, along with a four-song riff on driving and car accidents.

The short fat arrows show repetition of images between contiguous songs. Look how many there are! In some cases, they show development (how do you get the girl? With kisses on cheeks, the singer persona says in "How You Get the Girl," and then in "This Love," she specifies, "your kiss, my cheek"). Sometimes it's a change in perspective: in "Blank Space," the singer persona is a nightmare dressed like a daydream; in the next song, the lover has a daydream look in his eye.

The car/driving riff is both funny (the guy "can't keep his wild eyes on the road" in "Style," so is it surprising that in the next two songs, there are car crashes? He hits the brakes too soon in one and drives off the road in the next) and a good metaphor for talking about relationships. A poet I admire, Christina Ruest-Hall, has written about how poetry can be therapeutic because metaphor lets us explore painful things without addressing them directly. I think the driving-crashing riff does that here.

And now look at the long thin lines--they show connection of images between songs that are distant. In "Blank Space," the lover in the song is breathless. In "Bad Blood" the singer persona can't breathe. And then, in "Clean," the last song of the album, the persona can finally breathe. In "Blank Space," in which the singer persona describes herself as an unpredictable, erratic nightmare of a lover, she creates a perfect storm. In "Clean," a perfect storm washes away all the remains of a bad love affair. Or take the "grab my hand" line. In "Blank Space," the proffered hand is an enticement to a disaster; in "I Know Places," it's an offer of escape from pursuers. Almost universally, things get better/stronger: in "Bad Blood" Band-Aids don't fix bullet holes, but by the time we reach "I know Places," the singer persona and her lover are bulletproof.

So yes: I think this [ETA: by which I mean, her choice of words, not my diagram!!] shows deliberate artistry in service of unifying the album, both through direct song-by-song links and through links that connect songs that are distant from each other. By using repeated images in different contexts, she's emphasizing that it's the same situation seen from a new angle. They're not particularly startling images--they're pretty stock, in fact--but that makes the songs accessible to a wide audience. Nice job, Taylor Swift! You've got a good album here!

**from "Welcome to New York"
1And speaking of cheeks, they are featured in three consecutive songs, as you can see from the handy chart.


( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 16th, 2016 03:02 pm (UTC)
This is the most brilliant album cover I have seen. And it could be in a chapter of Donald Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming.
Jun. 16th, 2016 03:16 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you like my mad diagram :-) It is definitely very flow-chart-esque.
Jun. 16th, 2016 03:09 pm (UTC)
In fact, the authors of the Bible did the same thing, in creating a saga of their understanding of HaShem, continuing over about five hundred years. Though we wouldn't know if the books hadn't been assembled into such a saga.

Hmmm. I should look at Hebrew Bible aporypha to see if similar words and images jump out at me from there.
Jun. 16th, 2016 03:15 pm (UTC)
So did people doing renga (linked verse) together in Japan: there were rules about images being repeated and spaced. If you used a powerful image (like the moon), then the next couple of links needed to also feature it--and then it couldn't come up again for a good while.
(no subject) - amaebi - Jun. 16th, 2016 03:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jun. 16th, 2016 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - amaebi - Jun. 16th, 2016 06:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 16th, 2016 04:43 pm (UTC)
I love this sort of close reading.
Jun. 16th, 2016 05:20 pm (UTC)
They're fun to do--hell, pattern finding is like humankind's second- or third-favorite hobby.
(no subject) - shewhomust - Jun. 17th, 2016 05:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 16th, 2016 05:00 pm (UTC)
It's positively Homeric!

Jun. 16th, 2016 05:19 pm (UTC)

I feel a little embarrassed bringing all this weight to bear on pop songs, but it's fun!
(no subject) - pameladean - Jun. 16th, 2016 05:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jun. 16th, 2016 06:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pameladean - Jun. 16th, 2016 06:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jun. 16th, 2016 06:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pameladean - Jun. 16th, 2016 06:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 16th, 2016 05:15 pm (UTC)
Oooh, this is fascinating. I have TSwift's other CDs; I should see if they show a similar progression of images.

I do know that she likes to reuse images. I am pretty sure that there's at least one song in every album that references rain: rain pouring down, kissing in the rain, running out in the rain to catch up with a lover or escape from a fight. Driving features a lot too: sitting in the front seat next to a boy is the positive image, cars crashing the negative.
Jun. 16th, 2016 05:18 pm (UTC)
Oh do! And let me know. I also notice that the very memorable, if odd, use of "scarlet letter" in "Love Story" also occurs in her recent song, "New Romantics."
(no subject) - osprey_archer - Jun. 17th, 2016 05:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jun. 18th, 2016 11:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - osprey_archer - Jun. 19th, 2016 02:03 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 16th, 2016 06:25 pm (UTC)
Wow...thats such a cool flowchart you made of her songs...makes me wonder how small her world is. :)
Jun. 16th, 2016 06:35 pm (UTC)
I actually admire how she is able to take these small store of images and turn it to so many purposes.
Jun. 16th, 2016 07:38 pm (UTC)
Since thinking that, I've been meaning to do an analysis, and . . . Here it is!

It's wonderful. (It would make a perfect album cover.)
Jun. 16th, 2016 10:54 pm (UTC)
You're the second commenter to suggest it as an album cover, which bemuses me a little? I meant it only as a tool for visualizing connections. But I'm really glad you do like it!
(no subject) - sovay - Jun. 17th, 2016 12:43 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jun. 17th, 2016 01:07 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 17th, 2016 04:53 am (UTC)
:D I don't know the album, but I like the analysis very much!
Jun. 18th, 2016 11:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I had fun doing it.
Jun. 17th, 2016 10:13 pm (UTC)
Interesting, thanks! Sometimes, when I can't sleep on long flights, I like to listen to an album on repeat with the volume turned down so it's barely audible. The last time I went to the US, I ended up listening to 1989 about three or four times, end on end. Since I was drifting in and out of sleep, it was a very interesting experience...
Jun. 18th, 2016 11:32 pm (UTC)
What sorts of things did drifting-to-sleep you notice?
(no subject) - khiemtran - Jun. 19th, 2016 05:02 am (UTC) - Expand
( 33 comments — Leave a comment )

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