Go ahead and roll your eyes at Taylor Swift and her new album. Even as (arguably) the world’s biggest pop star, she’s lacking the usual qualifications. A more powerful voice, for starters. Or dance moves. Or the sex appeal of your favorite American Girl doll. It makes you wonder how she manages to keep company with the Gagas, Pussycats and Ke$has, at all.
But don’t dismiss this country crossover darling. With her every-girl pop songs and “aw shucks” demeanor, Swift has something far more powerful than any bra-baring glitter-bomb will ever possess: the friend factor.
On Speak Now, her third full length, Swift whispers her secrets into the eager ears of millions. Like Fearless she’s still telling you about the boy who broke her heart and what she would have said if only she’d had the chance. This time, though, the boys are superstars and those imaginary conversations aren’t taking place in high school hallways.
Swift is growing up, and her lyrics are too. You see hints of it on songs like “Mean,” where she boldly quips to her critics, “All you are is mean/ And a liar/ And pathetic/ And alone in life.” And on “Dear John,” where she laments her John Mayer tryst with a wizened “I should have known.”
Perhaps she should have. But it’s that earnestness, simplicity and willingness to over-share that has, in part, earned Swift a legion of best friends—not to mention three platinum albums, four Grammys and a fistful of Number One songs.
Of course, it’d be foolish to ignore Swift’s spot-on pop sensibilities. At its best, her songwriting stands as a shining example of Top 40 music—full of cinematic build-ups and addictive repeatability. At its worst, it’s dull and derivative of some of the more ear-numbing music available. On Speak Now, Swift is strongest when she lets her country roots shine through. Both “Mine” and “Mean,” are examples of her ability to craft instantly catchy hits. It’s only when she ups the pop-starlet ante (“The Story Of Us”), that she starts to sound like Katy Perry’s annoying cousin.
Speak Now solidifies Swift as a pop star in her own right. She may not have the edge of Lady Gaga or the sex appeal of a young Britney, but, much like Beyonce, she does want someone to put a ring on it—even if that does mean meeting her dad and promising you’ll love her forever.