Earlier this week Taylor Swift revealed—via Tumblr, of course—that her favorite author is Fault in Our Stars writer John Green. It makes sense: they’re blockbusters, popular with teen girls, often dismissed because they’re popular with teen girls. But at its best, 1989—which is set to sell $1 million in its first week—sounds less John Green–style sentimental than any of her previous records. Like some others have pointed out, the vibe is more Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, the year’s other bestselling book-turned-movie. And on “Blank Space,” the best song on the album (runners-up: “Out of the Woods,” “Style”), Swift is full-on channeling Amy Dunne, 2014’s other sociopathic blond pop princess.
Swift spent a lot of the 1989 publicity cycle talking about how much less “boy-centric” this album would be. It was a bit of a bait-and-switch; most of the songs are about boys, and there are none of the paeans to the joys of female friendship that she talks about in interviews. But the songs aren’t really about the specifics of any relationship in the way previous Swift albums have been—except “Out of the Woods,” the track with the most concise, evocative songwriting (“Remember when you hit the brakes too soon/Twenty stitches in a hospital room”), which is about her relationship with Harry Styles. Instead, Taylor has gone full pop by stripping her writing of its specificity, leading to some terrible lyrics like “He’s so tall and handsome as hell.” Even in her liner notes, where she usually hides clues for her biggest fans pointing to which songs correspond to which exes, the secret messages only add up to a generic story of boy-meets-girl.
“Blank Space,” though, is a brilliant rewriting of her own media image: “I’ve got a long list of ex-lovers. They’ll tell you I’m insane.” It’s one of the few songs where Swift revels in her power instead of playing the underdog. “Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream,” Swift sings over a sound that’s half-Lorde, half-Haim. The chorus is punctuated by the sound of a pen-click. (From a fluffy pink pen, maybe?) She’s perfectly coiffed, savvy, intimidating. Her lyrics are half promises, half threats: “Wait, the worst is yet to come,” “Boys only want love if it’s torture.” Like Amy, she’s stripping away the romantic sheen she’s given all her relationships in the past. If everyone thinks she’s a psycho bitch man-eater, then that’s exactly who she’ll be. It’s the only interesting artistic statement on the album.