Billboard asked five writers to argue for one of Taylor's first five studio albums as her best. Here, Sam Lansky makes the case for 2012's "RED", Swift's fourth album, and her first obvious foray into pop.
Some albums we love not because of what they are but because of who we were when we first heard them. I didn't know that I needed "RED" as urgently as I did, that I needed all
those big bright empathetic swells of feeling, and it feels a little dramatic even to use the vocabulary of need to talk about what is, after all, just a pop record. But I did -
I needed it. I was young and lost and the world seemed like an inhospitable place for someone like me who felt things so deeply.
Now, a few years later, it would be easy to hide behind a veil of disaffected impartiality, or to temper my enthusiasm, but this is the truth: As good as "RED" is - and it's really good - I
don't have a mite of critical detachment to evaluate it on its merits. Not when listening to it is like boarding a time machine to a moment when I was on the cusp of adulthood and everything felt
broken and this album whispered in my ear, Same.
That's an intense thing to say, but Taylor Swift is pretty intense, right? She always has been - even in the beginning, when she was accusing a flattering beau of lying to her face in the
opening lyrics of "Tim McGraw." And now, all these years later, she's still out for blood on the clattering "Look What You Made Me Do," her most menacing song yet - and this is an artist,
remember, who once characterized herself as a "nightmare dressed like a daydream." Yet those of us who love her do so not despite this quality but because of it; this relentless pursuit of the
highest and most deeply felt emotions, desire and rage and joy and disillusionment and regret and abandonment and wild irrational love. Say what you will about Swift but she's never half-assed
expressing her feelings, or feeling them. That's why she's my favorite pop star: Nobody feels things more fiercely.
And that's why her "RED" is her best album, because it's the album where she most effectively lays bare her emotional life in all its messy complexity. And while there are cases to be made
for all of her records - the precocious perceptiveness of her debut and the sonic cohesion of "Fearless" and the singular authorship of "Speak Now" and the razorlike clarity of "1989" - in this house we stan "RED". It captures the experience of being young and coming into your own emotional power, the way that opens you up to both elation and
anguish, and how volatile it can feel to swing from one extreme to the other. There is a lyric on the opening song, "State of Grace," where she sings, "This is the golden age of something good
and right and real." What a statement - the unabashed grandiosity of it. But when she sang it, I believed her.