Taylor Swift called her first true pop album 1989, but the album has been selling like it's the early 2000s. This week, Billboard reported that the record sold 1.287 million copies in its first week of release—the most albums sold in one week since consumers bought 1.322 million copies of Eminem's The Eminem Show in 2002. (Earlier in the week, music insiders predicted Swift would top Britney Spears's 2000 record for most records sold by a woman in one week, but to the delight of Britney stans, Swift fell short of Oops... I Did It Again's 1.319 million copies.)
Swift's transition from mainstream country star to would-be pop diva has led many pop fans and gay men to call Swift a term typically reserved for Spears and Madonna, the acknowledged queen of pop. This week on gay Twitter and Facebook, Swift earned praise from that rarely praiseful, normally salty sphere of social media.
But the passionate gays who helped push Azealia Banks's debut album to number three on the iTunes chart haven't much like Swift—though that may be changing.
Over the summer at the Belvedere, a luxury clothing-optional hotel on Fire Island, I met a twink and budding drag queen named Nigel who worshiped Swift. Wearing nothing but a towel on a balcony overlooking the water, Nigel bounced around, singing "Shake It Off," and described how he lip-synced the song when he performed in drag the first time the previous weekend.
"I prefer Speak Now," he said. "Red is a good album. 'All Too Well' is deep. Like, girl, did you just lose your virginity?"
But Nigel couldn't understand why so many gays disliked his gay icon, his Cher. After all, Swift mostly sings about bad boys and breakups, and as Nigel pointed out, "All gay men do is break up."
If you're a country artist and your name isn't Dolly or Shania, your songs probably rarely play at dance music–heavy gay bars. In my time in those places I only heard one Swift song ever play (the dubstep-influenced "I Knew You Were Trouble"), and even then that was rare. (That song also wasn't taken too seriously, and the pretentious video was mocked by critics as a Lana Del Rey ripoff.)
Similarly, when Swift announced her first full pop album with the widely played, and widely mocked, "Shake It Off," few gay bloggers thought Swift would rise to the level of Spears or even Selena Gomez. As Bradley Stern wrote on his popular blog MuuMuse:
Even when Taylor Swift announced (via global livestream on Yahoo, as one does) that her next endeavor would be an "80s inspired" pop record (the musical equivalent of incorporating florals for spring—groundbreaking!), followed immediately by the debut of her horn-heavy, hater-shaking, and incredibly irritating lead single "Shake It Off," it certainly didn't seem like Taylor could be taken too seriously as one of this year's top pop contenders. And then "Out of the Woods" came bursting out in screaming color, and everything changed.
On "Out of the Woods" and "Blank Space," her new album's best track, Swift sounds like a natural pop singer. The repetitive choruses are as catchy as the best Madge singles and come across as poppy without in-your-face dubstep drops or the overt cuteness of "Shake It Off."
Throughout the album, Swift also sings about the subject she sings and writes about better than everyone else: short relationships gone awry. Against a sweet melody, she mocks her image with boys: "Got a long list of ex-lovers / They'll tell you I'm insane." On "Wildest Dreams," she aches with world-weariness even as she starts a new relationship: "He's so bad but he does it so well / I can see the end as it begins."
Swift's lyrics have always mined that vein, but 1989 finally matches her melancholy with the pop sounds gay men love. After years of experimenting with pop on country albums, Swift is finally a pop star. If you don't believe me, just ask gay men—we know what we're talking about, trust me.
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