Song: ‘Wildest Dreams’
Artist: Taylor Swift
US chart peak: 5
Release date: August 31, 2015
Writers: Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback
Producers: Max Martin, Shellback
Quintessential Max moment: The way the chorus crashes back in again after the middle eight
Video synopsis: Problematic
Released almost a year after its parent album, ‘1989’, graced the pop world with its presence, ‘Wildest Dreams’ became Swift’s fifth consecutive US Top Ten single and 19th overall (!). While most of the album’s shift into pop does so on Taylor’s own terms, ‘Wildest Dreams’ feels a bit like Swift playing dress up. Over an airy, heartbeat drum pulse and lashings of low-key drama, Taylor becomes a kohl-eyed Lana Del Rey for the night. At times it feels like the high school head girl popping on some uncomfortable high heels, the slightly wrong shade of red lipstick and awkwardly trying it on with the mysterious, much older Geography teacher. Only rather than seduce him and break up his marriage, Taylor’s sick in his hair and turns it into a lawsuit.
Or, as Billboard put it: “Surprisingly, the famous figure who gets the most elaborate attention is Lana Del Rey: Swift flat-out mimics her on ‘Wildest Dreams,’ flitting between a fluttery soprano and deadpan alto, flipping lyrics so Lana — “His hands are in my hair, his clothes are in my room” — that it’s hard to tell if the song is homage or parody.”
Pop is built on cherry-picking bits from the outskirts of the mainstream, but here the borrowing is from an artist fully entrenched in the mainstream having carved out a fairly unique niche for herself. It’s also not just the sound itself that’s ‘homaged’ (it’s pretty similar to Del Rey’s ‘Without You’), but the atmospherics and general ‘vibe’ as well. Del Rey doesn’t own the lines “red lips” etc – and Lord knows she herself should stop using them – but the nods on ‘Wildest Dreams’ are a little too obvious.
BUT, let’s be honest here, ‘Wildest Dreams’ is most definitely the best Lana Del Rey song since that first album. The melodies are gorgeous, the call and response bit in the verses is heavenly and the lines “Say you’ll remember me / Standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset, babe” are the kind that make your stomach flip. It’s also a proper pop song in that it doesn’t let the atmospherics dominate – so when it needs to explode into that final chorus, all guns blazing, then it does exactly that.
Also, in critic Alexis Petridis’ review of the album for The Guardian, he makes some interesting points about how Swift does eventually fold Lana’s persona into her own: “If ‘Wildest Dreams’ bears a hint of Lana del Ray, there’s something hugely cheering about the way Swift turns the [Lana del Rey-style] persona of the pathetic female appendage snivelling over her bad-boy boyfriend on its head. Ramping up the melodrama by way of Be My Babyish drums, ‘Wildest Dreams’ paints the man as the victim, doomed to spend the rest of his life haunted by what he’s carelessly lost.”