Artist: Taylor Swift
US chart peak: 6
Release date: February 9, 2015
Writers: Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback, Ali Payami
Producers: Max Martin, Shellback, Ali Payami
Quintessential Max moment: The stone-cold classic chorus
Video synopsis: Extended perfume advert
As some actual genius pointed out in this piece for The Guardian, it’s almost a criminal offence how the majesty of ‘Style’ – ‘1989’’s third single and crowning glory – was first shown to the world. Rather than presented on a silk cushion under a glass cabinet or dropped elegantly into our laps by a flock of doves, the powers that be decided we should hear a snippet of it on an advert for Target. CHEERS GUYS. Obviously, even when truncated down to nothing the song still sounded amazing, but can we learn to treat our pop music more carefully in future please, thanks!
The story of ‘Style’ and its creation is, as with a lot of things surrounding Taylor Swift, a mixture of supposed fact and supposed fiction. The title has been read as an allusion to Harry Styles, a man Swift may or may not have dated in the not too distant past. Obviously she’s very much against dragging anyone into narratives they’d like to be excluded from, so it’s safe to say the title and some of the lyrical allusions are all just coincidence, okay? Good.
What we do know to be fact is that ‘Style’ didn’t start out as a song for Taylor Swift. In fact, it didn’t really start out as a song at all. Here’s guitarist Niklas Ljungfelt having a chat about how it came to be for something to do with the Grammys. “I played on ‘Style’, a song I started with Ali Payami for ourselves. He was playing it for Max Martin at his studio; Taylor overheard it and loved it. She and Max wrote new lyrics. But I recorded the guitar on it before it was a Taylor song. It was an instrumental. I didn’t have a clue that Taylor would sing on it.” I love the idea of a) Ali popping into Max’s room and being all excited about something he knew Max would love and b), Taylor sat in the room working on lyrics/playing with a voodoo doll WHO KNOWS and also freaking out when she heard it and demanding it be her’s. So what inspired the song musically though Niklas? “The inspiration came from Daft Punk and funky electronic music. Taylor liked that a lot when she heard the song the first time. [She was] taking a big step from the music she had done before.”
He’s right, there’s a definite hint of Kavinsky and airy French pop about ‘Style’. It’s so elegant it feels like it sashays out of the speakers, all percolating synths and ever-expanding guitars. As with so many amazing Max songs, the production perfectly reflects the lyrical mood, with all the tension built up by the secret midnight drives etc perfectly mirrored in the tightly wound riffs, the echo effects on her vocals and the song’s alluring forward motion. It feels like it’s moving somehow, probably towards imminent disaster. Then when the release comes with that “take me home” bridge it’s like the mist has finally lifted. There are so many wonderful little details in the song but my favourite bit is in the last thirty seconds where the chorus comes around one last time and during the “we come back every time” ad-lib Taylor drops her voice down a bit and for some reason my stomach flips.
Lyrically the song works so well because it plays to Swift’s strengths, i.e. exploding the details of a relationship out to make it Hollywood blockbuster huge and completely relatable to just about everyone. The characters, as with her best songs, are writ so large you can see them from space but that’s fine too. Obviously this wouldn’t be a Taylor Swift song entry without a quote from the lady herself about what it all means etc. Here she is having a chat to Ryan Seacrest (of course) about the themes behind the songs.
“I loved comparing these timeless visuals with a feeling that never goes out of style … It’s basically one of those relationships that’s always a bit off … The two people are trying to forget each other. So, it’s like, “All right, I heard you went off with her,” and well, I’ve done that, too … My previous albums have also been sort of like, “I was right, you were wrong, you did this, it made me feel like this”—a righteous sense of right and wrong in a relationship. What happens when you grow up is you realise the rules in a relationship are very blurred and that it gets very complicated very quickly, and there’s not a case of who was right or who was wrong.”