Taylor Swift Aims For Pop's Throne : The Record Erstwhile country singer Taylor Swift has a new sound and a new goal: to be the world's biggest pop star, with all the attention and provocation that comes with the job.
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Taylor Swift Aims For Pop's Throne

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Taylor Swift Aims For Pop's Throne

Taylor Swift Aims For Pop's Throne

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Over the last few years, you could make a pretty good argument that the biggest pop star in the world was actually a country star.

Taylor Swift is the last person to sell more than a million copies of an album in a single week. This - in a time when people supposedly aren't buying albums. This week Taylor Swift announced her new album. It's called "1989," for the year she was born. And she debuted a new song called "Shake It Off."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) 'Cause the player's gonna play, play, play, play, play. And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. Shake it off, shake it off.

MCEVERS: NPR's Music's pop critic Ann Powers is here to talk with me about the new album. Hey, Ann.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Hey. Thanks for having me.

MCEVERS: I mean, it sounds like this song is already a pretty big deal. Where did you first hear it?

POWERS: I heard it exactly the way Taylor Swift wanted me to hear it; first, which was during an online event, a live stream sponsored by Yahoo and ABC. She debuted it online to millions of people. But then I got in my car - I had to drive somewhere - and immediately, I mean immediately, "Shake It Off" was on the radio. This song had a million views on YouTube almost instantly. It's already heading toward the Top 40. It's an instant hit.

MCEVERS: So what's the story behind this song, "Shake It Off"?

POWERS: Taylor Swift is, you know, the most commercially successful pop star. But, her music, as you mentioned in the introduction, is rooted in country - or was rooted in country music. Now - she stated during her live stream - she really wants to make just mainstream pop music. Here's Taylor, talking a little bit about what this album is going to sound like.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIVE STREAM)

SWIFT: In my opinion, we made the most sonically cohesive album I've ever made. We made my favorite album I've ever made.

(APPLAUSE)

MCEVERS: When someone like Taylor Swift is trying to become a mainstream pop star, does she sound like every other mainstream pop star, or does she sound like Taylor Swift trying to do pop music?

POWERS: So the sound, honestly, is a lot like a Katy Perry song or a Beyonce song. It's produced by Max Martin and Shellback, who worked with her on her previous pop hits like "I Knew You Were Trouble."

And she does sound very much like what's on the Top 40 and what was on the Top 40 in 1989 - that's going to be the name of her new album. It was the year she was born and it was the year that artists like Paula Abdul and Madonna were having huge hits, and Janet Jackson, who's definitely someone she's looking to.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

SWIFT: (Singing) But I keep cruising, can't stop won't stop moving. It's like I've got this music in my mind singing, it's gonna be all right.

POWERS: The sound of "Shake It Off" is multiracial. It's influenced by African-American music and you know, it has horns, it has - as she says in the song, a sick beat. She raps a little bit. But because it's Taylor Swift, the song "Shake It Off" is confessional; it's about how people have criticized her for dating too many guys.

So we have that in the song, along with that very, to my ears, kind of generic but really irresistible kind of cheerleader phrase, shake it off, which again, has been in pop at least since the 80s, back since Toni Basil did her song, "Mickey" - we all remember that one. We're going to hear Taylor roar, just like Katy Perry, and that's what she's doing in this song.

MCEVERS: That's Ann Powers, NPR Music pop critic. Thanks so much, Ann.

POWERS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

SWIFT: (Singing) My ex-man brought his new girlfriend. She's like, oh, my God. But I'm just going to shake. And to the fella over there with the hella good hair, won't you come on over, baby, we can shake, shake, shake. Yeah. 'Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play. And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

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