As jarring a departure as “Shake It Off” may have seemed for Taylor Swift only two months ago, in retrospect it was relatively conservative, and meant to ease us into her new sound. Whereas that dance-pop No. 1 featured mostly acoustic instrumentation, last week’s “Out of the Woods” was a breakup ballad built over an electronic beat. The latest song available to hear off 1989, which leaked this afternoon and hits iTunes later tonight, takes her further than ever from her Nashville roots: It’s a soaring synth-pop anthem of the kind you could imagine being sung by Katy Perry.
The song’s lyrical conceit is clear from the title—the song is about Swift’s move earlier this year to New York City—and musically it gets a heavy boost from songwriter and anthem-meister extraordinaire Ryan Tedder, who has written and co-written songs for the likes of fellow superstars Beyoncé (“Halo,” “XO”) and Adele (“Rumour Has It”). With its synth handclaps and highly sing-along-ready chorus, the song seems made to convey how big and bright the city can feel to a newcomer.
Newcomer being the key word. It’s a universal truth that every generation of new New Yorkers arrives wide-eyed before growing to hate every generation that comes after, and lots of hardened New Yorkers are sure to question Swift’s right to pen a song about the city only months after she arrived (probably driving up our rent prices in the process).
But Swift is making no claim here to being an experienced New Yorker. The city of the song, as in so many great NYC anthems, is all about new possibilities—a city where you can make a brand new start of it, or, as the new Sinatra put it, where the streets will make you feel brand new. “Everybody here was someone else before,” Swift sings, before giving a shout-out to the city’s many gay-friendly neighborhoods (“You can want who you want/ Boys and boys and girls and girls”). Whether experienced New Yorkers like it or not, this is what the city represents to the rest of the country. If those who came earlier and have grown more jaded dig deep into their hearts, blackened by years of city air, they might hear how they felt when they first arrived.