TIME Music

Review: 1989 Marks a Paradigm Swift

2014 iHeartRadio Music Festival - Night 1 - Show
Denise Truscello—WireImage/Getty Images

On her new album, Taylor Swift goes full-throttle pop

“Took our broken hearts and put them in a drawer,” Taylor Swift sings on “Welcome to New York,” the opening track on her fifth and sharpest album, 1989. Coming from Swift, a superstar who built a global empire penning hits about matters of the heart, this sounds like a threat–stowing her sorrow away after it brought so much success seems borderline irresponsible.

But Swift has gambled before and won. After writing every song solo on her blockbuster 2010 country-crossover album, Speak Now, she teamed up with a varied roster of top-shelf tunesmiths for 2012’s sprawling, genre-spanning opus, Red. That album went quadruple platinum, earned rapt critical acclaim and four Grammy nods and made her an icon.

On 1989, out Oct. 27, she sounds like one. Leaner and keener than those on Red, her new songs fizz and crackle with electricity and self-aware wit. Driven by synths and drums in lieu of guitars, all trace of country abandoned, 1989 holds together sonically as a tribute to the electro-pop that dominated radio 25 years ago. Swift executive-produced the album alongside Swedish hit machine Max Martin, who lends pop shellack to her nimble lyrics. Winding choruses have been whittled down to their stickiest essence.

Thematically, too, Swift breaks with the past, skirting victimhood and takedowns of maddening exes, critics and romantic competitors. Instead, there’s a newfound levity. Not only is Swift in on the joke; she also relishes it. The bouncy “Blank Space” hyperbolizes her portrayal in the media as an overly attached man-eater who dates for songwriting material: “Got a long list of ex-lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane/ But I’ve got a blank space,” she coos before, incredibly, a clicking sound like that of a pen, “and I’ll write your name.” The skronky, horn-driven lead single “Shake It Off” communicates a cheerful disinterest in being critiqued, and a panicked, operatic vocal sample of Swift singing the word “Stay!” gives the swerving “All You Had to Do Was Stay” an oddball kick. The angriest song here is “Bad Blood,” a chanting call to arms over a dispute with a frenemy, and even it feels tongue-in-cheek.

Instead of pain, the songs about romance vibrate with fluttering lust or wistful nostalgia. The winking disco anthem “Style” packs a nasty ’70s groove, while strings and a lush refrain lend “Wildest Dreams” a cinematic grandeur: “He’s so tall, and handsome as hell,” she exhales. Surging drums and a jagged bassline, courtesy of fun. rocker Jack Antonoff, mitigate the longing of “I Wish You Would.” Even the atmospheric electro-ballad “This Love” is more hopeful than anguished, enlivened by a catchy chorus and Swift’s breathless delivery.

Though Swift is skilled with melody, her deadliest weapon is a superhuman knack for tight, evocative images–a skill she employs sparingly here. On the tense “Out of the Woods,” she ruefully recounts deciding “to move the furniture so we could dance,” while the feathery “Clean,” a collaboration with English composer Imogen Heap, sees her comparing a relationship to “a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore.” But the most potent statements are sonic, like “I Know Places,” a thrillingly paranoid cut with a drum-and-bass-like intensity. It’s the album’s darkest moment, until the chorus fills the song with light.

As long as Swift writes autobiographically, her romantic affairs will be the subject of speculation, but it’s the expertly crafted sound of 1989 that marks her most impressive sleight of hand yet–shifting the focus away from her past and onto her music, which is as smart and confident as it’s ever been. Who are these songs about? When they sound this good, who cares?

TIME Music

Listen to Taylor Swift’s Hypnotic New Song ‘Out of the Woods’

Singer Taylor Swift performs during the 2014 iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas
Singer Taylor Swift performs during the 2014 iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada Sept. 19, 2014. Steve Marcus—Reuters

It's out with the guitars and in with the drums on the singer's new 1989 track

Taylor Swift rang in her most recent album era with “Shake It Off,” a cheerfully flip pop confection that reads as an act of defiance to everyone from the haters to country-radio programmers. For “Out of the Woods,” the second offering from her upcoming LP 1989 (out Oct. 27), Swift’s rebellion takes a slyer shape, and a darker one.

Swift wrote the song with fun.’s Jack Antonoff, and the sounds of his ’80s-inspired solo project Bleachers reverberate here: a distorted vocal sample, crunchy drums, echoing harmonies. Lyrically, though, it’s still classic Swift, capturing the anxiety of a volatile romance with poignant little details — there are paper airplanes flying, and Swift and her would-be-beau have to move the furniture so they can dance; and, of course, there’s that much-discussed bridge about an accident that landed the unlucky couple in the hospital.

But it’s the furious chant of that anthemic chorus, all breathless urgency, and the left-of-center production that help Swift perform the niftiest sleight of hand: Even with lyrics that include some of her most headline-grabbing autobiographical admissions to date, the most interesting thing here isn’t who it’s about, but rather, how different it sounds.

Listen here.

Read next: Taylor Swift Finally Explains Why She’s a Feminist and How Lena Dunham Helped

TIME Music

Review: Tove Lo Is Far From Sunny on Queen of the Clouds

Island Records

Sharp lyrics and finely tooled production power one of the year's strongest pop releases

You many not know 26-year-old Tove Lo by name, but you’ve probably heard her voice: “Habits (Stay High),” the debut single from the Swedish singer-songwriter, is currently climbing the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100, nearly 18 months after its initial release back in March 2013. If “Habits” has had a slow burn, it’s nonetheless earned its spot on radio: the song is a hazy paean to post-breakup debauchery that sounds like nothing else in the mainstream. (Except maybe her fellow Scandic siren Robyn — if Robyn were addicted to cough syrup.) “Habits” sets the tone for Lo’s timely first album Queen of the Clouds (out Sept. 30 on Island Records), which announces her arrival as pop’s messiest, most winsomely addled diva. Assisted by throbbing, gloomy production, Lo uses her little-girl voice to wonderfully discordant effect on electropop anthems about heartbreak and headaches — the kind that follow a night of reckless partying.

But make no mistake: there’s a razorlike precision to these songs that belies her rough-around-the-edges persona. Lo (real name: Tove Nilsson) is an acolyte of super-producers Max Martin and Shellback, who have helped helm singles for superstars like Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, and it shows in her songcraft. Clouds is roughly divided into three parts — The Sex, The Love and The Pain — although that conceit doesn’t totally stand up, as most of the songs touch all three. The tracks all have a satisfying stomp and crash, but it’s her lyrics that shine brightest, trading in pop clichés but flipping them in the same breath.

Lo can be vulgar, as on the lusty “Talking Body,” which sets a scabrous singalong hook against some of Shellback’s irresistibly catchy production, but that sexiness is shot through with frustration; she owns her desire, full-throttle. “Moments,” meanwhile, is ostensibly a love song, though it works on tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation: “I might get a little drunk… but on good days I am charming as f–k,” she sings. And for all her self-medicating tendencies, she easily turns plaintive: “I’m not on drugs, I’m just in love,” she insists on “Not On Drugs.” Best of all is the madcap stampede “Timebomb,” with talky lyrics and a chorus that explodes like a confetti cannon. (No surprise that it claims Klas Ahlund as a co-writer, since he had a hand in Robyn’s heartbreaking “Be Mine!”, a song with similar happy-sad tones.)

In a year where pop has been pretty toothless, Lo has a sharp bite — and the hooks are commercial enough to give her a fighting chance at stateside stardom. Taken all at once, Queen of the Clouds packs an unusually heady buzz.

TIME Music

Robyn and Röyksopp: ‘We Have Been Slightly Ahead of Our Time’

Röyksopp & Robyn
Röyksopp & Robyn Cherrytree Records

The Swedish songbird says she's finishing a new solo EP after making a mini-album with the acclaimed Norwegian producers

After taking a few years off from releasing new music, Norway’s legendary electronic duo Röyksopp and Sweden’s reigning pop star Robyn teamed up this past May for the collaborative effort, Do It Again. Not quite Robyn songs, but not quite Röyksopp songs, either, the record was something else entirely — a moody, five-song set that ran the gamut from chilled-out instrumentals to heart-pumping club-bangers (and, accordingly, deserved its own separate release). “We’ve talked a bit about how we have good chemistry and how everything comes naturally to us in our operation,” says Röyksopp’s Torbjørn Brundtland. “When we came together, there was no blueprint for what to do.”

TIME caught up with the trio the day before their Wednesday show at New York City’s Pier 97 to talk about dancing, collaborating and how to write music that’s timeless.

TIME: Do It Again includes hook-driven pop as well as some of the most avant-garde material of your careers. Is a song like “Monument” on the same dance music spectrum as “Do It Again,” or is it something else entirely?

Torbjørn Brundtland: It’s not really dance music — it’s not as if we strived to make a song that would be most suitable on the dance floor. But it’s part of what we do. We like that musicality in dance music and always have.

Svein Berge: Club music is where we hail from, with a hint of pop, obviously. So that’s where we have our background and that’s something we’ll not easily let go of, but it’s not as if we’re trying to make a main-room stomper. But it will be there, those elements.

Robyn: But then we actually made a stomper, too, but it wasn’t on purpose. I think that “Do It Again” was accidental. That’s how we described it, officially. We didn’t think about that when we started making it. We started making it with this pad — [hums the chords] — so it had nothing to do with the way it ended up at all.

SB: But it’s good to let the track take control and just tag along with it.

It’s interesting to hear you say you didn’t set out to make dance music because for you, Robyn, I can’t think of another artist who has more songs about dancing. Are you going to make more songs about dancing? Is the songs-about-dancing moment still in you?

R: I don’t know. You never know what’s going to happen in the future.

TB: How many songs has she made about dancing, though?

Well, Body Talk felt like it was so much about dancing.

R: Yeah, Body Talk was about body and dance and maybe club culture. “Indestructible,” “Dancing On My Own” and “Dancehall Queen.” But I think, definitely, there’s that on this album, too, but in a different way. It’s not about the actual act of dancing. But I think “Monument” is very much about the physicality, maybe that’s where it’s at.

SB: But you also have a lot of movement in you, if I can say so.

R: Yes, I do!

SB: And obviously, that is expressed when you perform live as well. It’s not something you do for the sake of doing it — you do it because that’s what you do.

Robyn, you’ve been playing new songs on the tour. Are they finished? Is that a taste of what’s to come?

R: Some of them are actually finished and mixed. But when we started this tour, I felt like the main reason for doing this was to go out on the road with Svein and Torbjørn and play the music that we just made. Part of why we made the album was so we could go back on tour together, because we’ve done it before and it’s been fun. But because we were doing our own sets as well, I felt like I wanted to play new material if I was going to play my own set, too.

I’ve been working on this EP with Markus [Jägerstedt], who’s in my band, and a producer by the name of Christian Falk, who is this Swedish guy that I worked with for many years, since I was like 15 — we worked on my first album, even. He tragically and very sadly passed away two weeks ago. He was sick for a while before he died, and that’s also one of the reasons I wanted to make sure that we got that material out there, before he actually disappeared from the face of this earth. So he was able to be a part of that a little bit before he went. It’s also changed the songs a little bit, me and Markus are still working on it. It’s going to be strange, but very healing, to finish the record without Christian. But it’s really nice to be able to play material that’s not finished, and I think that’s a lot of how it used to be back in the day. I was in the studio with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis a couple of months ago, and they told me that’s how a lot of the stuff they did with the Time happened. They played it live and they saw how people reacted to it, and they changed the set and stuff.

Röyksopp, your track “Only This Moment” [from 2005] still sounds so fresh — like it could be released today. How has your sound evolved over the years?

SB: Can I seize this opportunity to blow our own mutual horn for a second? We feel that we have been slightly ahead of our time when it comes to production. Is that okay to say?

R: Yeah! It’s feisty, but you can say that.

SB: I don’t mind being feisty. We strive in terms of production, in terms of the soundscapes that we create, to give it longevity so it doesn’t sound dated like, “April 2013! Just listen to the snap!” Obviously it’s tied to a certain time period, but you want it to have a long-lasting feel. This is something we strived for with this release as well. We always want to give it longevity and identity, which makes it standout with a unique expression.

R: I think that’s what’s so amazing about Svein and Torbjørn— I’m going to blow your horn as well — they have so many qualities, but I think their best quality is being able to make sounds and soundscapes that have lots of layers but still are very well thought-out. They are also open and playful. Without saying that you have not been appreciated the last years, I sometimes feel you’ve been a little looked over when it comes to the actual quality of the music.

Robyn, was there a switch for you when you started thinking about music the way they’re talking about it, or did you always approach it like that?

R: When I started making music, I made music in a very commercial space and I didn’t have room to really explore things on my own terms. It took me awhile to create a little bubble where I could explore other things, and new things. When I did that, my tools were songwriting and arranging. If you have the patience to really stay with your idea and push yourself beyond that first point where you’re inspired and have something to say, you get to this other point — where you become alive, in a way. There’s room for more than just that first, instant emotion that everyone can connect to. That’s in there, too. But it’s not going to be like an open book. You have to get into it.

SB: Obviously Robyn’s artistic sessions prior to doing things with us are clear evidence of the voice — not the singing voice, but the voice within. It’s Robyn to the bone. It’s all hers, not someone else’s voice.

R: My main skill is not making sounds, but I think I have the same way of looking at music as Svein and Torbjørn. You have to work through the layers. You have to do your homework in a way and be thorough. When you do that, things tend to last. You have to invest something. If you don’t risk something that really matters to you — like your integrity, or your pride, or your time, or your security, or your reputation — if you don’t risk yourself, you can hear it right away.

Scandinavia’s music scene seems so collaborative, like there’s a spirit of people working freely together there. Are there people you want to work with that you haven’t yet?

R: I think that we are very collaborative here in America as well. But I think what’s different is, in smaller countries, the music industry is not as big. It’s not where you go into the studio and say, “Yeah, let’s write a song! My fee is $25,000 a day.” Or, “You’ll get this beat, but you have to pay $50,000.” [In Sweden and Norway], you make music and see what happens. It’s not like people are charging each other for writing songs together. I think one of Max Martin’s first decisions when he started his career as a songwriter was to never work with established artists. I think that also goes for who you want to work with. It’s more about what you can create now, rather than working with someone who’s already created what you want to do.

Robyn, you mentioned getting into a creative bubble earlier. Did you struggle to find your way back to that after the success of Body Talk?

R: For me, it was an effort to just make music with Svein and Torbjørn because we had already said it would be nice to do it — to do it again! — to do more stuff together. You guys were also at the beginning of a record and figuring out what to do. It’s nice to not have a goal, to not have a set format. It’s very liberating to just get out of our comfort zones and be in a new space.

SB: And we felt the same way, having the insight to know that this is the time we should do this, and we just did it, without even deciding what it is. No plan, no nothing. Just make music.

TIME remembrance

Nathan Lane on Robin Williams: “[He] Made Me Laugh So Hard and So Long That I Cried”

Nathan Lane and Robin Williams
Bruce Glikas—FilmMagic/Getty Images

The two actors co-starred in the beloved comedy The Birdcage

Updated at 9:25 PM EST to include complete statement.

Nathan Lane and Robin Williams made comedy history when they co-starred in the 1996 film The Birdcage, the hit film version of the much-adapted French play La Cage aux Folles. They played domestic partners, Williams as the owner as a drag club and Lane as its histrionic star.

In a statement to TIME, Lane remembers his friend and colleague, who died Aug. 11 at the age of 63:

One day in 1995 while riffing in the character of a snobby French toy store owner, Robin made me laugh so hard and so long that I cried. It seemed to please him to no end. Yesterday I cried again at the thought that he was gone. What I will always remember about Robin, perhaps even more than his comic genius, extraordinary talent, and astounding intellect, was his huge heart — his tremendous kindness, generosity, and compassion as an acting partner, colleague, and fellow traveler in a difficult world. My heartfelt condolences to his wife and family.

TIME remembrance

Robin Williams Dead: Celebrities Mourn on Social Media

The Crazy Ones
Monty Brinton—CBS/Getty Images

Comedians, actors and entertainers react to the iconic actor's tragic passing

News broke on Aug. 11 that the comedian and actor Robin Williams has died at age 63.

Police in Marin County, Calif. said the beloved star of movies such as Aladdin, Mrs Doubtfire, and Good Will Hunting was found dead in a suspected suicide.

His peers and admirers in the entertainment industry quickly took to Twitter to share memories of their friend and colleague.

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