The first album written by Taylor Swift that was ever deemed respectable enough for Pitchfork to review was performed by Ryan Adams. The music blog gave the 1989 cover album by the since disgraced rocker a 4/10. No matter that Swift, who earned her first of 32 Grammy nominations over a decade ago, and became the youngest Album of the Year winner while still a teenager, has spent more than half her lifetime becoming one of the most prolific and successful singer-songwriters of all time. It’s only now that Pitchfork has decided that Swift’s career is worth considering as part of a serious canon of modern music.
Pitchfork began with a focus on independent music, and if the site simply ignored pop and country altogether, the absence of Swift from its reviews wouldn’t have registered on any cultural Richter scale. But the same year that Pitchfork was reviewing Adams’ cover, they reviewed Purpose by Justin Bieber. The Canadian crooner barely even wrote it. If Pitchfork wanted to reward artists who don’t just perform but also create their own craft, it made no sense for them to validate Purpose, which required dozens of writers, and not any album by Swift, who’s been writing her chart-toppers on her own since her debut album at age 16.
Pitchfork finally came around to reviewing the original 1989 as well as the rest of her oeuvre retrospectively, nearly two years after describing Reputation as “sadly conventional” in its first review of a Swift album. It only took Swift selling as many records as Whitney Houston and the Rolling Stones for them to do it.
“Back then,” writes Maura Johnson at the blog of Swift’s debut, “she had doubters.”
Chief among them, the self-ordained tastemakers of the music industry. Pitchfork seems to have changed its tune on Swift, though, recognizing Joni Mitchell’s influence on the singer’s dexterous writing and artistic evolution, albeit with slight digs at Swift’s “squeaky clean” image.
Swift, of course, would have the last laugh regardless of whether or not Pitchfork decided to cave. The site will be shuttered behind a paywall by the year’s end. But still, four years after granting credence to the Adams cover, they finally covered 1989. They gave it a 7.7.
—By Tiana Lowe