In 1986, singer Robert Palmer hit the top of the charts with a ditty that admonished fans, "Might as well face it, you're addicted to love." Taylor Swift wouldn't make her entrance into the world until three years later. Nevertheless, Palmer's lyrics perfectly encapsulate the 22-year-old pop country sensation's attitude toward life. If anyone is more in love with love than Taylor Swift, I'm hard-pressed to think of who that might be.
But don't take my word for it.
In the introduction to her fourth album, Red, Swift writes, "My experiences in love have taught me difficult lessons, especially my experiences with crazy love. The red relationships. The ones that went from zero to a hundred miles per hour and then hit a wall and exploded. And it was awful. And ridiculous. And desperate. And thrilling. And when the dust settled, it was something I'd never take back. Because there is something to be said for being young and needing someone so badly, you jump in head first without looking."
There is something to be said about all these experiences. And, as has been the case on her last three albums, Taylor Swift has no problem—at all—saying it.
"Stay Stay Stay" imagines that a blossoming connection with a suitor might go the distance: "You took the time to memorize me/My fears, my hopes and dreams/ … I'd like to hang out with you/For my whole life." "Everything Has Changed" delights in a serendipitous spark ("'Cause all I know is we said hello/And your eyes look like coming home"). "Starlight" is an innocent love song narrating the story of two people finding each other in 1945. "Begin Again" finds hope after disappointment in a new relationship.
"State of Grace" says of a flourishing relationship, "This is the golden age of something good and right and real." Conversely, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" rightly insists that an unhealthy relationship is, in fact, over. Likewise, "The Last Time" says that the latest in a series of breakups with a guy needs to be permanent.
"Lucky One" is the only song here that doesn't deal with romance. Instead, it reflects on the demands of fame, suggesting that a former star who's traded the limelight for a quiet life in the country has made a good choice.
"State of Grace" dismisses a beau's past indiscretions and hints that the singer has some of her own ("So you were never a saint/And I've loved in shades of wrong"). "Treacherous" willingly embraces a dangerous relationship ("This slope is treacherous/This path is reckless/ … And I, I, I like it").
That track also repeatedly alludes to physical intimacy: "And I'll do anything you say/If you say it with your hands/ ... I hear the sound of my own voice/Asking you to stay/And all we are is skin and bone." "All Too Well" also implies a past sexual relationship ("I'd like to be my old self again/But I'm still trying to find it/After plaid shirt days and nights when you/Made me your own"). "Sad Beautiful Tragic" wistfully recalls a former flame, and, again, lightly implies that they once shared more than conversation ("We both awake in lonely beds, different cities").
Swift says yes to a bad boy on "I Knew You Were Trouble.": "You didn't care and I guess I liked that." More of the same shows up on "22," Swift's ode to reckless, youthful impetuosity ("You look like bad news/I gotta have you"). She also says that "it feels like a perfect night" to "fall in love with strangers."
"Holy Ground" is at its core merely a nice song about a budding romance. But Swift's insistence upon describing the relationship in religious terms could be construed as either spiritually insensitive or even a bit idolatrous ("Right there where we stood/Is holy ground"). The song also includes a misuse of the Lord's name ("And, Lord, it took me away"). "Lucky One" includes the word "h‑‑‑."
You should be able to see by now why I don't think it's an overstatement to suggest that Taylor Swift is "addicted to love." She's practically become the poet laureate for pop romance these days, penning songs drenched in angst and catharsis with the eye of an obsessive-compulsive journaler.
Thus, looking at the big picture on Red, it's hard to dodge the conclusion that for Swift, love is the only thing that really matters. Indeed, her affection for its feelings borders on religious zeal, especially when she appropriates spiritual language to describe it, as she does on "Holy Ground" and "State of Grace."
But it's exactly that confessional combination of awe, vulnerability and self-awareness—paired with Swift's undeniable penchant for crafting infectious countrified pop hooks—that's proven so compelling for her legions of fans. So much so, in fact, that she's joined 'N Sync, Backstreet Boys and Eminem as the only artists since 1991 to have two consecutive albums sell 1 million or more units the week they released.
Swift never wanders into explicit sexual territory—in contrast to many of her peers. Instead, her songs mostly meander through emotional territory, through the highs and lows of her seemingly endless romantic endeavors. A few times, however, she does hint that those emotions were linked to physical relationships.
At the end of her introduction to Red, Taylor says she's yet to experience love that doesn't "fade or spontaneously combust." Then she adds, "Maybe I'll write a whole album about that kind of love if I ever find it." I sincerely hope she finds that kind of love. But listening to Red, I also wonder whether her deep infatuation with infatuation might actually be hindering her from finding it.