Failure is a relative term. For the Astros, falling short of a second-straight World Series title would be a failure for a team that, ya know, won the thing last year. Failure is when a Marvel or Pixar film doesn’t do half-a-billion dollars at the domestic box office. Failure is when the bar is set so high, anything less than perfect returns is considered underwhelming.
What does this have to do with Taylor Swift? Well, quite a bit actually.
Taylor Swift is playing NRG Stadium on September 29 as part of her Reputation Tour (Camila Cabello and Charli XCX will serve as opening acts). Swift is arguably the biggest pop star in America, no doubt evidenced by her long ago outkicking arenas in favor of a stadium tour. This is an artist who hasn’t experienced much in the way of career adversity.
Swift began as the fresh-faced, guitar-strumming singer-songwriter who took the country music world by storm as a teenager. She owned that genre for a while before transitioning into the more traditional pop world, a world she quickly came to rule with the likes of multi-platinum albums like Red and 1989.
Swift sells out stadiums. She charts single after single. She’s never had an album move fewer than three million copies, and that album (Reputation) hasn’t even been out a year yet. Each of her albums, save for her first, has peaked atop the Billboard charts. Her every move and lyric are analyzed in great detail. Was that song about an ex? Are she and Katy Perry still beefing? This is a person who moves the needle, and unqualified success in every definition of the word.
And, yet, Taylor Swift finds herself at a bit of a professional crossroads. Well, relatively speaking.
Swift released Reputation last fall, and the rollout was pretty much what you’d expect. Swift touted an evolving sound in the leadup to the album. She broke streaming records with the lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do.” The album peaked atop pretty much every sales chart in which it was eligible upon its release in November 2017.
For any other artist, Reputation would have been an unmitigated success. For Swift, it represented something else – a rare misstep. The album, a sort of pop/EDM mashup, doesn’t really play to Swift’s strengths as an artist or performer, and none of the subsequent singles reached No. 1 (this is uncommon for an artist of Swift’s, no pun intended, reputation).
Swift can certainly sustain the relative disappointment that was Reputation. For starters, the album isn’t nearly as bad as some initial reaction, but because an artist the caliber of Swift didn’t put out another 1989, blowback was to be expected. Hell, she could stay in the EDM lane, release three more albums that pale in comparison to Reputation, and she’d still be pop royalty.
Not that she should. Rather, Swift – in an effort to reestablish some goodwill and find her artistic footing – should make a relatively simple and logical move. She should return to country music.
Returns to form are quite common for artists of Swift’s stature. Eminem recently got back to his venom-spewing, diss-taking ways with Kamikaze – his first great album in nearly a decade. David Bowie never shied away from going back-and-forth between genres. Katy Perry will certainly get back to more generic pop fare, after the dumpster fire that was last year’s Witness. It’s happened before; it’ll happen again.
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Swift’s return to country wouldn’t even make for that startling a transformation. For one, country fans are a notoriously loyal lot who buy records, listen to country radio and purchase concert tickets; they would more than embrace Swift’s return to the arena. Secondly, many of those fans – particularly young women – followed Swift to pop anyway, so it’s not like the country fan base abandoned her. Most importantly, with a guitar in-hand and a country band at her back, Swift can rediscover some of that approachability that made her so damn accessible in the first place.
Not that Swift particularly needs to change course at this point in her career. Her Reputation Tour has broken numerous venue attendance and sales records. The album, while likely to be her lowest-selling to date, is far from a flop. Again, Reputation isn’t really even that bad, but rather, a relative disappointment when compared to previous output.
Whether Swift returns to her country roots is certainly her choice to make. When you sell out stadiums and break sales and streaming records, your next move is whatever you make of it. However, it would be nice to rediscover a bit of what made Swift such a supernova in the first place – her musical talent and artistry, which she found initially in the friendly confines of country music.
Taylor Swift, with Camila Cabello and Charli XCX, is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday, September 29 at NRG Stadium, One NRG Park. For information, call 832-667-1400 or visit nrgpark.com. Tickets start at $150, plus fees.