As a necessary disclaimer before I get into this piece, I thought Taylor Swift’s 1989 was a gigantic disappointment. Despite pristine production that makes for a wonderful first few listens, the album’s generic song constructions and boring conceptual backdrops made it nearly impossible to listen to more than a fraction of the album at a time. Within the consistently mediocre material, though, lay a few gems, and “Style” is one of the finest songs on the album. Its powerfully-stated rhythmic framework and tasty guitar riff couples well with Swift’s starry-eyed lyrics and gorgeously-mastered vocals, creating one of the most satisfying songs of 2014. Unlike most of the other tracks on the album, “Style” is an appropriately ambitious song, cocksure and revelatory but well-contained and perfectly paced.
The recently-released video for “Style” simultaneously fits the song like a glove and roughs up the serene confidence it embodies, which seems appropriate given the successes and failures of the album from which it comes. In some respects, the heavy-handed repetition of the concept that Swift and her well-chiseled man only exist in terms of each other is pleasing. The countless examples of the man in Swift’s head or Swift’s fragmented reflection sitting in the man’s palm suggest a fundamental intertwining of the two souls. It’s as if there’s a blank space within the plainness of a white dress or an empty head that can only be filled with ghostly memories of the other (or, inexplicably, thick smoke), as we see in the constant superposition of face upon body. The powerfully-colored images, augmented by wonderful editing, make this relationship feel even more compelling.
Unfortunately, somewhere about halfway through the video, there’s a point where it’s very difficult not to get totally lost. There’s so much going on that it’s impossible to keep track of what motifs are popping up, what everything symbolizes, or what to make of the shifting relationship dynamics. What are we supposed to make of Taylor Swift’s head and shoulders mysteriously fading into a late-summer scene in a manner that
totally rips off displays a remarkable similarity to the cover of an Odesza EP? When lightning arbitrarily begins crackling somewhere around the second chorus, how are we supposed to feel about that? Why, in a video which is ostensibly about so much more than just Taylor Swift, do we get a constant barrage of Swift at the expense of the man who half of this song is about? What in the world is Swift trying to do with the butterfly-angel hybrid look she’s flaunting?
In the end, I’m not sure there is an answer to most of these questions. It unfortunately feels like the video creators got swept up in the fervor of what I assume to be a gigantic budget and tried to stuff way too many cool-looking images into a four-minute video. At the same time, though, there’s something aesthetically pleasing about a wild yet somewhat ideologically self-consistent video to a song as joyful and massive as “Style.” It’s a little bit unclear how the video fits into the Taylor Swift canon — but, then again, that’s what made 1989 so appealing to so many people. There’s a sense of wonder about this video that can almost escape the caustic jadedness emanating from so much of Swift’s work. It’s difficult to tell how good or bad that sense of wonder is, if it’s possible at all to assign those terms to something like reflections of Swift proliferating and dashing forward. However, for better or worse, the video fits with the song, kind of. Take these thoughts as you will.