Taylor Swift designed her 2012 album Red as her breakthrough into the pop market -- a crossover she pulled off with ease, elevating her to the rarefied air of superstars who can be identified by a single name.
Red may not be flawless -- it runs just a shade too long as it sprints along in its quest to be everything to everyone -- but there's an empowering fearlessness in how Swift shakes off her country bona fides.
Appropriately for an album featuring so many producers, Red isn't sequenced like a proper album, it's a buffet, offering every kind of sound or identity a Swift fan could possibly want.
Taylor deftly shifts styles, adapting well to the insistent pulse of Martin, easing into a shimmering melancholy reminiscent of Mazzy Star ("Sad Beautiful Tragic"), and coolly riding a chilly new wave pulse ("The Lucky One").
Combined with the unabashed arena rock fanfare of "State of Grace," the dance-pop of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," and the dubstep feint "I Knew You Were Trouble" -- not to mention the cheerfully ludicrous club-filler "22" -- Red barely winks at country, and it's a better album for it.
It is, as all pop albums should be, recognizable primarily as the work of Taylor Swift alone: her girlish persona is at its center, allowing her to try on the latest fashions while always sounding like herself.
Although she can still seem a little gangly in her lyrical details -- her relationship songs are too on the nose and she has an odd obsession about her perceived persecution by the cool kids -- these details hardly undermine the pristine pop confections surrounding them.
If anything, these ungainly, awkward phrasings humanizes this mammoth pop monolith: she's constructed something so precise that its success seems preordained, but underneath it all, Taylor is still twitchy, which makes Red not just catchy but compelling.