NEW YORK (AFP) - Moving more decisively away from her country roots, Taylor Swift on Monday released a danceable pop album that the beleaguered record industry hopes will be the year's top-seller.
Called 1989, the year the soon-to-be 25-year-old US music phenomenon was born, Swift's fifth album is accompanied by a methodical marketing campaign that ranges from product tie-ins to meetings with lucky fans.
Swift, who moved as a child to Nashville and released a debut album with a country base when she was just 16, shifts firmly into pop mode on the latest album by trading her guitar for a synth sound that would, in fact, have sounded familiar in 1989.
Swift - whose breakups with celebrity boyfriends have delighted tabloids - once again taps into her personal life for her lyrics, but on 1989 the tone is often cheeky and plainly cognizant of the media glare upon her.
"I go on too many dates / But I can't make 'em stay / At least that's what people say," she sings with a chuckle on the album's first single Shake It Off, which is driven by an infectious funk rhythm.
Swift teamed up for Shake It Off and several other 1989 tracks with the Swedish producers Max Martin and Shellback, who worked with her on We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, her chart-topping song from her last album Red in 2012.
Martin has written or co-written some of the major hits of the past 20 years by bubblegum pop stars such as the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and Britney Spears.
Swift, appearing Monday on ABC's Good Morning America to promote the album, declared that 1989 was her best work.
"I think it's always important to remind your fans why they started listening to you in the first place but, on a new album, give them something truly new," she said.
"I could have made Red twice, done the same thing over again. Instead, I decided to go in a completely different direction," she said.
INDUSTRY HOPES RIDING ON SWIFT
Swift is not the only one hoping that 1989 will take off.
So far, this year is on course to be the first in memory without an album going platinum - the certification of selling more than one million - although the 2013 soundtrack to the Disney movie Frozen has done so in the course of 2014.
Overall album sales are down by 14 per cent compared with last year, according to industry journal Billboard. The reasons are hotly debated, with some artists and promoters blaming streaming services that discourage casual listeners from buying full albums.
Billboard said the industry was forecasting that Swift's album would sell 800,000 to 900,000 copies in its first week, which would make it the biggest release since Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience in March 2013.
The album leaked online several days in advance. It was listed on file-sharing sites by the title "album inconnu," French for "unknown album", raising suspicion that the leak occurred in the French-speaking world.
But many fans insisted on social media that they would wait for Monday's official worldwide release, a loyalty that may be attributed to the star's assiduous attempts to cultivate her "Swifties". Swift has enclosed five different sets of Polaroid pictures in the CDs as a way to encourage collectors. Early buyers of the CD are given codes for a lottery to meet Swift, who is also collaborating with a fast food chain and soft drink maker for the album's release.
Folk legend James Taylor - who has worked with Swift and is said to have been her namesake - recently described her as "a remarkable marketing phenomenon". The intense marketing is "a hard thing to survive, I think, but she seems to have a very clear head on her shoulders and I think if anyone can, she can make it through and continue to evolve as an artist", he said.