Seriously—this song is going to be the opener to Taylor Swift’s upcoming fourth album Red? Far as we can tell “State of Grace” has closer (or at the very least, climax) written all over it. You just don’t put a gorgeous, soaring, five-minute epic love song like this—a song that goes places Taylor’s never gone before, shown a side of her we’ve never really seen—as an album’s first track. It sets up all kinds of unrealistic expectations for the album, expectations that no album could reasonably live up to. It’s a borderline-impossible song to follow up, and if Red expects to be able to do so…well, we really are looking forward to this album, then.
Several things about “State of Grace” are almost instantly stunning. It’s the biggest drum sound we’ve ever heard open a Taylor Swift record, but instead of leading into a pop-punk sort of rave-up like “The Story of Us,” there’s a kind of mid-tempo deliberation to it that Taylor doesn’t often trade in. By the time the zooming bass and airy, chiming guitars (almost like something from The Cure’s poppier days) sound off, it’s clear that this is a kind of arena-ready sound that Taylor has never really flirted with before, something bigger and more musically ambitious then Taylor’s predominantly contained-sounding pop productions have ever allowed to date.
Taylor’s lyrical entrance is nearly as conspicuous. The majority of Swift’s songs—especially the really good ones—are exceedingly detail-oriented in nature, conveying emotion through memories of the little things (laughing in the car, dancing around in pajamas, kissing in the rain, etc.). But in “State of Grace,” Taylor starts off talking about “Walking fast through the traffic lights / Busy streets and busy lives / And all we know is touch and go,” speaking in generalities and unspecific metaphor, neither of which Taylor has virtually any experience with. By the end of the first verse, “State of Grace” already exists on a plane totally separate from the rest of Swift’s back catalogue.
And then, the chorus. Taylor’s choruses are traditionally overstuffed with words and thoughts, with ornately structured and brilliantly designed lines like “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter” and “He’s the song in the car I keep singing, don’t know why I do” and “You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me.” But in this one, Taylor keeps it disarmingly simple and to the point: “And I never saw you coming / And I’ll never be the same again.” In most Swift refrains, that would be just the first line, in this one, not only is it the entirety of the sentiment, but each word is stretched out to epic lengths, finding incredible depth in their straightforwardness.
It’s beautiful, and it only gets more so as the song goes on, with Taylor’s voice reaching heights we didn’t know (or totally forgot somewhere along the line) it was capable of reaching, as the music gets more intense and a round of backing “oh-oh-oh-woah”s join the fray. By the time the music cuts out and Swift gets around to actually explaining the song’s title (“This is a state of grace / This is a worthwhile fight”) it seems almost beside the point—like no other song she’s written, we know exactly what “State of Grace” is about just from the base level of emotion that it hits. It’s Taylor’s “With or Without You.”
“I wrote this song about when you first fall in love with someone — the possibilities, kind of thinking about the different ways that it could go” Swift has said about “State of Grace.” ”It’s a really big sound. To me, this sounds like the feeling of falling in love in an epic way.” Yeah, Taylor. Yeah, it does.