- Words Rachel Martin
- Photography Beth Garrabrant
Nearly a decade since its original release, Taylor Swift is the most confident she’s ever been on her version of 1989.
There was a significant shift in pop music in 2014 – and a very natural change for Taylor Swift. Although she was technically categorised as a country artist, there were hints of pop music weaved throughout her first four albums, especially on Red. However, Swift had reached a pinnacle of stardom that is rare for most country artists. Her production had big pop hooks and her shows were a spectacle, so it was no surprise to fans when she announced that her fifth studio album would be her first official pop album, transforming her into a bonafide pop star. Inspired by 80s synth-infused pop music and a move to New York City, 1989 won Swift her second Album of the Year Grammy Award, and is still one of the biggest pop albums of all time, making 1989 (Taylor’s Version) the most anticipated rerecording yet.
On the first 16 tracks, there is no real significant change from the original versions, as she intended on these rerecordings. There are a few songs with slight production tweaks – “Out Of The Woods” and “New Romantics” sound bigger and more intentional. There are some slight vocal differences as well – especially noticeable on songs like “Clean” and “Wonderland” – where Swift’s voice has only gotten cleaner and her pop vocals more velvety at 33 than they were at 24. In “I Know Places” and “Bad Blood,” Swift made a few small dialect tweaks to the lines in tracks’ bridges, infusing them with more depth and emotion and ultimately building to a more powerful end to songs.
A tradition Swift started with her rerecordings, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) includes five “vault tracks,” songs that were written during the time she released 1989, but were ultimately shelved and now given new life nine years later. The first of them is “Slut!”, which is much different than fans had originally speculated. Sonically, the production fits right in alongside the other Jack Antonoff produced tracks. At the time of 1989’s original release, Swift was the target for many cases of slut-shaming by critics, something she couldn’t escape for several years despite her very normal dating life. In the chorus she sings “if they call me a slut, you know it might be worth it for once / if I’m gonna be drunk, might as well be drunk in love” – cleverly taking back the word and turning it into something beautiful.
Written with the iconic Diane Warren, “Say Don’t Go” is a track that showcases Swift’s knack for storytelling, building in production as she tells the story of a doomed love. Infused with that 80s synth-pop production the album is known for, the track intensifies after the bridge as Swift yells the lyrics “I said I love you! You said nothing back.” A standout on the album is the tongue-and-cheek songwriting in “Now That We Don’t Talk.” “I don’t have to pretend that I like acid rock / or that I’d like to be on a mega yacht / I guess maybe I am better off now that we don’t talk” she coyly croons over dreamy, cinematic production.
“Suburban Legends” is another example of Swift’s ability to craft a pop song full of unequivocal storytelling, telling a Romeo and Juliet type love story in the most poetic way possible. “You kissed me in a way that’s going to screw me up forever” she emotes a few different times in the song, adding “I broke my own heart because you were too polite to do it.” The vault tracks come to an end with “Is It Over Now?” arguably the most gut-wrenching and honest song on the entire album. Antonoff’s production is glossy and upbeat almost to a fault underneath ruthless lyrics that could cut like a knife. Rich with anger and conflict, Swift recounts a devastating breakup, singing “you dream of my mouth before it called you a lying traitor / you search in every maiden’s bed for something greater.”
1989 (Taylor’s Version) is a glittery triumph that celebrates Swift’s launch into pop superstardom. Taking back the stories that rightfully belong to her, the album perfectly encapsulates romance and reinvention, fueled by the naysayers that trivialized her songwriting ability. She took risks, and they paid off tremendously. Through the stories of these songs, Swift takes us on the most wondrous musical journey through the depths of her mind, a journey that has no end in sight.