When Taylor Swift first released the Grammy-winning album 1989 in 2014, it quickly solidified her artistic shift as a pop force to be reckoned with in the industry. 1989, which (controversially) beat the likes of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly at the 2016 Grammys, is still critically acclaimed to be one of the most memorable pop records in history. It’s always difficult to follow on after a commercially successful album. But to repeat the same feat with the same record? A task perhaps only Swift could master. Thankfully, every breath of this new rerecord is promisingly laced with blue-skied romance, cries of catharsis and sure-fire crisp production. And whilst Swift’s certainly matured vocals sometimes lack the same desperation and rasp that was brought on by 2014’s unnecessary drama and spotlight-blinding turmoil, it is important to note that perfection will always be hard to emulate.
Once again, embracing the listener like a bustling street of neon lights to declare that Swift’s pop era is unshakeable
‘Welcome To New York (Taylor’s Version)’ opens the album with even stronger claps and clearer 80’s synths – once again, embracing the listener like a bustling street of neon lights to declare that Swift’s pop era is unshakable and here to stay, just as she initially did in 2014. It’s even more exciting the second time around with producer Ryan Tedder’s enhanced growling bass and Swift’s freeing screams of a brand new soundtrack. Different, but still the same – evident in the following ‘Blank Space (Taylor’s Version)’. In the second track, Swift successfully emulates the dreamily sarcastic vocals and mockeries of all haters and slut-shamers out there. Her girly charm is, thankfully, still ever-present. It’s just as snarky and laced with poison; her youth and girlhood still at the forefront of the song’s energy.
This young energy, as was the case with Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), should be the defining moment for these rerecords. Growing up with Swift’s own career, it’s important to be thrown back into the eras we are defining once again – we want the shaky breaths, the rasps, the budding snark and the charm. Moving on from the first two tracks, Swift delivers particularly in ‘Out Of The Woods (Taylor’s Version)’ and ‘Shake It Off (Taylor’s Version)’. For the former, desperate cries of escape and catharsis are new and improved, a feat that I was initially wary of. Suddenly, I am transported back into the woods and whirlwinds of rumoured flings, paparazzi terrors and snowmobile accidents; the bridge, once again, is a smashing nightmare where I find myself at the outskirts of a forest, beckoning for Swift’s safe escape. Despite not being a favourite initially, this song has certainly fled the woods of doubt and cemented its legacy in my mind at last. Then, ‘Shake It Off (Taylor’s Version)’ – once again, not a favourite – had me embracing the silly, shameless sass of the spoken bridge and boppy instrumentals. It’s cheesy, and so what? That’s the point, and it’s even clearer in this reignited record. Her girly charm is just that addictive.
Certain moments in specific tracks act like a much-needed breath of fresh air, or a sudden flash of lingering excitement
Yet, the same cannot be said about others – particularly, and sadly, ‘Style (Taylor’s Version)’ and ‘Clean (Taylor’s Version)’ fall slightly short of the same perfect mark it used to exist in. And whilst it may be a sad scene to watch these fan-favourites falter in their second birth, I cannot say that I’m surprised as perfection cannot always be improved. These songs existed on such a pedestal before, so it’s difficult to not mourn the desperate, secretly-whispered vocals in ‘Style (Taylor’s Version)’ that now seem like they have been merely recited at times instead of being felt within her soul itself. Despite the enticing snarl of its guitar production, the harshest loss is the now missing shaky breath at the end of the phrase “I heard that you’ve been out and about with some other girl / Some other girl”. It’s missing entirely, and the devastating impact of an uncertain affair is now forgotten by the listener. With ‘Clean (Taylor’s Version)’, the emotion of maturing and self-reflection nine years later is also pushed aside for a more timid production, albeit stronger vocals. And to be honest, as a fan-favourite track that would mean the world nearly a decade after its first release (a testament to the powerful journey taken through Swift’s career), our ears are met with a slight shed of disappointment.
Despite these slips, this record is still far from a mixed bag. Certain moments in specific tracks act like a much-needed breath of fresh air, or a sudden flash of lingering excitement – the same kind of relief one feels when they step off a plane and realise their dream city is just as glamorous as they had initally hoped. The maddening release and cry of “We run!” in ‘I Know Places (Taylor’s Version)’ is even more electric and raspy; the frustrating but honest vulnerability in the bridge of ‘Bad Blood (Taylor’s Version)’ is beautiful – “band-aids don’t fix bullet holes, you say sorry just for show”; and the frantically stunning harmonies at the end of ‘Wonderland (Taylor’s Version)’, ‘This Love (Taylor’s Version)’ and ‘You Are In Love’ (Taylor’s Version)’ are all desperately moving enough to make every listener ascend. Even with the deluxe release of 1989 (Taylor’s Version) – perhaps it’s time to mourn the death of the double album theory – ‘Bad Blood (feat. Kendrick Lamar) (Taylor’s Version)’ returns to overshadow the original yet again with scathing rap verses from Lamar and a fiery, in-your-face attitude.
‘“Slut!” (Taylor’s Version)’ throws us into a melancholic truth about the music industry’s serious and long-time issue with slut-shaming and misogyny
Other songs sounded similar to Swift’s 2014 original – which is to say, they were perfectly fine. Masterpieces don’t always need a facelift, and with tracks like ‘All You Had To Do Was Stay (Taylor’s Version)’, ‘New Romantics (Taylor’s Version)’, and ‘Wildest Dreams (Taylor’s Version)’, this was certainly the case. They all sound wonderfully cinematic and true to their core, although I am slightly wary of the perhaps misplaced energy within the iconic “ahs” in ‘New Romantics (Taylor’s Version)’. She sounds a little tired, but fatigue is expected after carrying the music industry for over a decade. Regardless, the production on this track is pristine once again – no faults there.
Yet, a roundup of 1989 (Taylor’s Version) would be incomplete without Swift’s time-capsule gifts of the vault tracks at the end. In this instance, we’re blessed with five whole new tracks, written at the time of 1989’s original creation. Listen to the Swifties sitting up and paying attention – these songs are an insight into whatever drama was brewing at the time, a fresh set of family members to complement the original tracklist and more keyholes into Swift’s whirlwind 2014 era. Here, we find tracks like ‘“Slut!” (Taylor’s Version)’, ‘Suburban Legends (Taylor’s Version)’ and ‘Is It Over Now? (Taylor’s Version)’ – my own personal highlights.
That being said, I’m confident that this set of vault tracks is one of the best we’ve received so far – threatened possibly only by Red (Taylor’s Version) and its inclusion of Phoebe Bridger’s collaboration on ‘Nothing New (Taylor’s Version)’. In particular though, the dreamy twinkles in ‘“Slut!” (Taylor’s Version)’ throws us into an unsuspecting, melancholic truth about the music industry’s serious and long-time issue with slut-shaming and misogyny. Like foul breath, it’s hardly ever called out – even when glaringly obvious. ‘Say Don’t Go (Taylor’s Version)’ is another pop banger that fits perfectly within the album itself, although it is perhaps the most easily digested. The chorus is stickily enjoyable to rinse, with some delightful syncopation whenever Swift cries the titular words.
“The lyrics are scathingly delightful; a wonderful twist of a knife that’s already been buried deep”
Interestingly – and while they’re good songs – it feels as though ‘Now That We Don’t Talk (Taylor’s Version)’ and ‘Suburban Legends (Taylor’s Version)’ have a more Midnights feel to them than 1989’s iconic pop clarity. They’re perhaps a bit moodier and insomnia-coded – beckoning sleepless, reflective nights rather than blue-skied cheeriness and cocktails with friends. In particular, ‘Suburban Legends (Taylor’s Version)’, depicts Swift in mourning (“You’d be more than a chapter in my old diaries”, “I am standing in a 1950s gymnasium”) over darker beats and peculiar rhythms typical to long-time collaborator and friend Jack Antonoff. It’s a brilliant tune and a personal favourite, but speaks to another era I’m not quite looking for in this album.
The record concludes with ‘Is It Over Now? (Taylor’s Version)’ – a cheekily-named, drama-fuelling track that challenges a relationship with an (ever-so mysterious) ex. The lyrics are scathingly delightful; a wonderful twist of a knife that’s already been buried deep – “At least I had the decency // To keep my nights out of sight // Only rumours ’bout my hips and thighs”. With gossip about Harry Styles resurfacing (thanks to the lyrical parallels between this, ‘Style’ and ‘Out Of The Woods’), this final song was always bound to make a splash. Alongside some very unnecessary hate comments which Styles and Swift most definitely do not need or appreciate, the impact of ‘Is It Over Now? (Taylor’s Version)’ certainly leaves us craving more.
Swift’s latest rerecording is a bold reignition of the pop mastery wheel. It whips us right back into her 2014 era of drama, blue skies, flashing lights and dropped hands – no stone is left unturned as we escape from the woods into the dazzling teal of New York City beaches. The re-recorded tracks are a breath of fresh air with crispier beats and clearer production; Swift’s own mature growl pulls off wonders to ensure this legendary album doesn’t lose its status. And whilst her desperation or youthful energy might be slightly missed in certain areas, Swift offers us something more tangible than a promise of nostalgia. Instead, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) is a forward-thinking reminder that Swift’s own sky isn’t even her limit.
Recommended listening: ‘Is It Over Now? (Taylor’s Version)’, ‘New Romantics (Taylor’s Version’, ‘Suburban Legends (Taylor’s Version)’.