Taylor Swift released her fourth album “1989,” on Oct. 27, 2014, marking a stark tonal shift for the former country artist and changing the scope of pop music forever. Flush with electronic synth and heavy 80s influence, “1989” cemented Swift as one of the most iconic figures of her generation, despite only being 24 years old.
Exactly nine years later on Oct. 27, 2023, Swift did the same thing. Except this time, “1989” belongs to her. It’s “Taylor’s Version.”
“1989 (Taylor’s Version)” is the fourth album Swift has re-recorded as she continues on her journey to reclaim her masters. Following her departure from Big Machine Records and the sale of her early catalog, Swift decided to travel back through her discography and re-release her “stolen” albums.
The stakes were high. Known for associating “eras” with albums, the “1989” era may be Swift’s most iconic. Polaroid pictures, Starbucks and even the state of New York became symbols for this period. After its 2014 release, the album skyrocketed to the top of the charts, producing multiple number-one hits and taking home Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2016 Grammys.
Diverting from typical article structure to help curate the image of girlhood at the time (something necessary in order to understand the impact of this album): the 1989 era is particularly special to me. At ten years old, I recreated the “Shake It Off” music video on the playground. I carried a Polaroid camera with me everywhere. And when I was fortunate enough to attend the 1989 World Tour in 2015, I screamed at a volume so inhumane I almost passed out. I still wear my concert T-shirt to this day. What was once way-too-large now fits me perfectly.
The concert t-shirt metaphor aligns with the timing of Swift’s decision to re-release “1989.” Thrust into an unfathomably large spotlight during the album’s original release, Swift faced constant media criticism and public scrutiny. Her biggest era may have been her most painful as well.
Flash forward nine years, and Swift is more famous than ever. With multiple chart-topping and critically acclaimed albums, along with her ongoing mega-successful “Eras Tour,” the formerly ostracized artist has now become one of the most well-respected figures of the industry. Her image, or some may say reputation, has gone from tainted to adored. The once way-too-large spotlight fits Swift’s new level of fame perfectly, and the success of “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” proves that.
Each track is simply incredible. The opening track, “Welcome To New York (Taylor’s Version),” immediately transports the listener back to 2014, standing atop the Empire State Building and looking across NYC through white frame sunglasses. “Blank Space (Taylor’s Version)” once again playfully indulges in the stereotypes directed towards Swift, its clever lyrics even snarkier with the re-recording.
Side-by-side comparisons with the original releases shows that Swift not only captured the pure genius of the songs, but improved on them as well. “I Know Places (Taylor’s Version),” formerly one of the less popular tracks, is absolutely transformed in the re-recording. Swift brings a new level of dramatism to lyrics detailing a tense romance, making it deliciously theatrical and dangerously flirty. And her much stronger vocals shine through as she growls “…and we run!”
“Out Of The Woods (Taylor’s Version)” is also even better than before. The 2014 version was Swift’s first collaboration with musician and producer Jack Antonoff, who has since become a long-time creative partner. Both of their improved musical expertise and prowesses turns the already-great track into a true masterpiece. Swift’s mature vocals shine through, layered to perfectly harmonize with herself. And Antonoff does not hold back, increasing the insane instrumentation to create a much larger, more dramatic sound.
Rapper Kendrick Lamar returned to the “Bad Blood” remix, which is included on the deluxe version for both the original and re-recorded album. Despite the odd pairing, Swift’s strong vocals and Lamar’s crisp flow go together perfectly, creating a powerful and catchy tune. Lamar’s iconic ad libs complete the track, reciting his famed line “You forgive, you forget, but you never let it go.” With both artists being at the top of their respective genres, it is truly an impressive listen.
The strongest part of the re-release are the vault tracks. Not only do Taylor’s Version albums consist of revamped versions of previous tracks, they also feature songs “from the vault.” These tracks were scrapped from the original album but are now included in each Taylor’s Version album.
The 1989 vault opens with “Slut! (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault).” Despite the crass title, the track is actually a gentle love song, putting a spin on the slut-shaming targeted at Swift. She addresses the criticism head-on, with the chorus reading “And if they call me a slut / You know it might be worth it for once.” It’s surprisingly whimsical and dreamy, drawing the listener in for an intimate disclosure of unabashed love amidst watchful eyes.
“Now That We Don’t Talk (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” fuses Swift’s masterful songwriting ability with pure Antonoff production. An introspective track set to a disco-esque instrumental, Swift observes the life of a former romantic partner she no longer talks to. The song has a degree of relatability to all former relationships, romantic or not. She captures the emotions attached to losing contact as she sings “I cannot bе your friend, so I pay the price of what I lost / And what it cost, now that we don’t talk,” all set to a disco-esque instrumental.
“Is It Over Now (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” serves as the closing track and standout of not only the vault, but the entire album as a whole (an impressive feat, considering the amount of hits on the main tracklist). As Swift reflects on a previous relationship, she draws the listener in as she expresses her frustration with its unclear demise. Brutally honest lyrics like “Your new girl is my clone” and “You search in every model’s bed for somethin’ greater” serve as hard-hitting and targeted attacks against her former partner. Yet Swift exposes her vulnerability during the bridge, where she expresses her raw desperation as she sings “Oh, Lord, I think about jumpin’ / Off of very tall somethings / Just to see you come runnin’ / And say the one thing I’ve been wanting, but no.” The track is sonically stunning as well, perfectly fusing 80s pop synth with modern melodrama to create an experience that can only be described as cinematic.
It’s rare to release a genre-and career-defining album, and unheard of to do it twice. Swift has done both. She has not only replicated, but increased the success of her work. Finally clean from the negative publicity and pain that clouded this era of her life, Swift has reclaimed her status as pop perfection. Her name is Taylor Swift and she was born in “1989 (Taylor’s Version).”
This appeared in the November 9th Daily Nexus printed edition