Since her first album re-recording with Fearless, Taylor Swift has kept fans on their toes for what would come next. Mystifying merchandise releases and unforgiving music video allusions fueled online chatter on which album re-release would be out next—reputation, in particular, was expected to be re-released at any moment. And finally, after leaving fans with one eye open at night, expectations were subverted as renowned pop perfection 1989 joins Speak Now and Red in her officially Taylor-owned collection on October 27.
Already one of 2023’s biggest album releases, the debut of synth-pop 1989 (Taylor’s Version) broke the singer-songwriter’s own record of being the most streamed artist within a single day of an album release. Faithful fans, casual listeners, and hater-heartbreakers alike have had all kinds of reactions, ranging the entire emotional spectrum. This hardly comes as a surprise; everyone can only expect excellence from the album that birthed some of the 2010s’ best pop classics. Alas, it did just that—a re-recording that captures the same perfect storms.
For worse or for better
Swifties have a far-off wonderment from the original tracks of the Grammy award-winning album 1989. If you already turned your ears away, all you had to do was stay to appreciate the versatility of this 21-track album. From the soulful serenade of This Love to the upbeat and satirical twist of How You Get The Girl, Swift’s dynamic range is one that’s hard to miss even in our wildest dreams.
In its reinvention, album opener Welcome to New York’s sound returns with more refined vocals but still captures a familiar sound that we have heard before, complete with beats that we can still dance to. Although a bit toned down, the chart-topping anthem Shake It Off remains an infectious bop with its catchy melody and carefree lyricism. But Bad Blood deserves more positive recognition for its mature vocals and repolished sound design, arguably surpassing the original.
While some album tunes in the original 1989 received late love only after some years; these underrated gems have finally gotten their time in the spotlight. True to its title, Out of the Woods makes it out in the clear through its sharp vocal delivery, crisp production, and a bridge that every fan can sing in screaming color. However, fan-favorite Style has seemingly lost its gusto with its washed-out sound mixing—indistinguishable for casual listeners but not to the ears of detail-oriented fans. Lyrical whirlwind Blank Space also lost its angry, emotional tone to calmer vocals, losing sight of its complex world of love-and-fame storytelling.
Not one to hold back from the vivid imagery, Swift sets the nostalgic tone for this reimagined album with pop-rock masterpiece I Wish You Would. Her ability to convey the yearning for a lost love is a testament to her songwriting prowess. But Swift’s lyrical finesse shines even more in Clean, the post-heartbreak anthem that perfectly encapsulates the recovery and personal growth that ensue after a hurtful relationship. Another hidden gem from the album is the haunting tale of love that lurks in the shadows, whispering I Know Places, which returns with more vigor in its synth-pop beat, perfectly aligning with the aggressiveness of Swift’s vocals especially in the powerful growl when she croons, “and we run!”
For the bonus tracks that were only released in the 1989 deluxe album, Wonderland, You Are In Love, and New Romantics narrated picturesque stories of the thrills and comforts of being young and in love. Inviting listeners into a world of enchanting escapism, these songs close out the original 1989 tracklist with a glimpse into uncharted territories that might have shaped the album’s impact differently had they been included in the standard edition.
Consistent with the Taylor’s Version tradition, 1989’s new rendition adds an extra incentive for listeners by introducing previously unreleased tracks from the album. The five From the Vault bonus songs harness the kind of undiluted honesty that was absent in the original version; they epitomize the magnetism and adrenaline behind a high-risk, high-reward relationship.
From the Vault opens with “Slut!”, which subliminally criticizes the boy-crazy media portrayal that has hounded Swift’s career. Referencing the oft-misogynistic label slapped onto descriptions of her love life, the singer firmly announces that no voice can derail her from pursuing a promising new romance. With vocals pulling listeners into a dreamlike state, “Slut!” perfectly captures Swift’s snapshot-esque songwriting through descriptions of seemingly small details dotting the lyrics—nothing goes unnoticed for Swift, not even street names.
Worlds away from the childlike hopefulness of Sweeter than Fiction, Say Don’t Go cements the vault’s key theme of unrequited romance for a dismissive lover. The song recalls the burgeoning rise of synthesizers and electronic instrumentation in ‘80s music, the sonic inspiration behind the aptly-titled 1989.
Meanwhile, a chronological progression from the previous track, Now That We Don’t Talk displays the ashes of the concluded relationship. While Swift’s listeners are accustomed to hearing songs as long as ten minutes, Now That We Don’t Talk is the shortest Swift has ever released—perhaps reflecting the brevity of the relationship she describes in the lyrics. In the song, she accounts how she and her love interest have substantially changed since ending things; while she withdraws from the public eye, her ex recreates his image through new hairstyles and tattoos. Though liberated by the relationship’s end, Swift bears the lingering weight of what she lost.
In between throbbing rhythms and echoey vocals, Suburban Legends reverses the story by tracing the allure and enchantment behind a rising romance and seeing the height of its intensity at both the start and end of the relationship. While the romance had always been doomed, Swift fondly reminisces all of its spark—recounting a story worthy of being enshrined in folklore. Finally, Is it Over Now? is the darling of the vault tracks, tying together the album’s From the Vault section. Embodying the spunky verses of rapper Kendrick Lamar in Bad Blood, Swift remains unforgiving in her scathing depiction of her ex, who is on the prowl for her new replacement. With words left unsaid, she leaves a page of the chapter open as she casts doubt over whether they have truly moved on.
The Vault is not without its own fair share of criticism, with many pointing out how the songs’ production is too similar to that of Midnights. The culprit for this might be Swift’s frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff, whose musical style has thrown off the distinctive flair of Max Martin and Shellback, the dominant producers of the original 1989. Nevertheless, the five songs’ charm endures. The Vault throws caution to the wind and unmasks layers of raw emotion previously unseen in the original, making them welcome additions to the 1989 era.
Pauses, then says
With 1989 (Taylor’s Version) right here, right now, it’s all good. While the 2014 original held a reputation for being pop perfection in a long play, in this re-release, it’s hard to say it remains exactly that. Though the sentiment in Swift’s voice is still the same, tweaks in sound production led to an excessive clarity that knocks out the dream-like haze fans have come to love.
This, of course, is not to say that the re-recording of 1989 goes out of style. With the release of each new version, fans are always on the lookout for accentuation with preserved authenticity. It goes without saying that the pop masterclass still holds these expectations. Lyrics brought to life by experiences of beauty, betrayal, and bliss still tug on the heartstrings of her audience, even as she sings each “ooh” and “ah” ever so slightly different.
1989 (Taylor’s Version) fills the blank space left after the recently burned down “Lover House” during the worldwide The Eras Tour, signifying the dawn of a new era for Swift. However, it is difficult to let slide such noticeable differences from the original to the owned. Fingers are kept crossed that the remaining albums reputation and self-titled debut Taylor Swift do not meet the same fate. For now, Taylor Swift, we forgive, we forget—but we’ll have to wait and see until the next release if we’ll actually let it go.