Album Review: 1989 (Taylor’s Version)


Alexandra Pullen (she/her) reviews the re-recording of Taylor Swift’s pop masterpiece 1989

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Image by Paolo V

By Alexandra Pullen

On 27 October 2023, exactly nine years after the original album dropped, Taylor Swift released her fourth re-recording, this time of her fifth studio album 1989 and it’s been a long time coming (pun absolutely intended). This re-release was hinted at for some time, with fans suspecting that it was in the works after ‘Wildest Dreams (Taylor’s Version)’ was dropped in November 2021, before Red (Taylor’s Version) came out. Shortly after, in June 2022 came ‘This Love (Taylor’s Version)’ a song which was used for the trailer of the first season of Prime Video series, The Summer I Turned Pretty.

1989 (Taylor’s Version) has been one of the most highly anticipated re-recordings amongst fans so far, as it was the album which made so many people (myself included) ‘Swifties’. The album marked Swift’s genre shift from country to pop and was the first time she worked with producer, Jack Antonoff, on an album. In 2022, Taylor broke the record for album with the most streams in a single day on Spotify, with the release of Midnights, and she has surpassed that with this re-recording. 1989 was Swift’s biggest and most successful album, winning the Grammy Awards for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album in 2016, but will this success be replicated for the re-release?

It’s safe to say that the crowd went wild when Swift finally announced 1989 (Taylor’s Version) at the closing show of the first US leg of The Eras Tour. In Los Angeles, she teased fans the night before the announcement with the light-up bracelets she provides as accessories for her shows, lighting them up the iconic 1989 shade of blue at the end of her set. Then the following evening (9 August) Swift took to the stage wearing blue outfits for the Speak Now, folklore and 1989 sections of her show. She also wore a blue dress for the surprise song segment of the set, the first of which was the final song from 1989, ‘New Romantics’.

When the time came to listen to 1989 (Taylor’s Version), I initially started at the beginning before jumping around with the chronology of the album because my curiosity got the better of me. The opener, ‘Welcome to New York’ establishes 1989’s aesthetic as a city album, but the re-release sees Taylor trying to change this, taking much of the album art on a beach. In terms of sound, the instruments seem louder with some added synths but the energy of the track remains the same, if anything it may be more energetic. Similarly, the replication of Swift’s most streamed track on Spotify, ‘Blank Space’, is very close to the original, but with a more mature voice on vocals which does change the song. A stand out point from this track is the bridge and rising inflections on words like “boys” and “don’t”.

Personally, the album was a mixed bunch for me, and one of the biggest disappointments was the re-recording of ‘Style’. One of the most popular songs amongst fans, it is widely rumoured to be about Swift’s relationship with fellow singer, Harry Styles, back in 2012-2013. However, from the iconic opening guitar riff, it was clear to me that Taylor’s Version was not going to be the same. Of course, it has been nine years between the recording of the two versions, so it is bound to be different, but the production of the song seemed indescribably off and Taylor’s emotional vocalisation seemed less pronounced.

Despite this disappointment, the track list jumps on to what for me is probably the strongest track on the album: ‘Out of the Woods’. This has always been one of my favourite Taylor Swift songs, so I was quite hesitant going into listening, but the addition of more significant echoes within the bridge of the song was highly effective and made it sound haunting. Jack Antonoff worked on this song with Taylor on the original album as well as this one, providing backing vocals throughout, thus I felt that it was in good hands once again.

With many of these pop songs, the energy behind them was the driving force, making them difficult to match in a re-recording. The likes of ‘Shake It Off’ and ‘New Romantics’ do not seem to have the same level of liveliness, specifically the pre-chorus of the latter which consists of an elongated “Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah”. In the re-recording it sounds somewhat distorted and strange, and the sound caught me off-guard.

Saying this, ‘I Wish You Would’, which was my favourite song when the original album came out, does live up to the standard of the track from 2014. Likewise, the one track which appears on the deluxe version of 1989 (Taylor’s Version), ‘Bad Blood’ featuring Kendrick Lamar, sounds great with both voices having matured. This song is popular with Swifties, who often chant Lamar’s parts during its performance at The Eras Tour.

Two stand out tracks for me from the original re-recorded songs were ‘Clean’ and ‘You Are In Love’. ‘Clean’ is a fan-favourite and acts as a metaphor for moving on from someone and focussing on yourself. It contains some of Swift’s best lyrics including the metaphor “when I was drowning, that’s when I could finally breathe,” and has become a special song for fans as it has connections to mental illness for many. The re-recording contains more layering and build up on the instrumental parts and the song as a whole seems more defined. Conversely, ‘You Are In Love’ is a classic Taylor Swift love song and feels vocally very similar to the original.

Taylor released five vault tracks on 1989 (Taylor’s Version) which didn’t make the cut for the original album and they have had varying reactions from the fandom. They were all produced by Jack Antonoff and the first of them, ‘Slut!’, was the most anticipated purely because of the title. Swift posted some of the vault lyrics on her Instagram story in the days leading up to the album drop, some of which featured in the opening verse of this song. Fans were expecting an up-beat track here but instead got a slower and more emotional discussion of backlash from the media over Taylor's love life. I did enjoy the song as a whole and think it is one of the vault’s strongest, the slower melody balancing out the more energetic pop songs on the album.

The next track, ‘Say Don’t Go’ has many lyrical parallels with other songs by Swift, most clearly ‘Getaway Car’ from Reputation and ‘august’ from folklore, as it tells the story of a relationship centering on betrayal and longing in heartbreak. The song was co-written by Diane Warren, who wrote many hits during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Of all of the vault tracks, my favourite is ‘Now That We Don’t Talk’. It contains a catchy beat, and is speculated to be about Harry Styles, but unfortunately is Swift’s shortest ever song. The opening production of the track sounds similar to ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Mastermind’ from Midnights which can also be said about the start of ‘Is It Over Now?’ which sonically is almost identical to the ending of ‘Dear Reader’, also from Taylor’s newest album.

‘Suburban Legends’ originally piqued my interest before the album was released, but was probably my least favourite vault track. Personally, I didn’t think that the lyricism was very strong but also the subject matter was hard to pin down. Lastly, the album closer ‘Is It Over Now?’ has some direct parallels to ‘Style’ but the melody of it has similarities to ‘Out of the Woods’. It seems to have become a strong track for many with the catchy chorus and a stand-out bridge which contains some Swift-esque, cathartic lyrics that are perfect to sing along to.

Overall, Taylor’s voice on the re-recorded tracks of 1989 (Taylor’s Version) sounds almost as if she is trying to sound younger and similar to how she did in 2014 which, in my opinion, negatively impacts some of the songs. As a result, the vault tracks do not sound as coherent as her previous re-recordings and feel like they would be better fit for Midnights. Personally, none of the vault tracks compare to the ones featured on Red (Taylor’s Version) or even some from Speak Now (Taylor’s Version). This being said, there are a few songs on the album which I love and do prefer to the original, including ‘Out of the Woods’, ‘Clean’, ‘You Are In Love’ and ‘Now That We Don’t Talk’. It was always going to be a hard task for Taylor to re-release all of her albums and perfectly replicate them, and it seems that 1989 (Taylor’s Version) is receiving the most critiques because of the sheer popularity of the original album and the expectations this places on a re-recording.