Taylor Swift: 1989 (Taylor's Version) review - a flawless remake of her standout album, Swift at her best
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Nearly a decade after its release, Taylor Swift's 1989 is an album which remains ahead of its competitors. In 2014, this record was a new look for the artist, marking the final moments of her triumphant transition from country singer to full-blown pop star. In 2023, it is proof that Swift's standout release, although taking reference from the 1980s and now practically a symbol of the 2010s, is a timeless one. The album remains simply a delight to listen to.
On 1989, Swift highlights the skill and craft of her songwriting. She matches irresistibly catchy melodies - all of which would serve perfectly as singles - with effortlessly insightful lyrics, which in moments switch from confessional to playful, from anguished to nostalgic. The album is also more mature than its predecessors, like Fearless and Speak Now. Swift isn't as earnest as she once was. Instead, she's self-aware, injecting a welcome humour into the tracks through a hearty dose of satirical songwriting.
Swift also offers a more complex look at the song subject matter she is known for - love. In Red, she offered a complete dissection of heartbreak - (a brilliant one I might add) - but in 1989, she digs deeper. She ruminates on the anxieties that surround new relationships, the wistfulness with which you can look back on a past romance, and the satisfying feeling of healing and shedding your past experiences.
The other thing that differentiated 1989 from Swift's prior work was, in simple terms, the fact that it sounded different. She was experimenting with synth pop, electronic-tinged pop, and a wealth of new production styles. But beneath the shimmery surface, Swift's lyricism - the talent which has always set her apart - was still there in all of its glory. As Rolling Stone magazine noted back in 2014: “1989 sounds exactly like Taylor Swift, even when it sounds like nothing she’s ever tried before.”
In Taylor's Version of 1989, Swift re-records her songs with a masterful attention to detail - listening to them feels as though you are travelling back in time to when they were first released. Yet there's something almost more magical: in 2014, 1989 was, at its core, about Swift reclaiming her narrative; and in 2023, this reaches a vibrant new meaning, as Swift reclaims her music too.
1989 was always an album of skyscraper highs, and with its re-release, they remain that way. 'Blank Space' is as razor-sharp as ever, with Swift turning the slander she has received on its head. You can practically see her winking on the track as she tells us “darling I’m a nightmare dressed as a daydream”, and there’s something both deliciously witty and powerful about the song’s hook: “Got a long list of ex-lovers / They'll tell you I'm insane / But I've got a blank space, baby / And I'll write your name.”
In the sultry ‘Style’, the popstar takes us on a “no headlights” car drive through a perfectly crafted pop song. 'Out Of The Woods' is as ethereal but as clever as it was the first time around, with the line “the rest of the world was black and white, but we were in screaming colour” practically reflecting what it feels like when you listen to one of Swift's albums from start to finish.
'Wildest Dreams' boasts Swift’s most vivid imagery. With these romantic but wistful lyrics, you can’t help but dive head first into the story: “Say you'll remember me / Standing in a nice dress / Staring at the sunset, babe / Red lips and rosy cheeks / Say you'll see me again / Even if it's just in your wildest dreams.”
Even on the lower points of the album, it’s hard to find real fault. ‘Welcome To New York’ has always suffered somewhat from its relative superficiality; missing the turns of phrase and personal yet insightful observations that make Swift such a mastermind. But it still brilliantly serves its purpose as the album opener, introducing us to a complete tracklist of memorable melodies and marking Swift’s swinging foray from country pop and pop rock into absolute pop.
And ‘Bad Blood’ - which never quite portrayed Swift’s songwriting at its best and received mixed reviews from critics at the time of its release - is as catchy as ever, offering something both fun and different (complete with an iconic music video).
Something particularly notable about this album is that, as Swift said she was aiming for at the time, it is remarkably “sonically cohesive”. We transition seamlessly from song to song. From the atmospheric and captivating ‘This Love’, which takes us on a journey through a lost and re-found relationship complete with breathtaking vocals, we swim into ‘I Know Places, which boasts brilliant production and a genius storyline.
From there, we fall into ‘Clean’, which has always been a fan favourite, using haunting metaphors to explore complex emotions of heartbreak, grief, and recovery. Just a few examples: “The drought was the very worst, / when the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst.” “You’re still all over me / like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear any more.” “Rain came pouring down / when I was drowning that’s when I could finally breathe.”
Next, we meet the 2014 bonus tracks, all three of which should have been on the original album - especially a personal favourite of mine, 'Wonderland', which is a song wonderfully imaginative in its storytelling and impossible not to play on repeat. Then finally, we reach the moment we’ve been waiting for: the vault tracks.
First is '“Slut!”', arguably the most anticipated vault track on the album. It lives up to expectations, showing itself off as a hit within the very first lines, from the stark “being this young is art” to the vivid “love thorns all over this rose.” The lyrics continue throughout as a smart but saddening rumination on the slut-shaming Swift received throughout this point in her career - and how she tried to deal with it. As she muses in the chorus: “If they call me a slut, you know it might be worth it for once.”
Next, we have 'Say Don’t Go', which is Swift’s signature mastery on full display: gut-wrenching lyrics to a tune you want to scream at the top of your lungs in your car. 'Now That We Don’t Talk' takes us back into the artist's more autobiographical writing: you can feel the honesty and practically see her mourning her heartbreak in the privacy of her home, in a way that is reminiscent of 1989’s predecessor, Red.
'Suburban Legends' sounds straight off of Swift’s 2022 release Midnights, reminding us of the many genres and sounds she has conquered over the years. And 'Is It Over Now?' feels like a victory lap for an already standout album. Swift is once again showing us what she can do with carefully-crafted lyrics, emotive songwriting, and brilliant melodies - with the closing beats and notes sounding like something out of my wildest dreams.
When it first released in 2014, this album was all about Swift showing what she could do. 1989 was always Swift at her very best. With the release of Taylor’s Version, she takes us back down the rabbit hole into a wonderland of bright city lights, razor-sharp satire, and musings on lost and re-found love, reminding us that when it comes to tunes which are instant hits but still put lyricism above all else, she is - and always will be - the master.