Fulfilling our Wildest Dreams with 1989 (Taylor’s Version)
Releasing a chart-topping album is no small feat, but striving to surpass your own best-selling record is a whole new challenge. After all, how do you beat pop perfection? Global superstar Taylor Swift has embarked on a mission to regain control of her music legacy following music executive Scooter Braun’s acquisition of her past recordings in 2019. The culmination of this quest arrives in the eagerly awaited release of ‘Taylor’s Version’ of her iconic 2014 album, 1989. The question lingers: has this re-recording led us out of the woods and into the hearts of Swifties – or has it left us screaming, crying for more?
The year 2014 marked a pivotal moment in Taylor Swift’s career, with the original release of the revolutionary 1989 that punctuated her official transition from country musician to pop sensation. Collaborating with music legend Max Martin and Jack Antonoff, Swift’s album promised to build on the success of her previous release, Red (2012, Taylor’s Version 2021). And it did not disappoint. 1989 was filled with catchy, lively melodies that resonated with audiences, ultimately earning it the Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2016 Grammy Awards. 1989 (Taylor’s Version) marks the fourth re-recording of her albums, bringing with it five new unreleased tracks ‘from the vault’. The deluxe version boasts a runtime of an impressive hour and twenty minutes and reunites past collaborators such as Jack Antonoff and Imogen Heap.
The album kicks off with ‘Welcome To New York’, a strong start with improved production, featuring funky synths and bright vocals that pay homage to the ‘80s. Viral hits like ‘Blank Space’, ‘Shake It Off’, and ‘Wildest Dreams’ maintain their iconic musical cleanness, capturing the essence of the original 1989. Notably, the deluxe edition’s highlight is the addition of a single extra track, the Kendrick Lamar remix of ‘Bad Blood’, reflecting Swift’s ongoing feud with Scooter Braun. Lamar’s rap closely mirrors the original, showing Swift’s influence in securing his return for the remake.
Nonetheless, there are a few disappointments scattered throughout the album. ‘Style’ stands out as the burning flames of 1989 with an unusual choice of synth pedal that competes with Swift’s vocals, creating an overpowering yet monotonous feel. Similarly, in ‘New Romantics’, Swift’s vocals are occasionally drowned out by the instrumentation, with random volume spikes in the chorus which resemble more as mixing oversights rather than deliberate choices. This might be attributed to Max Martin’s absence in the remake and something called an ‘original production clause’ which prohibits re-recordings that sound too similar to the original. The production here resembles the tracks from her most recent 2022 album Midnights, offering a dreamier, wistful listening experience but sacrificing some of the original’s youthful spirit; and this makes sense considering Jack Antonoff’s collaboration on both albums.
Furthermore, some of the ‘vault’ tracks also bear a resemblance to Midnights. “Slut!” in particular adopts a slower tempo and features breathy singing, reminiscent of tracks like ‘Snow On The Beach’. The lyrics feel hazy, with her singing about a ‘flamingo pink, sunrise boulevard’. Some lines allude to the public criticisms surrounding her relationships from the paparazzi, introducing a more serious tone: ‘everyone wants him, that was my crime / the wrong place at the right time’. While enjoyable, it does feel somewhat out of place within the album which had a distinct ‘80s vibe.
‘Is It Over Now?’, a previously unreleased track, has overtaken the #1 spot of ‘Cruel Summer’ from Lover (2019) on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. This song is seemingly an answer to ‘Out Of The Woods’ as Swift asks ‘was it over then? / and is it over now?’, fitting seamlessly within the realm of 1989. As the album’s closing track, it serves as a true conclusion to the era of 1989, emphasising its finality by offering a retrospective perspective. And though the production quality has been varied throughout the album, Swift’s vocals remain stronger on the re-recorded edition as a testament to her developing talent.
In revisiting this iconic album, Taylor Swift demonstrates once again that her mission to reclaim her music has been a quest filled with both triumphs and challenges, particularly when attempting to surpass an album as widely beloved and iconic as the original. The release of 1989 (Taylor’s Version) reflects her resilience and unwavering dedication to her artistry, highlighting that, for Taylor Swift, music is not just a relic of the past but an ever-evolving journey into the future.