Review of Taylor Swift's album 1989 (Taylor's Version) | Betsy Schlehuber
I think a lot of us forget just how iconic 2014 was. If you’re also 20 years old like me, that means you were in 5th/6th grade at that point. 2014 was the year of leggings under colorful skirts, wanting to paint your bedroom aquamarine, and watching Vines after school. But it was also the year of Taylor Swift. She had already been shifting genres, starting with 2012’s country-pop album Red, but 1989, and all the singles that came from that album, sent shockwaves across the pop sphere. I remember everyone’s Instagram bios having, “‘Cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream” in them, along with other lyrics from Swift’s hit single “Blank Space.” I remember my fifth grade teacher being unaware of the twerking in her music video for “Shake It Off” and having to turn off the Smartboard frantically before we could stare for too long (It didn’t work, Mrs. Anderson). But what I remember the most was my best friend owning 1989 on iTunes on her hot pink iPhone 5C. The album cover was a yellowed-out polaroid picture of Swift’s iconic red lips with faded out seagulls plastered on the picture. It was perfectly 2014.
It was also the first album featuring Jack Antonoff from the defunct band “fun.” as a producer. Discourse on whether Antonoff is ruining popular female artists’ music is now rampaging Twitter, but back then, all that mattered to young listeners’ ears was the potent ‘80’s synths Antonoff still loves today. They open up 1989 with the song “Welcome to New York,” which is sort of an ironic song in the context of the rest of the album, considering most of the songs following it are not about New York, but instead are about Harry Styles from the wildly popular boy band “One Direction.” Synths follow Swift’s vocals throughout the album, but it’s not the only instrument to pay attention to like many Jack Antonoff-hating Swifties seem to believe. The percussion throughout the album is excellent, and does a great job in following Swift’s vocals, especially when she doesn’t just stick to the tempos of typical pop choruses. Even though background vocals are technically not instruments, Swift seems to include some extra ones, such as a little laugh in “Shake It Off” and incredible high notes in “Out of the Woods.” We can’t forget the horns either, like in “I Wish You Would,” where they whisper from behind Swift’s painful lyrics.
My goal with this review is not to compare, albeit some of my thoughts intrinsically involved comparison. But there’s a difference between reviewing an album for artistry and reviewing an album to see if it’s better than its predecessor. I see many people on social media complain that 1989 (Taylor’s Version) doesn’t sound that different from the stolen version or that “Style” and “New Romantics” don’t hit the same. I feel like these sorts of criticisms always come up with each re-recorded version’s release, but they make the least sense in the case of 1989 because this is who Taylor really wanted to be. After years of making country music, she wanted to do something bigger, and Jack Antonoff helped her do that. Of course these versions may sound the most similar, Antonoff still works with Taylor to this day and this sort of pop sound is quintessentially Taylor Swift. And even though she was obviously younger nine years ago, it wasn’t like she was a child like in Fearless. Her voice started maturing a lot in 2014 and it carries over into 2023. I understand the nostalgia aspect to 1989, but also, Taylor doesn’t do re-recordings to try to fulfill your idea of nostalgia. She does them because these forms of nostalgia were stolen from her. Who cares about the slightest difference in sound? The songs are still amazing overall.
Now, the vault tracks. This is where Harry Styles really comes into play. Point blank, this was a 10-month situationship where both parties were cheating but also leading each other on because they loved each other that much. And these vault tracks did not come to play. 2014 would not have been ready for ethereal bops like “Slut!” or revealing songs like “Is It Over Now?” We get to know a lot of details about their situationship nine years later, and I love it. The reason why we can even speculate it’s a situationship is because of the chorus of “Is It Over Now?” The song I relate to the most is “Suburban Legends” because it puts into words the feelings I had for someone that I never had the words for. Taylor clearly wanted something more than what she was given. She wanted the security and novelty of a long-lasting relationship that her ex-classmates could gawk at, and she wanted it with Harry. “You kissed me in a way that’s gonna screw me up forever” would’ve also slayed in 2014 Instagram bios, along with other incredible lyrics such as “I broke my own heart ‘cause you were too polite to do it.” It’s so heartbreaking knowing that, besides Joe Alwyn, Harry Styles was probably Taylor’s most important love. We can see it when they hug at awards ceremonies. We hear it in the song “Slut!” where Taylor reveals that Harry meant so much to her that she wouldn’t mind being called a slut anymore if she was seen with him. Being degraded like that by literally everyone for years as she cycled through boyfriends like any normal girl in her 20’s could’ve easily broken her down forever, and maybe Harry never would’ve entered her life. But “Slut!” proves that she was going to stop caring. For him. It’s unfortunate that later she would date Joe Alwyn, someone she felt she needed to protect from the public, and someone that maybe deliberately kept her from the spotlight, a place she actually loves.
For nine years, Swifties and non-Swifties alike jammed together to all these iconic songs, hailing from an album that shares Taylor’s birth year. We screamed at the first chords of electric guitar in “Style,” the earworm chorus of “New Romantics,” cried to the best love song written for Jack Antonoff and his partner, “You Are In Love,” and danced like little girls to the precious and somewhat helpful track “How You Get The Girl.” There may be no more iPhone 5C’s to download 1989 (Taylor’s Version) to, but we can let ourselves be back in middle school amidst the never-ending chaos of our college years.
P.S., ending the deluxe version of 1989 (Taylor’s Version) with the Bad Blood remix featuring Kendrick Lamar was the best decision. I love that song more than the original “Bad Blood.”
Standout songs: Wonderland (Taylor’s Version), I Know Places (Taylor’s Version), Slut! (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault), Suburban Legends (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)