REVIEW: ‘1989 (Taylor’s Version)’ Never Goes Out of Style

As Taylor Swift continues the journey of re-recording her back catalog of music so as to gain ownership of her master recordings, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) is the latest project from the global icon. The fifth studio album from Swift, 1989, was originally released on October 27, 2014, with the re-recorded version coming exactly nine years later. Up to that point in her career in 2014, Swift had steadily been shifting into the realm of pop music from her roots as a country artist. It was 1989 that firmly cemented her as an unmistakable pop star, with hits like “Blank Space,” “Style,” “Shake It Off,” and “Wildest Dreams.” 

1989 Taylor’s Version represents an interesting nexus point in Swift’s career, as she reclaims the album that was her first major reinvention. After re-recording three albums from earlier in her career – Fearless, Red, and Speak Now – there was a curiosity amongst Swifties and music fans in general as to how the maturity of Swift’s vocals would be reflected in 1989 Taylor’s Version. Each of the aforementioned Taylor’s Version albums showcased elements of this vocal transformation, without distracting from the poignancy of the songwriting. Considering that Swift’s vocals in the original 1989 more closely resemble her current sound than her earlier projects, it makes sense that there is not a stark contrast in her voice itself between the 2014 original and 1989 (Taylor’s Version). However, there is a perceptible difference in the layering of her vocals and production. There is an underlying echo that serves as the beating heart of 1989 (Taylor’s Version). It is almost as if the listener is feeling the reverberation of 1989 through the years. Perhaps we are experiencing Swift’s reckoning with the significance of her lyrics and the evolution of their meaning – to both her and her audience. A specific moment in the album that epitomizes this theme comes in the song “I Know Places.” Just before the second round of the chorus, Swift sings the lyrics “and we run” with such a palpable intensity that seems to emerge from the core of her soul and is broadcast out into the airwaves.  

As for the Vault tracks on 1989 Taylor’s Version, the five songs include ‘“Slut!,”’ “Say Don’t Go,” “Now That We Don’t Talk,” “Suburban Legends,” and “Is It Over Now?” In conversations I have had with other listeners from various schools of the Swiftie fandom, each of these five songs have been referenced as personal favorites from the album. Once again, this is a testament to the versatility of Swift’s musicality and her innate ability to connect with audiences on multiple levels. “Say Don’t Go,” an impassioned lament of a relationship that ended in betrayal, finds Swift hitting her groove in the sonically upbeat, thematically anguished pop style that has become a signature of hers. “Why’d you have to lead me on? Why’d you have to twist the knife? Walk away and leave me bleedin’, bleedin,’” Swift cries out in a chorus that is as heartbreaking as it is catchy. “Is It Over Now,” an anthem for the unbelievably complex emotions of recovering from a breakup and the vicious cycle of second guesses that follows is Swift at her most lyrically scathing: “You dream of my mouth before it called you a lying traitor, you search in every model’s bed for something greater, baby.”  

As much as Swifties and the public at-large love to theorize about the real-life meaning behind each of Swift’s songs and lyrics, it is just as rewarding to sit back and listen to the artist of a generation express herself creatively – without delving into the gray area between her personal life and the internal narratives that are central to her art as a storyteller. Regardless of how one chooses to partake in Swift’s music, common ground can be found in appreciating a pop phenom at the top of her game, with no signs of going anywhere anytime soon.