Taylor Swift Continues to Dominate the Charts and Revamp Her Own Legacy With ‘1989 (Taylor’s Version)’
Fans, old and new, can’t get enough of Taylor Swift. She continues to break records on tour, at the box office, and with newly recorded versions of her catalog. Audiences want to hear everything she does, including revamps of the albums that made her a household name. Swift’s wildly popular crossover album, “1989,” is the newest addition to be added to the collection of Swift’s rerecorded and reimagined records. Anyone attuned to the pop culture airwaves could not miss the album when it first debuted in 2014. It marked Swift’s complete transition from a country darling into a fully realized pop artist. Hits like “Bad Blood” and “Shake It Off” became embedded in our collective consciousness. And, “1989” was a monumental shift for Swift, so it was only appropriate that the album title bear the singer’s birth year. The record was so infectious that it went on to top global charts and win numerous awards, including Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards.
Several albums later and with Swift firmly positioned as one of the biggest music artists of all time, “1989” returns as “1989 (Taylor’s Version),” part of the singer’s ongoing journey to retake full control of her recordings. It began with a 2019 dispute between Swift and her previous label, Big Machine Records, when the latter refused to sell Swift her own master recordings at a reasonable rate. Now signed with Republic Records, Swift vowed to rerecord her first six studio albums and release them. Swifties have breathlessly been following the saga and helped make the “Taylor’s Version” editions record-breakers in streaming and every other conceivable medium we use to assess an album’s performance. The move is quite brilliant considering this isn’t a venture akin to the usual remixes, vault openings or remasters major artists tend to release. More radical than the Beatles’ “Let It Be…Naked,” Swift is literally reworking the material, in essence creating new masters, while using fresh lyrics in a few spots and throwing in extra songs not featured in the original releases. In 2021 she dropped the first “Taylor’s Version” of “Fearless,” followed by “Red (Taylor’s Version),” and earlier this year, “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).”
Now we’re at “1989.” Revisiting this breezy yet fierce eruption of immersive pop gems is a reminder of how Swift truly began conquering the music world. You can dance to this album or reflect on the confessional nature of Swift’s famously autobiographical lyrics about break-ups, friendships in distress and shaking in front of someone’s new girlfriend. Five previously unreleased songs are featured with instantly Swiftian titles, “Slut!,” “Say Don’t Go,” “Now That We Don’t Talk,” “Suburban Legends” and “Is It Over Now?” make up the new material on this “1989.” Along with the album there’s a new letter addressed to fans from the singer, who remembers making the album when she was only 24 and faced slut shaming via tabloid obsessions with her dating life. She laments how her songwriting was trivialized, “as if it were a predatory act of a boy crazy psychopath.” But this is also a testament to Swift’s mass appeal. She doesn’t communicate with the air of a diva, but a down-to-earth artist who taps into the mindset of many girls, women and general listeners anywhere. Her dating issues could very well be yours.
As for the album itself, it sticks close to the original “1989,” while sporting more bass and moments where Swift’s voice sounds a bit deeper and further developed, which is inevitable given the nine-year span of time since “1989” was first released. She’s done so many genre swaps and grown as a performer that there’s little denying the Taylor Swift of today is even more potent than the 24-year-old who reminded us that “haters gonna hate.” Swedish producer Max Martin has now been replaced by Christopher Rowe, who never attempts to fully alter the original sound of what Martin accomplished. “Welcome to New York” and “Bad Blood” were always such good songs, and Swift seems to not have wanted to risk too much while giving them another go in the recording studio. More intriguing for listeners will be the new songs, which may not match the scope of the album itself, yet provide more dreamily intimate diary entries from Swift’s songwriter notebook. “Slut!” has some edgier moments where the singer wonders, “If they call me a slut / you know it might be worth it for once.” Veteran songwriter Dianne Warren helped with “Say Don’t Go,” which has the breezy feel of a track that could have been thrown into a 2000s rom-com.
How can we not cheer for Taylor Swift? She’s produced that kind of rare music that becomes known across every continent, while outsmarting the industry suits who think they’re owed control over an artist’s labor. Despite all the war, political unrest and economic uncertainty going in the world, 2023 could easily be called the Year of Taylor Swift. Her “The Eras Tour” bolstered local economies and the tour’s subsequent concert film has dominated the box office. Now, she’s closing the year releasing her version of the album that truly made her a household name and permanent pop cultural phenomenon. She knows we’re going to listen, because the music is so good anyway that you can’t get enough. “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” is another reminder, revamped with just as much energy and force as before, that this is Taylor’s world at the moment and we’re just living, dancing and breaking up in it.
“1989 (Taylor’s Version)” releases Oct. 27 on Apple Music.