1989 (Taylor's Version)

1989 (Taylor's Version)

When Taylor Swift announced that 1989 (Taylor’s Version) was finally seeing release, she mentioned that, of all the albums she’s faithfully rerecorded in her quest to retake her master tapes, this one was special. “The 1989 album changed my life in countless ways,” she wrote on Instagram. “To be perfectly honest, this is my most FAVORITE re-record I’ve ever done because the 5 From The Vault tracks are so insane. I can’t believe they were ever left behind.” From “Now That We Don’t Talk” (on which, wowee zowee, she sings, “I don’t have to pretend I like acid rock/Or that I’d like to be on a mega-yacht/With important men who think important thoughts”) to “Say Don’t Go” to “Is It Over Now?”, one gets a real feel for the ferocity and focus with which she was writing at the time, a new audience in sight. It’s not just that any one of the newly uncovered songs here is more than strong enough to have been included (or strong enough to have launched the career of a less prolific artist); it’s that, even on material previously deemed inessential, Swift sounds comfortable bordering on imperious—like she’d been making lush, montage-ready pop music all along. Nearly a decade later—and at the tail end of a 2023 in which her every move seems to have determined pop-cultural weather—it’s weirdly easy to forget that in 2014, she was still approaching (nah, engineering) an inflection point in her life and career, reintroducing herself (at just 24) as the all-conquering, planet-like presence we know today. She’d already started adjusting the ratio of country to pop on 2010’s Speak Now and 2012’s Red, working with Swedish superproducers Max Martin and Shellback on the latter. On 1989, Swift did away with the idea of ratios entirely—just launched them into the ocean, and went all the way. Musically, it wasn’t just her embrace of big beats and shiny surfaces, but a sense of lightness and play as well. Where 2008’s Fearless and Speak Now take their dramas to Shakespearean heights, 1989 celebrates a newly liberated life of flings (“Style”), weekend getaways (“Wildest Dreams”), and the kind of confidence a younger Taylor Swift was too passionately involved to grasp. So while “Welcome to New York” is her way of letting everyone know that she’s at least momentarily done with country music and Nashville and the constrictions they put on her image and sound, it’s also a song about turning your eye outward and surrendering to the possibilities only a city like New York can offer. And where she may have taken things personally in the past, now she’s just trying to have fun (“Shake It Off”). “Blank Space” even manages to make light of her gravest and most well-protected subject: Taylor Swift. Like Shania Twain’s Come On Over or even Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, 1989 is an instance in which an artist deliberately defies expectations and still manages to succeed. Swift didn’t exactly grow up with the synthesized, ’80s-inspired sounds that producers like Martin, Shellback, Ryan Tedder, and future bestie Jack Antonoff help her create here; as the album’s title reminds you, she wasn’t even born until the decade was ending. But just as she played with the traditions and conventions of country music on her early albums, Swift uses the nostalgia of 1989 not to look back, but to move ahead.

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