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The post Taylor Swift’s Pop Superstardom: Born in 2014, Reborn with 1989 (Taylor’s Version) appeared first on Consequence.
In 2014, something new was buzzing under Taylor Swift’s skin. Following the release of Red, a record that served as a genre stepping stone for the country-adjacent darling, Swift was prepared to embrace mainstream pop with her next project. She moved to New York; she chopped her curls; she achieved It Girl status and started working with writers like Max Martin. If Red was a cocoon of her own design, 1989 was her pop star emergence.
As the latest in a string of re-recordings, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) holds a different energy than offerings like Fearless or Speak Now. There’s not the same youthful nostalgia intertwined with this record, nor the autumn-toned transitional spirit of Red — 1989 leaves young love and early heartbreaks at the door. It instead captures the spark of that first year out of school, or a big move to a terrifying new city full of strangers and possibility. It’s the album for when everything is shiny and new and also a little awful; the world is your oyster, and you’re broke as hell. When standing on a cliff’s edge, 1989 is the record for taking a leap.
Today, October 27th, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) has arrived, with five new vault tracks, a new Kendrick Lamar verse on the deluxe version of “Bad Blood,” and “Sweeter Than Fiction” on the physical version of the album.
Some Things Never Go Out of Style
With the exception of a notable lyric tweak in Speak Now with “Better Than Revenge,” many of Taylor’s versions are, by design, almost indistinguishable from their originals. Which begs the question: What happened with this mix of “Style?” (For what it’s worth, in defense of a certain bespectacled man who seems to be taking some of the knee-jerk blame on social media, this re-recording was not produced by Jack Antonoff.) There’s an odd nakedness to the new offering of the beloved hit, with most of the harmonies missing from the first verse; overall, it feels like someone took the song and stuck it under too harsh of a lamp, stripping away the dreamy pop atmosphere of the original.
Elsewhere, thankfully, the tweaks and changes are far less noticeable. “Shake It Off (Taylor’s Version)” is just about impossible to mark as different from the original, right down to the self-aware giggles peppered throughout. The previously released “Wildest Dreams” effectively captures the faraway surreality of the 2014 single.
Revisiting 1989 is a fun experiment in marking milestones in Swift’s songwriting evolution — strip “Clean” down to its acoustics and replace the “ah ah” background vocals with strings, and the song could easily fit into the fold of folklore or evermore. The shiny exterior of 1989 put many critics (and some listeners) off at the time, worried Swift was abandoning her songwriting roots in favor of even more radio-friendly outings, but, as usual, the lyricism was largely still present for those who were paying attention.
Meet Me…in 1989?
While these are some of the very best vault tracks Swift has shared to date, they do also sound suspiciously similar to her 2022 album, Midnights — but that is probably due to the fact that these songs are where Antonoff’s touch comes heaviest into play, both as co-writer and producer. “Suburban Legends” is a clear predecessor to “Mastermind,” both melodically and structurally. Then there’s “Slut!,” the track marked as the album’s lead single: “If I’m gonna be drunk/ Might as well be drunk in love,” she sings over a hazy, mid-tempo beat that doesn’t feel all that different from that of “Maroon.” How might these tracks have sounded if Swift had teamed back up with Max Martin or Shellback for production duties instead?
Regardless, these new songs do at least bear the spirit of 1989 — they’re introspective without the bleakness or maturity that has been woven into the vast majority of Swift’s post-folklore releases. “Why’d you have to lead me on/ Why’d you have to twist the knife/ Walk away and leave me bleeding, bleeding,” she asks in “Say Don’t Go,” which still strikes the tone of someone in their 20s who is beginning to yearn for true companionship and partnership. Present-day Swift would be much less likely to make allusions to high school reunions or her old diaries, the way she does on “Suburban Legends,” and there’s a different kind of rueful venom baked into the lyrics of “Is It Over Now?” “If she’s got blue eyes, I will surmise you’ll probably date her” — that’s 2014 Swift energy through and through.
If some more informed Swifties are willing to share, I’m personally curious about the exclamation point included in the title of “Slut!” — to date, the only other song in which Swift has employed this punctuation is “ME!” (feat. Brendan Urie), and this song is a world away from that (ill-fated) single. Perhaps it’s a reference to the way the accusation would be thrown around with the casual comfort and anonymity the internet allows, but theory-inclined fans are hereby invited to sound off.
Beyond Wildest Dreams
Believe it or not, there was a time when Swift wasn’t synonymous with pop superstardom — it’s hard to remember now, but pre-1989, she probably could have eaten a chicken wing and seemingly ranch without the Empire State Building feeling compelled to change its lighting in celebration. This record kicked off the second chapter of Swift’s career — there was no turning back once the record found its way into the world.
As fans have pointed out, now the only things Swift has left to reclaim in her re-recordings are her reputation and her name, through her self-titled debut record. For this weekend, though, there’s never been a better time to recall that every great transformation requires a leap of faith.