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On 1989 (Taylor’s Version), Taylor Swift reignites the sleek pop passion that made the original so ubiquitous

"1989 (Taylor's Version)"

Release date: 27 October 2023
Taylor Swift 1989 Taylors Version cover
27 October 2023, 05:00 Written by Kelsey Barnes

When Taylor Swift released the liner notes for 2014’s 1989, she spoke about what it means to change, a nod to the distinct shift she would make as she left her country roots behind to be reborn as a bonafide pop star.

She spoke of needing to write a new style of music and a desire to change the way she told her stories and how they sounded. Gone are the banjos and twang – she followed her gut and the 1980s-inspired pop record 1989 was born. It would make her the first solo female artist to win Album of the Year at the GRAMMYs, completely taking over pop culture and the overall zeitgeist at the time.

Now, nine years later, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) is one of the most anticipated of Swift’s rerecordings. All but one vault song – "Say Don't Go,” which was written with acclaimed songwriter Diane Warren – was penned alongside Jack Antonoff. Like with its original counterpart, the vault tracks contort themselves into different pop subgenres – “Slut!” could be the cousin of the Lana Del Ray-tinged “Wildest Dreams,” “Is It Over Now?” is reminiscent of Swift and Antonoff’s work on “Out of the Woods.”

Compared to the first three rerecordings where the biggest change was Swift’s mature vocals replacing her younger self, nothing jarring has changed on 1989 (Taylor’s Version). Every song is still as all-encompassing and anthemic as the next and, if anything, Swift’s vocals are more powerful and punchy than ever. 1989 (Taylor’s Version) has two of the best rerecorded tracks so far with “All You Had To Do Was Stay” and “I Know Places,” the latter of which is even more guttural than its original — perhaps channelling the anger and frustration of the tabloids and scrutiny she’s faced in the nine years since. “Clean” is somehow more cutting with Swift’s current vocals, with the lyric “I punched a hole in the roof” sounding more smooth and less angry than the 1989 version. Songs like “Welcome To New York,” “Blank Space,” and the still infectious “New Romantics” more or less sound like exact replicas. Sonically, if you were to tell a listener that these songs were recorded in 2014, they’d likely believe you.

Thematically, the rerecording’s vault tracks follow the same cat-and-mouse story Swift explored throughout 1989. “Slut!”, which was written by Swift, Jack Antonoff, and Patrik Berger, is the most surprising of the vault tracks simply because it is not exactly the “Blank Space” satirical tongue-in-cheek fans were expecting. Instead, it’s a hazy and sun-drenched track that sees Swift rise above the “sticks and stones” thrown her way as she sings “But if I’m all dressed up/they might as well be looking at us/and if they call me a ‘Slut!’/you know it might be worth it for once.” There is something empowering about Swift – who was ruthlessly used as a lightning rod for slut shaming in her 20s – taking the word back, yelling “Slut!” and it echoing throughout the track.

The jittery and pulsing “Now That We Don't Talk" showcases Swift’s signature breathy falsetto that sounds as deliciously infectious as it did nine years ago, whereas the sprawling “Suburban Legends” sees Swift dance between rhyming schemes which, at times, sound a bit simple for Swift standards yet are still effective. Working with the iconic Diane Warren on “Say Don’t Go” sets the track up to be a big one and it does the job – featuring dreamy melodies paired with isolated vocal patterns and similar thematic imagery as heard on “All You Had To Do Was Stay” and “I Wish You Would.

The strongest of the five tracks is the larger-than-life and cinematic “Is It Over Now?”. With lyrics like “When you lost control/red blood/white snow,” it is seemingly a continuation to the tale first heard on “Out of the Woods,” except this time Swift – as cutthroat as ever – has much more to get off her chest. It is one of Swift’s catchiest choruses and will likely immediately become a fan favourite. But deeper than that is how it truly is a paragon of Swift’s knack for narrative building – perfectly encapsulating the essence of the original 1989 and weaving it through its rerecorded twin.

Where some vault tracks felt like they muddled the existing story in past rerecordings, the vault tracks on 1989 (Taylor’s Version) give it more colour – a kaleidoscope of stories and feelings that mirror the sounds heard and explored throughout. Although the rerecordings and the persistent release cycle might cause some casual listeners’ interest to wane, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) should reignite the excitement that its original era brought for fans and pop music as a whole – it's Swift being reborn, again, in her own way.

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