Almost a decade ago, Taylor Swift dropped her fifth studio album, one that would change the trajectory of her career forever.
Right up to the release of 1989, Swift’s work - and Swift herself - were critiqued and labelled as boy-obsessed, juvenile and unforgiving. Swift, however, was ready to 'shake it off’, saying goodbye to her country roots with 1989 and crafting her own 80s synth pop-indebted sound, elevating her to a stratospheric level of superstardom.
The record would go on to be her most astonishing achievement yet – and Swift had a hunch, "I knew that before I finished the album, that I was most proud of this album, more than anything I’d done before”, she said on the Graham Norton Show nine years ago.
1989, titled after the year she was born, symbolised her musical rebirth, the first of many reinventions to come. Speaking about this year’s re-release, she expressed, ‘"A part of me was reclaimed in 2023 with the re-release of this album I love so dearly. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the magic you would sprinkle in my life for so long”.
This was the album that developed Swift’s renowned connection with her fans into full-fledged friendships, whether she could be in the same room as them or not. Swift gave her fans total insight into the creation process behind the album (and was one of the first artists to do so), hand-selected fans to join secret listening parties of the record before it was released and planted more easter eggs in songs and videos, for them to decrypt than ever before. While 1989 was an evolutionary album for Taylor Swift, it was a coming-of-age record for many of her fans, creating a bond that continues to be strengthened with each era.
In the case of Taylor Swift’s 1989, more won the battle against less. With its clean bass reverberations, echoing drums and swirling cinematic synths, the record ebbs and flows between 170bpm running tracks like 'I Know Places’ to slow Lana-esque anthems like ‘Wildest Dreams’. Letting go of her earnest and raw first-person storytelling, 1989 saw Swift take a step back to examine her relationship patterns through a broader lens. She made light of her love life, which was heavily scrutinised in the media at this time, joining in on the jokes and assumptions made about her, while inviting hyperbole and fiction into her song.
‘Welcome To New York’ kicks off the record, painting the picture of a girl moving to the Big Apple for the first time. The girlies who once listened wide-eyed and hopeful sure do have a skip in their step now, as they march down the city streets they now call home. She breezes into the chorus, “It's a new soundtrack, I could dance to this beat, beat forevermore,” confirming she’s trying on a new tune, one she wants to dance to "forevermore".
Playing the role of the good girl was crucial to Swift’s career up to this point and is still showcased in upbeat dance tracks like ‘Shake It Off’, ‘Style’, and ‘New Romantics’. But for the first time, she subverted this narrative with more scathing lyrics, outlining self-satire in ‘Bad Blood and ‘Out of the Woods’.
‘Blank Space’ was a remarkably historic song for Swift, as she twisted the ideas of her public image and the interest in her love life into the tale of Taylor Swift. It’s the first time on the record that she references romance: "Oh my god / look at that face / you look like my next mistake," and plays with the stories written about her, "Ain't it funny? Rumors fly / And I know you heard about me.". It feels like she’s winking through the microphone as she belts out, "Got a long list of ex-lovers / They'll tell you I'm insane / But I've got a blank space, baby / And I'll write your name." Thanks to its minimalistic upbeat tempo and technicolour synth, accompanied by remarkably catchy and downright funny lyrics, this track was an early runner for the best song on the album.
Although 1989 was Taylor’s cleanest production to date – 1989 (Taylor's Version) is even crisper. To any passing listener, it’s a curious game of spot the difference, but to Taylor’s hardcore fanbase and music experts alike, it’s a spring-cleaned masterpiece. The re-release of this album has seen critics around the world rewriting their initial reviews and finally giving this seminal work its due diligence, bumping their ratings and scrubbing their previous judgements ‘Clean’.
Christopher Rowe and Jack Antonoff produced most of the album, with original collaborators Ryan Tedder, Shellback, Noel Zancanella and Imogen Heap returning to Taylor’s Version. Max Martin does not appear on the new album, perhaps a notable reason for any differences from its original form.
Annoyingly though unsurprisingly, Martin-backed tracks like ‘Style’, ‘New Romantics’ and ‘All You Had To Do Was Stay’ sound slightly deflated. But whatever it is that’s missing has been replaced with even more swirling cinematic synths and robust backing vocals, embellishing the tracks with a Midnights edge.
It’s unclear why Martin does not appear on the album, with theories surrounding his fees being too high, Swift wanting more credit as a producer or him simply saying no circling around online. Perhaps it just wasn’t her ‘Style’ anymore; listening back to the original tracks untouched by Martin, they take on shiny new forms, leaving the old versions of ‘Out of the Woods’, ‘Welcome To New York’ and ‘Clean’ seeming clunky and compressed upon comparison.
Of course, Swift’s matured voice makes the brand-new tracks feel more robust. Upon listening to both albums, it’s evident the work Swift has put into her precise and toned vocal quality over the years has reached a level of excellence many artists don’t care to achieve once they hit celebrity status. Now she leans into the colours and ranges that best suit her with ease, thanks to the strengthened versatility and longevity of her voice.
The biggest question the five much-anticipated vault tracks ask is how much was really crafted in 2014. Sure, they sound like a suitable sequel to her most recent album, Midnights, but how much does her new skillset and arsenal serve to develop a melody and poem that has been sitting in a notebook for years? Perhaps Midnights was a homecoming to the sound she believes represents her truest self.
'Say Don’t Go' is a pulsating collaboration with songwriter Dianne Warren, exploring acts of desperation, and a love that left her “bleedin’” and “screamin’”. Antonoff is behind the other four tracks, one of them titled ‘Slut!’ which caused the most considerable stir among fans and critics before its release. However, it didn’t turn out to be the teenage girl rebellion track most anticipated.
‘Slut!’ could be ‘Snow On The Beach’'s sister, softly delivered by Swift’s lingering and echoing vocals and cosy, Long Pond sounds. The provocative title has a deeper meaning for Swift, who’s famously struggled, alongside her female counterparts, with her portrayal in the media ever since she stepped into the limelight. Sadly, despite 1989 reaching one million streams in its first week and fan favourite ‘Blank Space’ spending seven weeks at number one, Swift continued to face the wrath of scathing reviews and name-calling – and still does today.
In her documentary Miss Americana, Swift articulated, "There is no such thing as a slut, there is no such thing as a bitch, there is no such thing as someone who’s bossy, there’s just a boss. We don’t want to be condemned for being multifaceted." It’s clear now Swift feels empowered to play with the vindictive labelling, singing, "And if they call me a slut / You know it might be worth it for once" as she steps out into the public with boyfriends for the first time in years.
The rest of the vault tracks Antonoff worked on include ‘Now That We Don’t Talk’, which revisits the time Swift disappeared from the public eye after the original release of 1989 and before her resurgence with Reputation; "And the only way back to my dignity / Was to turn into a shrouded mystery". ‘Suburban Legends’ is a ‘Mastermind’ dance collaboration that paints the picture of hopeless young love, while ‘Is It Over Now’ brings us the melodrama we’ve come to know and crave from her songs; “I think about jumping off very tall somethings / Just to see you come running”.
It's the timeliness of 1989 (Taylor’s Version) that could be its greatest asset of all, released in a year where girliness is, once again, desired. Girls and women of all ages are making and wearing friendship bracelets in Taylor’s honour, while trends like Strawberry Girl, Tube Girl, Girl Math and Girl Dinner are being widely celebrated across social media.
You’ll also find thousands of videos of #TSTheErasTour videos peppering TikTok, a small part of a worldwide obsession with her concert tour beginning in March. The insanely popular show, which saw people who missed out on tickets setting up camp outside arenas just to sing along, is expected to become the highest-grossing tour of all time - tipped to rake in $2.2 billion from ticket sales in North America alone.
The joyous, pink-splattered, blockbuster Barbie movie also joined 2023’s celebration of girlhood, breaking records for a live-action movie from a female director. Off the back of her highly successful tour, Swift was able to join the female-led cinematic movement with Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour. The film raked in around $96 million at the box office in the US and Canada in its opening weekend, bringing the girls back to the cinema.
With all of the success 2023 has brought for Taylor Swift, she’s now officially reached billionaire status, coinciding with the release of 1989 Taylor’s Version, making her net worth now around $1.1 billion. Now, it is no longer a crime to like Taylor Swift; instead, you’re invited to the party, and "all you have to do is stay".
Although Swift looked to the 80s for inspiration for 1989, she has proved (twice now) that this album is timeless, and trailblazer Taylor Swift, who pioneered this phenomenal comeback almost a decade later, will never go out of style.
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