We’ve reached 1989 in Taylor Swift’s tireless campaign to re-record her first six studio albums. Already, the pop star’s magnum opus, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) sounds better than before, with the tracks from the vault improving it further still.
Nothing happens in a vacuum, especially not in Taylor Swift’s world of stratospheric fame and inescapable media attention. Still, even by the star’s standards, the last couple of months have been…eventful.
All set to an ongoing world tour that crashed Ticketmaster, there was that weird Matty Healy fling where, for a few days, he was the most famous, mysterious, evil, cool man in the world; there was the release of the deluxe version of her newest original album, Midnights; there was, more recently, The Eras Tour film; and then there is the burgeoning relationship with one of the National Football League’s biggest stars in a picture-perfect American romance of pretty people with straight white teeth that feels remarkably like an early Taylor Swift song.
And now we have 1989 (Taylor’s Version), arriving almost exactly a year after Midnights. Even this release is not without its drama. Its very existence is intertwined with high-profile disputes, marking the two-thirds point in Swift’s mission to reclaim ownership of her music. The original 1989 saw Swift transition from the popular country-pop singer who was the victim of Kanye West and other men’s bad behaviour to a genuine, chart-topping, defiant pop superstar. The innocence was gone, and so was the quest to please people whose opinions she no longer valued.
Within the first two songs, ‘Welcome to New York’ and ‘Blank Space’, the change was clear. The former, a synth-driven tribute to her new home, reflects a sonic shift; the latter, one of the biggest singles of the 2010s that still stands the test of time, a decade on, embodied the shift in Swift herself.
They are a striking start to what was pop perfection back when it was first released and are only improved upon in re-recording. None of the five additions ‘from the vault’ are throwaways, with some even stand-outs. ‘Is It Over Now?’, in particular, sounds like the best of Taylor Swift’s pop songs from this era, while ‘Slut!’ is the closest the album gets to out-and-out sadness.
Its title perhaps suggests a song in line with the defiance seen on ‘Blank Space’, but there is instead vulnerability. Written with Jack Antonoff, like many other songs on the record, it sounds similar to Lana Del Rey in parts, another longtime collaborator of Antonoff’s. That Swift can do melancholy well is no surprise. It is, however, yet another virtue of 1989 (Taylor’s Version) that the original didn’t have.
The ability to successfully balance apathy with moments of genuine sincerity is impressive and arguably hasn’t been done by Swift before or since. It didn’t work in the direction she went after 1989, and it was not until a wiser, calmer Taylor Swift re-emerged that the music improved again.
But between the teenage girl with her acoustic guitar and the woolly sweatered woman that appeared on Folklore, 1989 struck gold.
Though 1989 (Taylor’s Version) treads a very similar path until the five from the vault tracks, very little needs changing. It’s not to say there aren’t mistakes. The writing is often cliché and the direction is less coherent than other projects from Swift’s discography, but as an album representing independence, bottling the confidence, insecurity and hopefully the sheer fun of young adulthood, it’s perfect. Taylor’s version of it makes it better still and sees another middle finger successfully hoisted in the direction of the record executives who own her original masters.
This once valuable asset sheds worth by the day. Today, of all days, the folk at Shamrock Holdings must be regretting their purchase.
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