For the swifties, Taylor Swift’s 1989 is a watershed. It gave us some of her most enduringly popular tracks and marked a major stylistic pivot that began with Red, away from the world of country towards a noticeably more adventurous synth-pop sound. People who had written her off were brought on board, her fans were vindicated, and most critics eventually came around, sometimes grudgingly, to the idea that her fifth studio album was something really special.
Now that her ambitious re-release project has finally reached 1989, we get to hear a fresh take on the album that practically invented the swiftie. She has done some interesting things with her previous works, but 1989 (Taylor’s Version) immediately sounds different. To some extent, this is because the original’s varied instrumentation and pop influence made it more technically complex than the pop country efforts that preceded it.
Many of the songs end up sounding fairly similar to their original counterparts, something that is impressive in itself given the relative sophistication of the 1989‘s production. Jack Antonoff and several members of the production team returned for this one, a no-brainer given his influence on the ’80s-inflected sound of the original.
Still, as faithful as the songs are to the originals, it is hard to ignore how much Swift has matured as an artist in the years since the original’s release. She hits the high notes on “All You Had to Do Was Stay” in a way that sounds a bit more punchy. But the biggest difference is her lower register, which has taken on a more resonant quality that gives a new dimension to some of the most recognizable songs of the last ten years.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Taylor’s Version without a few vault tracks — for the uninitiated, songs that she wrote around the time of the album’s release but ended up on the cutting room floor for various reasons. Swift set expectations high when announcing the album, declaring, “This is my most FAVORITE rerecord I’ve ever done because the 5 ‘From The Vault’ tracks are so insane.”
To her credit, she has followed through. True to form, many of them are knowingly pointed at her exes, a subject she has become all but synonymous with. Between the icy, synthy breakup retrospective “Now That We Don’t Talk” and the arresting bluntness of “Is It Over Yet,” it is hard to disagree with her that the ones she’s chosen to include on this cut are the best vault tracks yet.
The obvious standout, though, is “Slut.” The final vault track to be announced but certainly the most talked-about, has made headlines for all the right reasons. It sounds almost deceptively chill and laid-back, with sharp lyrics pointed directly at the hypocrisy and condescension that surrounded the discourse around her early years.
It is difficult to imagine a less-self-possessed Swift releasing it on the original 1989, but after the self-awareness of Midnights, its inclusion here just feels right.
Like Swift’s other re-releases up to this point, this is, to some extent, one for the die-hard fans who are steeped in her lore and might go out of their way to collect the vinyl LP in all five color variants.
Even so, this one feels meaningfully different from the previous four in that even those who haven’t revisited 1989 since its original release will find something to appreciate and even come to love in the new project.
In offering something for the fans and the would-be haters and everyone in between, it highlights her ongoing broad appeal and serves as a reminder that Taylor Swift has always been very, very good at this.
1989 (Taylor’s Version) (★★★★☆) is available to stream and purchase on all major platforms. Visit www.taylorswift.com.
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