Review: 1989 (TV), Rebirth of an Unflinching Pop Classic

On Friday, October 27, Taylor Swift released her version of her fifth album 1989. As her first fully pop album and her most widely listened to album, fans had been patiently waiting for its re-release since the elevator scene in the music video for “Bejeweled.”

I listened to 1989 (Taylor’s Version) [Deluxe] in original track order on release day, and have been blasting it on shuffle in my car every day for the past week, so I feel as though I am qualified to speak on it.

Immediately, “Welcome To New York” didn’t fail as the hopeful and bright opening track we know and love. The only thing I could catch as being meaningfully different from the 2014 version is that there seems to be pigeon noises added to it? I went back to the original to double check and apparently – they’ve always been there! If you listen very carefully you can hear their little “CooOooOs” (yes I am going clinical, don’t worry about it). As the album progressed, the next thing I took note of was her diction in “Blank Space.” I think she was aggressively enunciating every word so we wouldn’t have another “Starbucks lovers” issue on our hands.

Overall, her rendition of all of the original songs was sublime with the exception of “Shake It Off,” her tone of voice felt flat and less vindicated than the original version. Swift might’ve made minor changes to the song to try and battle the common assertion by media outlets that the hit song is actually one of her worst, or used as evidence by internet trolls to prove how “annoying” she is. Unfortunately, the re-record feels less genuine than the original, but no less boppy. This slight pitfall is forgivable though, because both “I Know Places” and “Wonderland” somehow got better. Can we talk about her growl in “I Know Places,” like Taylor please we are begging for a rock-inspired album with more gritty vocals, stop teasing us. Actually – don’t stop teasing us, we are actively eating up all of the excess content that has taken over our lives since the release of Midnights (thank you Eras Tour).

“You Are In Love” made me want to cry, especially in the post-Joe Alwyn era where I imagine re-recording any deep love songs might’ve been emotionally challenging. And then I had my world rocked by my personal favorite on the album, “New Romantics.”

Moving into the vault tracks I didn’t have high expectations, I genuinely thought nothing could top all of Red (Taylor’s Version)’s vault tracks and was still dealing with the overlooked Speak Now (Taylor’s Version). To my surprise, I was very happy with these vaults and it seems like the Swifite world is too.

First up is ‘“Slut!”’ When the track list came out, none of us could believe this was a real song title, and some even interpreted the anagram as “Lust!” But long gone are the days of innocence and curly hair – Swift uses this re-recoding opportunity to reflect on her original pop princess days of the early 2010s when her dating life became the front page of every magazine. In “‘Slut!’” she recounts being “love-struck” with a man and finally not caring if she gets slut-shamed because being with him would make it, “worth it for once.” While many have postulated that this song could be about Harry Styles, I believe it’s about Alexander Skarsgård. Swift and Skarsgård allegedly meet on the set of the movie adaptation of the novel, “The Giver.” Filming took place in South Africa in late 2013 (post-Red era), with a few paparazzi pictures coming out showing the two out at dinner with other cast members. “Wildest Dreams” is also said to be about their brief relationship, all of the description lyrics matching Skarsgård’s look and the official music video for the song revolving around two actors falling for each other while filming a movie in Africa (not subtle Taylor). 

Still from the 2014 “Wildest Dreams” official music video.

The second song from the vault was “Say Don’t Go,” which sonically feels the most cohesive with the original album, and is the most somber of the vault songs. It keeps the upbeat 80’s pop sound and mixes it with the trials and tribulations of love and loss as a 20-something in a new city. This song in particular really solidifies the notion that these songs were written during the original era, as its lyrics are begging to be posted in a Tumblr post over a picture of a girl wearing black fishnet tights and a t-shirt with an alien on it. 

Third was “Now That We Don’t Talk” which resurrects Haylor lore to an extreme amount. And Miss Swift is not coming to play. Of course, she can’t drag him as hard as she did with Joe Jonas and Fearless (Taylor’s Version), but she sure is coming close. We know the song is about Styles due to lyrics like “you grew your hair long” and “it looks like you’re trying lives on” – I’m not a fan of his but I’m sure we all remember Frat Boy Harry. Coming in at only 2 minutes 26 seconds it is Swift’s shortest song to date but packs a punch hating on Harry’s love for “acid rock” and referencing being on a “mega-yacht with important men who think important thoughts,” just google “Google Camp yacht” and you’ll see why Swift might’ve been done with Harry’s shenanigans.

Next up “Suburban Legends” still remains a mystery to me. Speculation aside, I didn’t think it was the strongest vault song but enjoyed it nonetheless. My first thought was that it was an ode to her former roommate and best friend, supermodel Karlie Kloss. Lines like “I let it slide like a hose on a slippery plastic summer” and “We were born to be national treasures” give 2017 Fourth of July party but that would’ve been too late in the timeline to match up with the 1989 era. My other best guesses are Diana Agron, the supposed muse for “Wonderland,” or Connor Kennedy. My best reason for it being about “Glee” star Diana Agron is the lyric “our mismatched star signs.” This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Swift mention astrology either, in “State of Grace” she mentions the fact that both she and Jake Gyllenhall were Sagittarius’’, “twin fire signs, four blue eyes,” and Agron is a Taurus making her an earth sign which would be “mismatched” to Swift’s fire sign.

Swift and Kloss at Swift’s annual Fourth of July celebration.

The last vault track, and my favorite of the five, is “Is It Over Now?” This song gives us the most insight into Taylor and Harry’s short-lived relationship, riddled with callbacks to other songs. Lines like “Was it over when he unbuttoned my blouse?” and “You search in every maiden’s bed for something greater” feel like a continuation of “Style” and the story of an adultery-ridden on-again-off-again relationship.

Harry Styles sometime between late 2012 and early 2013 holding way too many take-out coffees.

Another thing this song has taught me is that Swift is never letting Harry forget about the snowmobile he crashed. Supposedly the couple went on a secret winter getaway in late 2012 and on a snowmobile Styles “hits the brakes too soon” resulting in “20 stitches in a hospital room.” Then from the vault we hear, “When you lost control, red blood, white snow,’ an obvious callback to the vacation mishap. Bringing more interest to the story is the following line “blue dress on a boat” which describes the photo from 2013 of her after she had reportedly broken up with Styles.

A somber Swift on a boat in a blue dress reminiscent of the one from the “Out of the Woods” official music video

Also, upon reading Style’s 2017 song “From the Dining Table” we can draw parallels from the line “woke up the girl who looked just like you, I almost said your name” and Swift’s lines “your new girl is my clone” and “If she’s got blue eyes, I will surmise that you’ll probably date her,” referencing Frat Boy Harry’s affinity for models and girls with blue eyes. Regardless of both of the artist’s interesting dating histories, they seem to be on good terms now, even if we didn’t get “Style feat. Harry Styles.”

My takeaway from 1989 (Taylor’s Version) is that in 2014 Taylor was truly a mastermind and gracefully handled the switch to pop even through all of the controversy. I also learned that Jack Antonoff is eager to get his sticky little synthesizer fingers all over anything he can, which made many of the Vault songs sound more twinkly and Midnights-Esq than 1989 sounding but addictive regardless. Anywho – stream “Bad Blood (ft. Kendrick Lamar) (Taylor’s Version)” because it’s the only valid version.

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