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  • The Current UMSL

Reviewing 1989 (Taylor’s Version)

By: Lauren Johns

Image taken from villagepipol blog

Is it a bird or a plane? No, it’s just Time magazine’s pick for “Person of the Year” and a woman whose reign is “Bigger than the Whole Sky”. 

Amidst her album re-recordings, (“Fearless”, “Red”, “Speak Now” and “1989”) and her entirely new album releases on a biennial schedule, (2022 “Midnights” an album comprised of moody pop), she hasn’t just been chilling at one of her many homes in her spare time and sipping sugar free vanilla lattes. She’s been boosting economies at a skyrocketing rate with her Eras Tour, 150 dates and counting. Not to mention, her setlist is packed with all her greatest hits, totaling 44 songs. And here I am, panicking in choir class over a solo audition. 

In fact, her tour is said to be the most profitable of all time, being the first to gross $1 billion, according to a RollingStone article. It surpassed the greats like Beyoncé and Bruce Springsteen. 

Zeroing in on the financial impact, the ticket prices averaged around $238 (which is why I opted to see it in theaters for $20), and each show made around $17 million, with $4.3 million tickets sold and $200 million in merch, based on the same RollingStone article

This is why we are here today, discussing her vast array of outstanding feats and looking at the album inspired by her birth year and her “swift” change to pop. 

As a contrast from the original Big Machine Records owned release, this one is more crisp, and Taylor’s low range is more pronounced. But is this album a proper substitute to the original? Let’s take a deep dive into some of the tracks and see. 

The opening track, “Welcome to New York” is the equivalent of a new neighbor welcoming you to the suburbs with a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies. The vibrant synths remind me of carnival music and are conducive to this youthful innocence that comes out in her lyrics. The idea that anything is possible in a place like New York. Fun fact, this song was co-written with Ryan Tedder, lead singer from OneRepublic. He also co-wrote “I Know Places” which we will discuss later.

When the album was first released in October of this year, I immediately skipped to my favorite song on the album, “Style”. I will shamefully admit, I’d been listening to the original non-stop, you know, the one she can’t profit off of. Turns out, this is as bad as reading a book and having high expectations for the movie. It fell “flat” literally. The original track was much grittier and had a more prevalent guitar hook (repetitive riff). This new version completely muffled the hook so that it was washed out by her vocals. In addition, the OG had a more impactful bass beat, it acted like a heartbeat, “conducting the rest of the orchestra” as Youtuber Sparrow's Speros Nest states. I envision the beat to be “flat with no tail”, nothing stems from it. Not to add to a list of complaints over a mostly decent sounding tune, but everything that was amplified in the OG is now at the same level as the vocals. Even the vocals don’t stand out. The harmony in the chorus was seemingly missing. One last thing, I promise. The bridge section, where she shouts “Out of Style!” used to be an entire crowd chanting, now it’s an overly processed, AI sounding vocal. I’ll still listen to her version despite this fact. 

This is similar to “Out of the Woods”. The synths are level with the vocals, making them slightly less pronounced, but the original integrity of the track isn’t terribly lost. In fact, the beats are given the full spotlight, leading to a more emphasized chorus. I recently just learned the chorus is so repetitive because Taylor was dealing with some anxiety over a tumultuous relationship. It seems like she’s chanting the words, “are we out of the woods yet?” as a sort of mantra to try and power through her struggles. My favorite line is: “two paper airplanes flying”, to represent how fragile everything was, soaring to an inevitable downfall. 

People who grew up in the late 80’s may have a different perspective on the authenticity of this album's sound. But if you listen closely, you might hear a couple references to the decade, the click of a tape recorder perhaps? A song in a minor key, (something that Taylor rarely does), “I Know Places”, starts and ends with a click, making the whole song seem like a secret message that Taylor plans to give someone. Despite this subtle hint to the decade, the song seems like it’s on the wrong album altogether, so anti-1989 (with its sugary pop and “Shake it Off” mentality). Instead, it’s gritty, punchy and gives more “Reputation” vibes. I love it. I even love it despite having listened to the OG more times than anyone could count. Her vocals are bolder and fuller, seemingly less strained and her low notes are as rich as dark chocolate. 

I could also say the same for her Alice in Wonderland inspired bonus track, called…(you guessed it), “Wonderland”. It’s the most cinematic track on the entire album, and her vocals, once again, soar to Everest level altitudes. I have no complaints about either of these tracks, because the driving beat is so prominent and honestly, a good beat and good vocals are all you need. 

I know I mentioned previously that some of the synth parts of songs were removed or pushed to the background, but in the case of, “How you Get the Girl” it’s the opposite. In the chorus, there’s a newly present high synth riff that loosely follows the melody. It was so buried in the OG, I almost felt like it wasn’t there at all. It’s a nice touch because it brings out the vocals a bit more amidst the extensive array of other sounds. 

Before we move on to the vault tracks, included in every re-release, I wanted to draw some attention to the melancholic ballad, “This Love”. I never really paid too much attention to the vocal effects until now, but Taylor’s voice sounds dreamlike, almost muffled, as though she were underwater. It’s very reverb heavy (echoey). The strummed intro sounds slightly more distorted than the OG, like what would happen to a guitar if it were waterlogged. It all comes together very well to symbolize love being as free flowing as waves. Sometimes it’ll wash up on shore and other times you’ll watch it slip through your fingers. My favorite part is the bridge where the title of the song is repeated but with different levels of intensity along with descending and ascending notes, creating this imagery of bubbles rising up and breaking through the surface. 

Looking at the vault tracks, my favorite one is “Is it Over Now?” despite the fact that it sounds almost exactly the same as “Out of the Woods”. Some people call it a sibling track but I call it a sequel or a prequel. Figuring out which one would require devoting hours of my day to Taylor Swift lore and I barely had the time to write this article. I probably like the song so much because it has one of the most catchy and lyrically surprising hooks in the whole album. It’s the simultaneous vocal equivalent of a jump scare and a sucker punch. 

As far as the other tracks go, “Suburban legends” isn’t a bad song, but the lyrics feel lackluster. For example, in the bridge, “tick tock on the clock”, feels like a strange lyrical choice, plus Kesha’s already done that.

Speaking of odd lyrics, on her vault track, “Now That We Don’t Talk”, she sings about no longer having to pretend to like certain things like acid rock or being on a mega yacht with important men “who think important thoughts”. While I understand the main idea she was trying to express, it feels strange to hear her being so opposed to something so large and extravagant, being the global phenomena that she is. But to her credit, the line about important men (most likely making her feel insignificant) is a more realistic take. Despite this fact, it’s so random and out of place going from a music genre (which everyone can relate to) to a mega yacht which a majority of people have never even seen in person. All in all, turning a relatable, catchy tune into something only the wealthy would understand. Nonetheless, it’s a great track.

Overall, 1989 has always been full of soaring choruses and earthquake inducing bass beats, but some songs have stood the test of time and a change in producers better than others. Despite this fact, I am fully in support of Taylor wanting to own her music and cannot wait to see how she reinvents her remaining albums, “Reputation” and her self-titled debut. 

Image taken from Ted Ellis blog


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