c/o Pitchfork

c/o Pitchfork

My French professor won’t be very happy to know this, but my primary focus at midnight on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023 was in fact not the homework assigned for that Friday, but rather the release of Taylor Swift’s highly anticipated re-recording of her fifth studio album, 1989 (Taylor’s Version). 1989 changed lives during its first release in 2014. Swift shot to pop stardom among rumors of a feud with Katy Perry over a back-up dancer and a very public stand-off with Spotify, when she pulled all her music from its catalogue after concerns about the streaming platform’s paltry artist royalties. And the music videos—who could forget the maximalist-colonizer aesthetic of “Wildest Dreams” or the satiric (and genuinely really, really hot) car-smashing cake-stabbing heartbreaker of “Blank Space?”

This is all to say, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) had a lot to live up to, most of all the exceptional production by Max Martin, whose genius helped launch radio favorites like “Style” and “Shake It Off” to record-breaking fame. Neither Swift nor Martin has commented on his distinct absence on the re-recording.  He was replaced by Christopher Rowe—who helped produce Swift’s debut album and has been tapped for every re-recording—and Jack Antonoff, who, incidentally, first began his long collaboration with Swift during her 1989 era.

Album opener “Welcome to New York” loses some of its…cringe, shall we say, with more refined synths. The song itself feels more open, as if it encompasses more of Swift’s love affair with NYC, which feels appropriate given the plethora of songs she has written about the city’s bright lights and apartment floors. “Blank Space” features Swift’s improved vocals, which in turn makes it slightly disappointing. She is more ironic, more tongue-in-cheek, nearly ten years after the song’s first release, when she was more throwing-flower-vases and setting-shirts-on-fire manic. Most disappointingly of all, the fan-favorite wink of the ballpoint pen click after the chorus of the original has gone missing in the 2023 rendition.

For me, “Style” is missing Martin’s touch. The guitar is ever so slightly off and the production slightly compressed. It’s less speeding down the highway at night and more being in the passenger seat going a respectable 50mph. “Out of the Woods,” though, is a mind-blowing success. Antonoff’s reverb and synth emphasize the vocal anxiety in the original and make it even more hard-hitting. “All You Had To Do Was Stay” is a bit pale by comparison. It’s another Rowe production, which doesn’t make very much sense to me as Antonoff would have shined on this track.

“Shake It Off” is very convincing. Swift’s 2023 vocals vastly improve the quality of the original, which was—along with being overplayed in every store across America—a bit…screechy. Her enunciation is also better in this album: In “I Wish You Would,” her vocals are certainly punchier and the production sharper. Clearly, both Swift and Antonoff have polished their craft and this track really makes their improvement sing.

“Bad Blood” suffers just as “Style” does. “Wildest Dreams,” released unexpectedly on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, is still a classic—although I do wish we had a version with the stunning orchestral overlay that was present in that one horse movie trailer. Oh well. “How You Get the Girl” is another Max Martin production—and not to sound like a broken record— it doesn’t really hit with the same nostalgia.

“This Love” is still sweet. “I Know Places” has that 1989 World Tour growl when she sings  “we run!” that makes up for every disappointment on this re-record so far. “Clean” is still a rock-on-the-floor sob. Co-writer and co-producer Imogen Heap has a greater vocal presence in Taylor’s Version, and like “Snow on the Beach (More Lana Del Rey),” it adds needed depth to the song.

The three deluxe tracks of 1989 are folded into Taylor’s Version here, beginning with “Wonderland,” which is snappier, yet somehow feels slower than the original. “You Are In Love” holds a very special place in my heart, and it’s even more lovely and ethereal here. Am I a little upset by the changing of the vocals on “so it goes” at 2:43? Yes. (Maybe more than a little. It’s fine. Nobody talk to me.) But the silence? (The silence?) Stunning. Taylor Swift knows best. “New Romantics”—and here I go again, with Max Martin—is missing something. Maybe it’s the daring youth of 2014 new-to-NYC Taylor Swift. Maybe it’s me, I’m the problem. (It totally is. I spent too much time listening to the original, and now my brain is permanently rotted. My descent into rabid Reddit music bro-hood is starting.)

In regards to the five new “From the Vault” tracks, like Taylor Swift, I can’t quite believe she waited nine years to release them. I do have to confess, I did immediately skip to “Slut!” upon my first listen— but I was pleasantly surprised by it being a love ballad rather than another satiric take-down of the media, like the one we received in “Blank Space.”

“And if they call me a slut / You know it might be worth it for once,” she sings. 

Really, Taylor? Get off the ground, girly, I beg you. He’s really not that cute. He cheats on you and he can’t drive.

Of all the new tracks, “Say Don’t Go” feels the most thematically and sonically consistent with the core album. The beginning sounds quite similar to “Clean”—perhaps this is why it didn’t make it the first go-around. The next three, however, seem more like an extension of her latest album Midnights (2022). Perhaps these were an early demonstration of the lyrical and sonic mastery that has made Swift a billionaire. “Now That We Don’t Talk” (outside of its light-pop shininess akin to “Mastermind”) rings particularly true with every Barbie that has had to nod through a Ken’s music taste.

“Now that we don’t talk / I don’t have to pretend I like acid rock,” Swift sings. “Or that I’d like to be on a mega-yacht / with important men who think important thoughts.”

So real. Although I’m not sure I know anyone who has any sort of access to a mega yacht. Harry Styles can totally call me up though.

“Suburban Legends” is likely the weakest of the five, with only one standout lyric. 

“And you kiss me in a way that’s going to screw me up forever,” she sings. 

While very true to the lyrical style of 2014, Swift’s writing has since been refined. It’s not any less hard-hitting, of course, but tucked right before the Harry-Styles-exposing track of “Is It Over Now?” doesn’t really do it any favors. And truly, “Is It Over Now?” is 1989 in all the best ways: lightly vicious, metrically playful, and arrogant in a way that’s honestly fully acceptable from our generation’s biggest pop star.

Rose Chen can be reached at rchen@wesleyan.edu.