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Review: ‘1989 (Taylor’s Version)’ expands a pop triumph

Courtesy Republic Records

By Hadley Medlock     11/1/23 1:02am

Top Track: “Is It Over Now?”

Rating: ★★★½

An album that signaled Taylor Swift’s final move from the world of country to mainstream pop music, “1989” was full of catchy tracks, albeit cheesy at times — sorry, “Welcome to New York” — that truly cemented Swift’s pop stardom and fueled an ever-growing Swiftie fanbase. Nine years later to the day, Swift re-released this album as “1989 (Taylor’s Version),” the next stop on her years-long journey of re-recording all of her original masters. 

Though this remake didn’t ignite any previously nonexisting love for some songs, it did reaffirm the love had for others.There’s no denying the improvement in Swift’s vocals from the original tracks. The majority of “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” felt, like her other re-recordings, miles more crisp, clean and smooth than the original versions. A couple songs, however, were obviously different, whether due to small production changes, or the lack  of mania and emotion in her voice that she brought to the album in her mid-20s. 

“Clean” and “You Are In Love” are two of the more obvious examples of improvement between albums. Swift’s smooth, mature vocals give these tracks new life and more depth — her voice just feels more comfortable and confident in the lower register and less strained when she hits the higher notes.

“I Know Places” is another track that greatly benefited from a new version, if only because it’s a vocally difficult song. The high notes in the original version of the song were almost shrill, but Swift feels much more in control of those notes on this new track and hits the iconic “We run” in the middle of the song with a subtle growl to her voice. 

“New Romantics” and “Style” were the re-recordings that felt most disappointing, but that’s only if you’re meticulously comparing each version to the other. At times, these tracks just don’t pack the same sort of pop punch that their original versions do, feeling somewhat emotionless in their delivery and overly clean at times. 

The album also introduced five more of Swift’s signature ‘From The Vault’ tracks that are just as dreamy and synth-full as the other songs, though some would feel more comfortable on Swift’s album “Midnights” at this point. 

Because of its provocative title, “Slut!” was easily one of the most anticipated vault tracks from the album. After listening to it, though, the title almost felt like clickbait. While I admire Swift’s reclamation of a misogynistic word often thrown at her throughout her career, the song simply wasn’t what the title led me to believe. Expecting a “Blank Space” or even “reputation”-esque meditation, the slow, twinkly, hazy actuality of the song was quite a shock. While the line “And if they call me a slut / You know it might be worth it for once” and overall song may have felt more powerful without the expectation the title set, there is still something to be said for her lyrically understated approach. 

“Suburban Legends” was just okay, and I still don’t think I really understand what it means to be a “suburban legend” anyway. It was hard to look past the lyric’s clunky similes like “I let it slide like a hose on a slippery plastic summer” or the line “tick tock on the clock” that could only conjure images of the early 2000s Ke$ha song. 

“Is It Over Now?” is a synthy gem of a vault track that looks back at an on-and-off-again relationship and feels very emblematic of the “1989” era. It’s a rather scathing breakup song that finds its power in trademark Taylor Swift melodrama as she sings, “Oh, Lord, I think about jumping / Off of very tall somethings / Just to see you come running.” 

“Say Don’t Go” is another vault track highlight that feels like it could have been left off the original version in favor of “All You Had To Do Was Stay.” The slow buildup to the bouncy yet devastating chorus is well done and overall makes for a good listen. 

“Now That We Don’t Talk” is short but sweet — in fact, it is the shortest song in all of Swift’s discography. With snarky lines like “I don’t have to pretend I like acid rock / Or that I’d like to be on a mega yacht,” Swift struggles to accept the end of a relationship while realizing it’s ultimately for the better. 

“1989 (Taylor’s Version)” is an overall success, reinvigorating an album of pop classics with new life, especially with some of its new releases. For die-hard Swifties with hyper-specific attention to detail, different production and squeakyclean vocals on some tracks can either overwhelm the songs or make them fall flat — but for the most part these changes aren’t noticeable, especially after a few listens. 

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