The skeptics have been proven wrong: Taylor Swift is untouchable. Her fanbase is unwavering and incredibly vast. Her music is expertly crafted, with generic yet distinct sound and powerful lyrics. She has a profound impact on her devoted followers and even on the economy, with her current Eras tour projected to generate $5 billion for the US. The numbers speak for themselves – within two weeks of its release, the film adaptation of Eras has already surpassed all other concert films in revenue.
If you find all of this profitable success to be suffocating, you could potentially disagree with Taylor Swift’s obsession with selling merchandise, such as limited edition vinyls and endless merchandise. However, it is difficult to dispute her recent efforts to re-record her old albums in response to her former label Big Machine selling her masters to music manager Scooter Braun, whom she has accused of “incessant, manipulative bullying”. While it may be a profitable move, it is also a morally sound business decision.
Taylor Swift’s re-recording of her fourth album, 1989 (Taylor’s Version), follows a non-chronological release schedule. In this schedule, she first re-recorded Speak Now in 2023 (originally released in 2010), followed by Red in 2021 (originally released in 2012), and Fearless in 2021 (originally released in 2008). Fans speculate on the significance of this order. The timeline may have been disrupted by past plagiarism lawsuits surrounding the lead single, Shake It Off, but these have since been resolved and Swift is now revisiting what she considers to be her “very first, documented, official pop album”. Some may argue that Red, with its string of hit songs produced by Max Martin, also holds this title. However, 1989 marked a pivotal moment in Swift’s career – it was the album that truly catapulted her into the mainstream. Before its release, one could potentially be unaware of who Taylor Swift was, but afterwards, it was impossible to not know her.
The details of this re-recording will only appeal to the most dedicated fans – a challenge to find any changes that even Swift, who enjoys creating puzzles for her followers, hasn’t been promoting heavily. Similar to her version of Red, it does not feature the return of Swedish producer Martin, who worked on the album’s popular tracks: Blank Space, Style, Shake It Off, Bad Blood, Wildest Dreams. Instead, Christopher Rowe joins Swift in leading the production, resulting in a nearly identical sound: occasionally with more bass, showcasing Swift’s more mature and fuller vocals without being too distracting.
For those who are less fixated, the new release offers a great reason to revisit those incredibly successful songs. Reflecting on the 1989 era, which dominated the cultural landscape, also helps to understand the music of that decade. While the album was initially perceived as heavily influenced by the 80s, as confirmed by Swift herself, it now sounds more characteristic of the 2010s. This was a time of aggressive and often unappealing synthpop, which was highly efficient in its delivery.
In terms of popular music, we currently live in more considerate times, and Swift has successfully adapted to this change. Along with her re-recorded albums, she has also released bonus tracks titled “From the Vaults”, which are songs that were previously unreleased from the time each album was created. The re-recorded version of 1989 includes five bonus tracks: “Say Don’t Go” is a decent collaboration with veteran songwriter Dianne Warren, but the other four songs, co-written with Jack Antonoff (who also contributed two songs to the original album), are some of Swift’s best work. After 1989, Antonoff went on to produce popular and sophisticated pop music for artists such as Lana Del Rey, Lorde, and St Vincent. These bonus tracks are similar in style, being compelling and clever, and although they are catchier than Antonoff’s usual work, they were likely not chosen as singles at the time.
The provocatively-titled “Slut!” is a shimmering tale of inappropriate sexual adventure, as Swift channels Lana Del Rey cosplaying a moonlit ingenue. The remaining three are Swift’s speciality: postmortems of relationships that were patently unhealthy but whose legacy still pulses with dashed promise. Now That We Don’t Talk does it with an uncharacteristically cool falsetto chorus and thrumming synths, and features a nice hook about phoning her mum. Suburban Legends is a doomed schooldays romance full of perfect lines (“I broke my own heart ’cause you were too polite to do it”). Is It Over Now? is a barbed and bitter rinsing of an unfaithful ex over sparse electropop, full of echoing drums and an era-specific alien-like vocal sample.
Unfortunately, the understated and captivating melodies of these songs were overshadowed by louder, simpler tracks like “Welcome to New York” and “Style” on the initial tracklist for the 1989 album. However, it’s impossible to determine how their presence would have impacted Swift’s journey. It’s evident that she made a wise decision in this regard. While this rehash of her successful album does not alter the course of history, it does provide some valuable additions that can be cherished immediately.