That 1989 (Taylor’s Version) would eventually become the superior product of Taylor Swift’s dogged, years-long mission to re-record all her pre-Lover albums was determined a little over two years ago.
In September 2021, Swift unceremoniously dropped “Wildest Dreams (Taylor’s Version),” a key 1989 track, in the middle of promoting her second rerecord, Red (Taylor’s Version). “Wildest Dreams (TV)” was so heartbreakingly beautiful and melancholic, and such an improvement upon the vaguely cheesy original, that it pretty much overshadowed all of the Red re-release for myself and many other fans at the time. (Yes, “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” is a virtuosic breakup song and I know every word, but it’s depressing and it’s so damn long.)
That fall, I remember sitting in the passenger seat as my dad drove, patiently explaining to him why the biggest pop star in the world was going to such great lengths to produce doubles of her hits. I played him the original 2014 cut of “Wildest Dreams,” followed by “Taylor’s Version,” to show how, when she created the song again, she made it richer and better. Most crucially, Swift had made her version of the song even more compulsively listenable than the original, which—when your goal is to improve upon sterling pop hits that are already as addictive as checking your crush’s Twitter likes—is an incredibly tall order.
That’s exactly what made 1989 (Taylor’s Version) her most ambitious rerecord yet. The original 2014 album—which would go on to win the Grammy for Album of the Year and remains her best-selling LP—was and remains a crucial entry into Swift’s discography. Her debut in country music had made her a star as a teenager, but subsequent releases Fearless and Speak Now hinted that the spunky blonde had ambitions beyond heartland tales of small towns and dirt roads. Her melodies were too catchy, her stage presence too bombastic. She would not be contained.
Red was the Swift album that truly straddled the gap between country and pop, but it was 1989 that transformed her. With its avalanche of Max Martin-produced bangers, it was glossy and placeless in the way that only pop music can be, despite its heavy references to living and loving in New York City. To match her new sound, Swift also overhauled her public image, adopting hordes of gorgeous model friends and landing gigs headlining the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Gone was the lovelorn dork scribbling poetry in the bleachers. This was the introduction of Taylor Swift, New Princess of Pop.
Miraculously, save for a few bumps in the road, 1989 (Taylor’s Version), which arrived on Friday, largely outdoes its predecessor.
On her new release, Swift has deconstructed and rebuilt some of the catchiest Top 40 hits of the past decade, infused them with 40 percent more unicorn glitter, and re-suited her creations with the best bass loops that nine years of advancement in recording studio technology can buy. This is especially noteworthy given that, aside from Swift herself, the original producer lineup responsible for hits like “Blank Space,” “Style,” “Bad Blood,” and “Shake It Off”—the inimitable Swedish duo of Max Martin and Shellback—is almost totally absent from 1989 (TV). Instead, for the new versions of all these tracks, Martin and Shellback were swapped in for producer Christopher Rowe. (The exception is “Wildest Dreams,” for which Shellback stepped back in; perhaps he’s responsible for the golden dust the track exudes.)
Rowe and Swift have diligently recreated the glass-and-chrome house that Martin and Shellback built. When the deadly sharp beat dropped in “Style (Taylor’s Version),” I screamed for joy. Any infinitesimal traces of tinniness and reverb in the original song have been eradicated to make way for a fuller, thicker sound. Similarly impressive is “Clean (Taylor’s Version),” which wonderfully enhances the finest final track on an album Swift has ever produced with the aid of original co-producer Imogen Heap, that lilting maestro of limerence.
“Out of the Woods (Taylor’s Version)” was always going to be better than the original, because the OG was only the third track that now-ubiquitous mega-producer Jack Antonoff had ever produced for Swift or for any other artist. The man who now is relied upon by so many female music stars—including Lorde, Lana Del Rey, St. Vincent, and Carly Rae Jepsen—was a relative novice at the time. Nine years later and armed with improved skills and technology, the new track hits even harder than the original.
Vocally, Swift seems to be attempting as accurate an impression of her younger voice as possible. On other re-records, she fully leans into her more mature voice, but not here; on 1989 (TV), she inhabits the squeaks and quirks that made her younger self singing these songs so appealing. The effect can be uncanny, but it’s a satisfying experiment. If anything, Swift’s new take on “Blank Space” leans even harder into the annunciation of the line “long list of ex-lovers,” which in the original, was famously and routinely misheard as “Starbucks lovers.”
Not everything is an improvement. The new version of “I Wish You Would” drags more than the original, and “Shake It Off (Taylor’s Version)” doesn’t quite capture the alchemy of its predecessor, which only worked because Swift so deftly utilized her shrill, youthful bluster at the time. Her re-recorded giggle after “I go on too many dates,” unfortunately, sounds half-hearted.
Along with its 16 previously heard songs, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) also boasts five vault tracks. One of the most anticipated ones, the intriguingly titled “Slut!”, is a total swerve from what fans expected. Instead of a pissed-off pop-punk banger in the vein of “Better Than Revenge,” it’s sultry and woozy, with Swift sighing that if the public is going to slut-shame her, it might as well be because of a love affair she can’t resist. “Send the code, he’s waiting there / The sticks and stones they throw froze mid-air” is a particularly stellar line.
Vault tracks “Suburban Legends” and “Is It Over Now,” meanwhile, sound like they’ve been ripped straight from her 2022 album Midnights, which is an unnecessary annoyance. “Now That We Don’t Talk” has a sing-talk chorus, because Swift is never too coy to whack a nail firmly on the head if the situation calls for it. “We” may not talk anymore, but Taylor Swift always will, because she’ll always have the last word.
That is, almost always. Out of all the improvements Swift makes on this album, the most impressive one might be turning “Bad Blood” from one of the worst songs in her discography into one I can’t stop listening to. Early Friday morning, she revealed that Kendrick Lamar had returned to re-record the “Bad Blood Remix,” which is available on 1989 (TV)’s deluxe edition.
I don’t know whether time has simply been kind to the track, or whether Lamar’s inimitable presence saves it, but the mystery keeps me intrigued. Those sleight-of-hand moves are what Swift does best.