Rhiju Chakraborty ’27
On Oct. 27, 2023, Taylor Swift released her re-recorded version of “1989,” exactly nine years after she first released the album that catapulted her from country starlet into a pop superstar. “1989” has long been referred to as the “pop bible” as every song in the album has the catchy beat of a hit song. The album also spent its first 11 weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 and eventually won Swift her second album of the year at the Grammy Awards.
The first noticeable difference in “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” is Swift’s vocal maturation. Throughout the artist’s re-recordings, her voice sonically is older and more developed, allowing her to expand her range and create a fuller sound. While there are little changes made to some of the album’s instrumentals, Swift manages to keep the essence of each song, recreating the success of the original.
With the cohesiveness of the original album, part of Swift’s strategy for every re-recording is to include some vault tracks. The vault tracks are tracks that were supposed to be on the original album, but due to song limits and other restrictions from her label, were not included in the original album. Some of her previous vault tracks have also been massive successes, such as “All Too Well (10 Minutes version) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” that debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The most anticipated song from the “1989” vault, and the one that Swift’s been pushing as her official radio single, is “Slut!” The song, despite the exclamation point, starts with a slow bass beat before Swift’s gentle vocals take over. From there the song slowly starts picking up in the pre-chorus that does not allow for pause like, “Got love-struck, went straight to my head/ Got lovesick all over my bed/Love to think you’ll never forget Handprints in wet cement/Adorned with smoke on my clothes/Lovelorn and nobody knows,” that’s reminiscent of the fast-pace lyrical tempo of her alltime hit “Blank Space.” But despite her best efforts, the song is never able to climax into a pop hit and only slows down from there. The song is also very much a missed opportunity by Swift to create a punk-pop rager similar to the ones found in Olivia Rodrigo’s sophomore album “Guts.”
The next song in the vault tracks, however, has all the makings of an instant pop classic. “Say You Don’t Go” starts with Swift singing at a lower register. It sets up the scene for the burst of pop that comes next in the chorus, as Swift shifts to singing in a higher key. When the beat finally drops at the 1:05 marker, you cannot help but lift your hands up in the air and scream the lyrics from the chorus along with Swift: “(Say) Say, (Don’t) don’t (Go) go/I would stay forevеr if you (Say) say, (Don’t) don’t (Go) go).” Then the song cuts back to the moodier tempo in the refrain, setting up the contrast between the bridge. Some of Swift’s best works have been able to take advantage of contrasting an upbeat sound with a more refrained beat, creating a cohesive sound in the process- and it is this musical juxtaposition that she creates through this vault track.
The next vault track, “Now That We Don’t Talk,” sounds like it has been freshly transported off from the “Midnights” album, where Swift experimented with electro-pop music. The song starts slower, like a “Lavender Haze” or “Midnight Rain.” But after the first 30 seconds, the song suddenly picks up with the introduction of the chorus and feels very much like a pop anthem from the “1989” era. Even though it slows down in between lines from the chorus, the song can capture the essence of Swift’s artistry of that era.
“Suburban Legends,” the fourth song off of the Vault track for “1989,” starts immediately with Swift singing the lyrics, “You had people who called you on unmarked numbers In my peripheral vision/I let it slide like a hose on a slippery plastic summer,” with a faint bass beat in the background. From there the song’s catchy chorus, “I didn’t come here to make friends/We were born to be suburban legends/When you hold me, it holds me together/And you kiss me in a way that’s gonna screw me up forever,” helps cement the song’s status as one of Swift’s best vault tracks to date.
The last song of her vault tracks and the entire album is “Is It Over Now?” The title of the song is fitting given its position as the last track on the album, and it has also fueled widespread theories online that the artist is hinting towards a double-album release of the re-recording for her seventh studio album “Reputation.” The actual song, however, is a fun mix of lyrics, layered vocals, and catchy quick songs and works as a fitting ending to the album, tying together all the distinct elements of the album into one song.
“1989 (Taylor’s Version)” is a step back in time, recreating some of the pop songs that defined a generation and inspired generations of future songwriters. When it was first released, it was a complete genre pivot from the pop sensation, and despite pressure from her label, Taylor Swift refused to add any country songs, making it a pure pop album that shattered expectations and concretized Swift’s lyrical genius. But despite taking her listeners through this time-traveling machine back to 2014, the production quality and added synth and pop-beats throughout the tracks in the album create a fresh twist, separating the re-recording from the original.
At the height of her career in 2023, fresh off completing the massively successful U.S. leg of the Eras Tour, having 2 #1 hits in the past year (“Anti-Hero” and “Cruel Summer”) and releasing her record-breaking 10th album “Midnights,” Swift somehow manages to climb higher heights with the release of her re-recorded version of “1989,” and proves that the only person she’s competing with is herself.