When Taylor Swift first released 1989, her first full-fledged pop record, in 2014, it created a cultural divide that would ultimately become pivotal to Swift’s evolution as an entertainer. While the pop undertones in the singer’s work had been evident practically from the start, it was still jarring for the general public when she unabashedly eschewed the fiddles for synthesizers and seemed to leave country music behind at the time.
Critics praised 1989, and diehards were up for anything, but the controversies and feuds arising from that particular era of Swift’s career went downhill quickly (see also: her Reputation album). We know now that the singer was nowhere near as guilty and venomous as tabloids started making her out to be in the late 2010s. Swift didn’t dig her own grave so much as we handed her the shovel.
In 2019, news broke that Swift had lost ownership of the masters from her first six albums after her former label, Big Machine Records, sold them to Scooter Braun. Swift wasted no time in letting everyone know that she wouldn’t respond to bullying and intimidation and announced her plans to re-record her first six LPs.
Then the pandemic happened; the singer released two full-length albums in 2020 alone, the highly acclaimed Folklore and Evermore. The first two remakes of her Fearless and Red albums dropped the following year, and suddenly, all the pop cultural drama surrounding Swift in the pre-pandemic years didn’t seem important anymore. Her public image had softened dramatically. 1989 (Taylor’s Version) is the fourth of six planned re-assessments.
The previously released remakes of Taylor Swift’s country albums were met with much fanfare as they allowed listeners who had grown up with Swift to enjoy remixed and reimagined versions of their youths. They additionally provided a platform for the singer to showcase how much she had grown as a musician and a vocalist since the original releases of these albums over a decade ago.
But 1989 (Taylor’s Version) marked somewhat of a shift in the immediate reaction to Swift’s re-recording of the album. Even diehard fans took to social media to remark that the tracks sounded different and not in the same way as her previous reimaginings. Others shot back that none of the re-records are supposed to sound the same as their originals since she has grown and changed so much since then, as well as the fact that these re-records are supposed to be, literally and figuratively, Taylor’s versions.
The truth is that the original 1989 is arguably some of Taylor Swift’s best work. She worked overtime to shed her country image, and that effort really shines through on the track listing, especially on the re-record. Perhaps 1989 (Taylor’s Version) signifies a shift similar to its original, that Swift is so on top of her game in these songs that it genuinely leaves little room for improvement. It’s hard to improve something so complete, to begin with.
Still, Swift breathes new life once again into songs that are difficult to not sing along to. All of the singer’s re-records have included previously unreleased tracks “from the vault”, expanding already lengthy runtimes. While 1989’s vault tracks aren’t necessarily as immediately attention-grabbing as those from other re-releases, they still pack an emotional punch like only Swift can deliver.
The most memorable is “Slut!”, a title that might not suggest an emotive ballad at first glance. “Lovelorn and nobody knows / Love thorns all over this rose / I’ll pay the price, you won’t,” she sings. “And if they call me a slut / You know it might be worth it for once.” The song would have been far too subversive to include on the original album, but it now deserves its place in Taylor Swift’s discography, much like the rest of her work that should belong only to its artist.