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Taylor Swift, ‘1989 (Taylor’s Version)’ review: revisited classic could be the best pop album of 2023

One thing’s for sure on this album: ‘1989’ will never go out of style.

5.0 rating

By Mark Sutherland

Taylor Swift (Picture: Beth Garrabrant)

“Everybody here wanted something more,” Taylor Swift sang on ‘Welcome To New York’, the opening track to ‘1989’. “Searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before.”

And the search for that sound is what led Swift here, to her 2014 magnum opus in the all-bangers, no-clangers 1980s pure-pop tradition of Madonna’s ‘True Blue’ and Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. 

True, a couple of years previously, ‘Red’ had taken the first steps away from Swift’s country music safe haven. But ‘1989’ left Nashville in the rear-view mirror, burned rubber for NYC and went all-in on pop.

Swift resisted her label’s desperate pleas for even just a couple of country songs, ensuring this bold, brilliant record presented a brand-new Swift. Ultimately, it not only redefined her sound, but the very sonic architecture of pop music itself. And made her the biggest pop star on the planet to boot.

All of which makes revisiting it for the on-going Taylor’s Versions project – which sees Swift taking back control of her earlier albums after they were sold behind her back – a tricky proposition. As Swift herself sings on that opening track, “Like any true love… You know you wouldn’t change anything.”

And, in keeping with (almost all) the TVs so far, she doesn’t. The original ‘1989’ saw Swift collaborating with numerous top-of-the-range producers and songwriters, but was notable for its absolute state-of-the-art production from Max Martin, who also co-wrote many key tracks. 

Martin does not appear to be involved in this revisit (although his associate Shellback, who also worked on the original, does get a production credit on ‘Wildest Dreams’) – replaced largely by Swift herself and Christopher Rowe, a stalwart of previous TVs, but better known for his work in country. Nonetheless, from the opening synth snap on ‘Welcome To New York’, the sound of ‘1989’ is near-perfectly recreated.

Which leaves us free to marvel at the astonishing quality of these songs. Not that many people will need a reminder – ‘1989’ is a centrepiece of Swift’s record-breaking ‘Eras’ tour and, in pure business terms, this is the Taylor’s Version most likely to dent the finances of her early records’ new owners, such is the enduring popularity of the original.

Even so, the sheer quantity/quality of anthems such as ‘Style’, ‘Blank Space’, ‘Shake It Off’, ‘Bad Blood’, ‘Out Of The Woods’ and ‘New Romantics’ (a contender for the best Deluxe Version extra track of all time) remains astounding. Even some of the songs that weren’t released as singles sound like monster hits (especially the irresistible groove of ‘That’s How You Get The Girl’).

Lyrically, Swift was on fire, skewering the tabloid obsession with her relationships on ‘Blank Space’ and ‘Shake It Off’ and skilfully moving on from romantic naivety to the increasingly blurred lines of adult relationships, with the same eye for detail.

It all adds up to one hell of a package – but of course Taylor’s Version always comes with added ‘From the Vaults’ extras. Although, while the five ‘new’ songs here date back to the original sessions, they could just have easily come from Swift’s latest record, ‘Midnights’. 

They’re produced (and mainly co-written) with current key collaborator Jack Antonoff (who first became part of Team Swift on ‘1989’), and there are no featured artists this time around. Which leaves the dreamy likes of ‘‘Slut!’’ (exclamation mark and extra quote marks very much part of a song title that would’ve raised *a lot* of eyebrows in 2014) and the glorious ‘Is It Over Now?’ free to sound like they could’ve glided straight from the ‘3am Edition’ of the latest album.

Elsewhere, there’s an intriguing co-write with superstar songwriter Diane Warren on ‘Say Don’t Go’ and some classically Swiftian one-liners on the superb ‘Suburban Legends’ (“I broke my own heart ‘cause you were too polite to do it”) and ‘Now That We Don’t Talk’ (“I don’t have to pretend I like acid rock/Or that I’d like to be on a mega yacht”).

These tracks subtly point out the musical progress Swift has made even since ‘1989’. And while a lot has happened in Swiftworld since 2014, she finds herself even more popular in 2023 than she was when this album first came out. That’s a remarkable achievement, even for an artist who frequently makes the incredible look straight-forward.

And so, to put things in equally extraordinary context, ‘1989’ could have been the greatest pop album of 1989. It was undoubtedly the greatest pop album of 2014. And now, this new version could well be the greatest pop album of 2023. 

One thing’s for sure: ‘1989’ will never go out of style.