Throughout Taylor Swift’s rerecording process, it’s become evident how revered these albums are to her and her fans, myself included. Growing up with these albums felt very in the moment, but retroactively reaffirmed everlasting power as the music retained presence in our memories. With this attachment had with the rerecordings, there is still a divide between the writing and the maturity of her vocals that strayed from the fun it reflected at its initial release. It isn’t so inherent and becomes a byproduct of time, but additionally the production’s recreation. As with all of the Taylor’s Versions, she has to tiptoe a line as not to cross copyright laws and have her take on originality. For her more pop-country-centric albums, it was there. Still, sometimes faint, allowing you to feel like all that’s changed are the vocals, and with 1989, the two make some fascinating choices—having this open space studio atmosphere emanating in the band recreation bolsters new sonic layers that feel more distinguishable to the mood reflecting Swift’s varying album covers. The quality is there, but the differences are more apparent, making preference pivotal—many hits still hit, but unfortunately, the Vault tracks are the low point.
With the Vault tracks, it hits you with a flurry as the title for the first song doesn’t match what one could assume it would be, and mainly because the hype revolved around the name of the song title, but “Slut!” took me by slight surprise; she weaves poppy, ballad-like melodies over a more subdued production—compared to the rest of the album—leaning into part of an image engraved on her image at the time, considering the frequency she went from boyfriend to boyfriend at the time—however, there’s nuance to this, particularly with tameness she approached it before maturing with us on Red. She had a few short-winded flings and long-term relationships; the media sensationalized it, and the public made a meme used to this day—Swift is reclaiming it by expressing an understanding of her value and why she’s with this man. “Blank Space” similarly saw her lean and accept branding while being a sonic antithesis of “Slut!.” It offers a solid start for the vault tracks, continuing modestly with “Say Don’t Go” before forgetfulness and a final impact in the final track, “Is It Over Now?.”
“Is It Over Now?” channels elements from her full ascension into pop back in 2014 and its more melancholy bridge between the emphatic moments that kept me coming back. Similarly, “Say Don’t Go” brings some much-needed dimensions with its instrumental approach, unlike others, which feel mundane and do little to justify some weaker Taylor Swift writings. These Vault songs bring forth more of the atmospheric embodiment emboldened by the recreations—with the album covers that Taylor Swift shared leading to 1989 (Taylor’s Version), they expressed a summery vibe glistening over these synth-pop beats. The production’s changes and vocal tweaks bring summery textures forward, specifically with the percussion’s maneuverability to create something more emphatic and open-spaced comparatively. “Shake It Off” is an intriguing example of such. Unlike the original, the instrumentations are live, making use of space in the studio; it feels more Big Band than before. In a way, it changes the complexions of the song without removing how this synergy of sounds made you feel the first time. It isn’t better or worse, but it adds something new to the conversation of song to song.
Alongside Christopher Rowe, Taylor Swift brings fascinating tweaks to make it feel original through its own devices, even when it’s a direct rerecording of the album. With 1989 (Taylor’s Version), along with their session musicians and programmers, they continue to express the line between being close to what fans love and a new approach to the music that will have them creating new memories at the moment, especially when songs retain new meaning through inflection points of time. Simply put, age and maturity brought a new sense of self-reflection with the tones in Swift’s voice, like in the song “All You Had To Do Was Stay.” There is a deeper meaning in its focus on love showing itself the closer you get, and expressing this desire to stay and open up brings a new foundation to the emotions distilled within. It’s the same with many songs, but it’s more than that as the production becomes its own character guiding you through bangers like “Shake It Off,” “Bad Blood,” and “Blank Space,” the latter of which being one of the biggest standouts of the recreations. You’ll go on listening without looking back.
The percussion on “Blank Space” sees a significant switch, making the cymbals a little more pronounced with the operatic textures from the space in which it got created. It offered a newfound appreciation for what the album did for Swift and how it jumpstarted a new era with creative bops. Like the original 1989, the songs that hit still do for me, but the ones that don’t, the changes aren’t enough to change my mind. For me, it’s “I Know Places” and “You Are In Love,” which don’t separate themselves much from the pack with what they deliver thematically and how the production’s notes blend within the rest of the tracks. Like before, they are just there and don’t have the virtuosity of “Styles” or “How You Get The Girl,” or the meticulously descriptive and nuanced 90s Synth pop with the Imogen Heap-assisted “Clean.” It makes you love these insane highs to keep you on top of that high, even through the changes, and as this journey with them continues, the delivery and quality couldn’t be any better.
As I sit back and finish this review, I think back to realize how bigger this is to the fan base, Taylor Swift, and the pop culture zeitgeist as it goes beyond the underlying power of owning your masters, but more so giving fans something new. I can’t deny I had a blast going through these songs, more so than the vault tracks. Maybe that’s cynical of me as a fan should feel the elevated hype for new originals, but here I am, lamenting what we got and enjoying it to the fullest. There are great recreations and some quality new hits, and that’s all one can ask for as she continues doing so. I’m here for a 1989 November, and it will be one amazing one.