I once had a dream that I played “Love Story” by Taylor Swift at a party and a Swiftie noticed it wasn’t “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” and in a fit of rage, broke my phone. What distinguishes 1989 from 1989 (Taylor’s Version)? Well, one was recorded in 2014; the other, recorded in 2023, has five additional songs “From The Vault,” and is owned by Taylor Swift.
Taylor Swift began her effort to re-record six of her studio albums in November 2020 following the extreme success of folklore and the purchase of her original masters by Justin Bieber’s former manager, Scooter Braun. She has since released Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Red (Taylor’s Version), Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), and now 1989 (Taylor’s Version). Fans and critics have gone crazy.
I like Taylor Swift’s music. A lot of people do. It’s catchy, fun, nostalgic, and sad in the right way. 1989 stands as some of her most inspired work. In 2014, she enlisted iconic pop producer Max Martin as a collaborator, marking the culmination of her transition from Nashville country to full-on pop. If you ignore the album’s synth accompaniments, though, the songs don’t sound very different from Swift’s previous work. She sings about growing up and moving on in “Welcome to New York,” which echoes the growing pains of “Never Grow Up” on Speak Now. She sings about having a crazy, lit, movie time with friends on“New Romantics,” a song reminiscent of the indulgent glory of “22” on Red. She sings about the haters on “Shake It Off” and “Bad Blood,” which is a callback to “Mean” on Speak Now. 1989 may not be revolutionary within Swift’s discography, but it is fun. It’s danceable and singable, especially since Taylor Swift is no Mariah Carey. It’s an undeniably influential album, but did we need it again?
Of course, Taylor Swift would say yes, and her fans would parrot this back. By rerecording her albums, Taylor Swift aims to replace her original records with truer (and more personally profitable) recreations. This is not an unworthy cause—that Scooter Braun bought her masters (especially after she’d expressed interest in owning them) undeniably sucks. But the purchase of another artist’s masters is a highly precedented music industry practice—famously, Michael Jackson bought the Beatles’ masters after Paul McCartney had told him the best thing a young artist could do was to buy masters. McCartney was, of course, very upset.
The rerecording of 1989 has a couple new songs, but beyond them, it can pretty easily replace the original 1989. Still, some songs sound very different. Some of these differences are for the better—fans seem to like “Welcome to New York (Taylor’s Version)” more than “Welcome to New York.” I feel a little weird about this—is this cheating? Most artists don’t accept criticism from ten years ago and just re-record the album. However, many people have noticed that percussive embellishments in “Style (Taylor’s Version)” sound worse than in the original “Style.”
Taylor Swift is about to become a billionaire. She makes good songs. I like them. I’ve known them since I was twelve. Nostalgia sells. Taylor Swift is undeniably a good songwriter—but she’s a better businessperson.
Taylor Swift seems to be un-cancelable. The 1989 era marked the beginning of her self-proclaimed feminism, a title that seems to have guarded her further from criticism. Literally, the re-recording process is a way for her to take back her voice, and own her music again. That’s great, and on its own, surely sounds a lot like the Tumblr feminism Swift subscribes to. However, Swift’s fans have used her “feminism” more as a weapon against any critics of hers, creating an army of crusaders, not just defending every move of hers, but also making her actions actively good. Yes, Taylor Swift has the right to record her music. But it’s crazy not to at the very least consider criticism of her and her unguided re-records.
I’m putting myself out there by writing this. What if I don’t get hired in the future because my potential boss is a Swiftie? There’s a lot of hype around this album in a “stick-it-the-man” type mentality, but in reality, this is just a carbon copy of something we’re all already familiar with, and obviously a cash grab. And I shouldn’t be afraid to say so!