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The student news site of Adlai E. Stevenson High School


The student news site of Adlai E. Stevenson High School


Staring at Blank Space

Statesman staffer reviews 1989 (Taylor’s Version)
Staring at Blank Space

As artists and pop stars reach greater levels of stardom, the expression “never forget where you came from” often keeps them grounded in reality. With their songs receiving billions of plays, and their tours generating millions in revenue, it’s impossible to fathom that years earlier, they were ordinary people. 

But in the case of Taylor Swift, her short-timed romantic pursuits, combined with relatable melodic emotions of love and heartbreak, evoke relatable emotions of familiar experiences, helping propel her album 1989 to nine times platinum.

In 2021, Swift began releasing Taylor’s Version albums, reproduced versions of past productions, highlighting Swift’s mission to secure the rights to her own music, and disincentivize the albums owned by toxic musical monopolists like Scooter Braun. Starting with her album “Fearless,” her mission to reclaim her music has grown to a catalog of four albums, with her most recent album, 1989 (Taylor’s Version), releasing on October 27, 2023, to millions of fans worldwide.  

The original release, 1989, heavily rumored to be about Taylor Swift’s affair with Harry Styles, delves into the inner complexities of former romances. Through her album, she finds herself longing for her past romances, contrary to the vilification and revenge symphonies that Swift is often credited with. The 2014 release served as a crucial bridge in her career that mixed her background in country music with tones of pop and synth. 

Nearly nine years later, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) features a now 33-year-old, more mature Swift, as she revisits her old album, in the pursuit of recapturing her individual powers, previously limited by her suffocating record deal. Her new release version doesn’t drastically differ from the old one, with minor production updates and the use of a mature and developed voice. Yet, the album itself didn’t depict any deeper or new ideas, leaving a forced and awkward feeling for the listener, especially within recreated songs. 

For fans of Swift’s music, a pivotal point of the album is the release of the vaulted songs, old songs that were never produced by her old record label, but that she’s able to pursue under her own control. Swift reclaims these from her “vault,” and develops them without pressure from a third-party label. In short, Taylor’s Version albums are a peak into an authentic, unadulterated, genuine Taylor Swift. 

“Now That We Don’t Talk,” one of the five vaulted songs added to the album, feels Midnight-ified. Using modern Taylor Swift beats, encompassing far more synth and bass, the new piece fails to lack the original enthusiasm that her 1989 songs had. The misplaced frequency of her synthesizer, shown in songs such as “Say Don’t Go” also overpower her vocals, making it hard to resonate with. 

Similarly, another vaulted song, “Is It Over Now,” true to its name, feels unfinished and broken up. Her vocals, again, don’t fit the synth-country beat that they sing over. Conflicting frequently at key points during the build up to the chorus, and as the song closes out, they leave the piece feeling cluttered and messy, instead of polished and poetic. 

That’s not to say that the vaulted additions didn’t accurately portray her musical prowess because “Suburban Legends” perfectly compliments her vocals and combines them with properly used rhythm, and a perfect use of her passive tone.  “Slut!,” thought to have been a continuation of her ironic representation of misogyny, embodied in the earlier song “Blank Space,” instead contains a deeper, more symbolic lyrical message, touching on the rush and discomfort associated with love and heartbreak. 

Besides the vaulted additions, the original songs of the album take on noticeable musical and vocal changes in Taylor’s Version debut, due to her vocal maturity. In tracks like “Out of the Woods,” “Style,” and even “Wonderland,” the musical elements that complemented each other in the original album seem to contrast and compete in the revised version, with the bass, synth, and vocals failing to merge into a graceful melody. For songs like “Blank Space” as well, vocals around the chorus sound jarring, with melodies that don’t complement the harmonies.

Furthermore, production, which shifted from pop legend Max Martin to legendary country-rock producer Christopher Rowe, unfortunately suffered in quality due to the various complexities in remaking the album. Rowe, who had to reverse engineer the original melodies with the complex rhythms and harmonic cymbal cues, generated small defects in the beats themselves. For example, overlaps in instrumental elements in “Shake It Off” created weird frequencies that disrupted the listening experience. 

The cultural influence of Taylor Swift is not unfounded; she is a creative and talented musician who seeks justice of her own creative liberties. While she doesn’t capture her best self in this album, the re-recording of her almost decade-old album shows her maturity as a singer, and how she’s grown as an artist over the years.  

Although she displayed changes and growth as a musician, her inability to recapture the authenticity and aura that surrounded her album made 1989 (Taylor’s Version) quite disappointing. Through her poor quality of production and stiff combination of her vocals and the beat, this album finds itself quickly going out of style. 

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