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The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

“1989 (Taylors Version)” falls short of former glory

“1989 (Taylors Version)” is one of the four albums Taylor Swift has re-recorded since 2021.

What do you associate with the term Americana? Maybe it’s apple pie, blue jeans and baseball. Or maybe, like most people nowadays, it’s “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” by Taylor Swift.

On Oct. 27, 2023, “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” was introduced to the world as part of a series re-recordings Swift is releasing in order to own the original sound recordings of all her songs. I’ve been hearing about it nonstop since, and while some of the buzz is due to nostalgia for the original “1989,” the majority of the reason is Swift herself. She’s captured the attention of the general public to such a rare and widespread degree that she’s become embedded in the culture itself, to the point where the quality of her music matters a little less than it should. Her branding gets in the way of her artistry, which is why I say “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” is a good album, but not a great one.

There’s no doubt that Swift’s vocals have improved and absolutely shine in the re-release. During my first listening of the album, I was utterly blown away by the opening track “Welcome to New York (Taylor’s Version).” I firmly believe that whoever made the decision of making it an opening track on the original deserves a firm handshake and a large check. In 2014, it was the perfect signifier of Swift’s transition from country to pop. In 2023, it’s symbolic of Swift’s rebirth as a worldwide superstar, and her final chorus is much stronger and more emotionally riveting than the original. Though I listened to it at midnight, the song punched me awake and hit me with a wave of genuine optimism.

Yet I was somewhat let down by Swift’s “vault tracks,” or songs that were cut from her original albums. Swift has always been great at conveying emotion through her oddly specific lyrics. Though you can’t relate to any of her experiences, you’re still left feeling as if there’s a sense of camaraderie and that’s still true here. These “vault tracks,” my favorite being “Suburban Legends,” do an excellent job of evoking feeling, nevertheless, they don’t fare so well on the sound front.

All of the “vault tracks” on “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” blend together, sounding vaguely like rejects from one of Swift’s albums, but not cohesive enough itself to discern which one it is. In short, they have great lyrics, but the music is so forgettable it’s genuinely a crime. Especially when considering how strong overall her previously released “vault tracks” are, it’s a shame. Songs like “Nothing New” or “I Bet You Think About Me” feel more sonically distinct while sounding cohesive with the rest of the album, something every 1989 “vault track” fails to do.

Most of my complaints around the album stem from its production. Why is there so much bass on “Style (Taylor’s Version)” and “Blank Space (Taylor’s Version)”? What happened to the recorder click at the start of “I Know Places,” and why has it been replaced by a GarageBand sound effect? The mixing sounds good when played in car radios, which probably is a good chunk of where the album is going to be played, but through headphones, even good quality ones, the production simply doesn’t hold up. It’s a minor change, but the bass is louder throughout, drowning out the instrumentals and vocals during the choruses in a way that I can’t ignore, especially when the speaker is so close to my ears.

Personally, while this might make me a “bad fan,” I’ll probably stick to listening to some of the original tracks. Swift may have delivered a stronger vocal performance, but it still sounds worse overall due to the corners cut in production. The original “1989” has been lauded to death as the “perfect pop album” for its cohesive and bright nature, as well as the superb mixing. For all its merits, “1989 (Taylor’s Version),” is eclipsed under its shadow. At the end of the day, Swift’s a billionaire, and one that’s managed to capitalize on her music and brand very thoroughly, which means she’s not going to be struggling for cash anytime soon. Which is all well and good, since she and her producers won’t be earning much streaming money from me.

I’d be remiss to talk about the album without mentioning the sheer cultural magnitude Swift has. While I personally did enjoy “1989 (Taylor’s Version),” I don’t think it lived up to its full potential, and I think it’s in part because of Swift herself. She’s not just a singer anymore, and her music will always be remembered more for its artist than the quality itself. Whether that’s good or bad? I can’t say.

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