On 27 October, Taylor Swift will release a new version of 1989 – the biggest-selling album of her career, and the one that definitively turned her into a pop star.
It wasn’t just a musical shift, but a perceptual one.
On her previous records, Taylor played the role of an awkward teenager or a heartbroken 20-something. On 1989, she’s suddenly the centre of attention – aware of what people say about her, and playing with her public persona.
It was mostly written during the 2013-14 Red Tour, with demos stored on her phone in a folder named “Sailor Twips”.
Once that Enigma-level code was cracked, 1989 sold more than 15 million copies, won three Grammy Awards and was named “a new generation’s answer to Thriller” by the NME.
Now, Taylor has re-recorded it from scratch, part of an ongoing campaign to regain control of her work, after an investment company bought her master tapes in 2019.
This is the biggest and riskiest part of the project. While earlier remakes were largely made with a live band, 1989’s pop landscapes are full of squelchy, processed synths and treated vocals.
Early signs are encouraging: A new version of This Love yearns harder, as Taylor gently but resolutely says goodbye to someone who isn’t ready for commitment. Her vocals are more present than before, yet there’s a lived-in quality that illustrates her growing maturity as a singer.
As anticipation grows, here’s a guide to the songs and what Taylor has said about them.
1) Welcome To New York
“It’s a new soundtrack, I could dance to this beat forever more.”
We open with a mission statement: The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now, she’s dead.
After building her reputation in Nashville, 1989 jettisons the banjos in favour of insistent, needling beats and tales of bohemian nightlife. “A farewell to twang,” the New York Times called it.
Taylor knew change was necessary. “I don’t have the option of making music that sounds just like what I’ve done before,” she told Popcrush. “People will see right through it. They’ll see that I was lazy”.
Her label begged her to add three country-leaning songs to the album, but she stood her ground.
“At a certain point, if you chase two rabbits, you lose them both.”
Welcome To New York itself is the sound of creative and personal freedom. Taylor moved to the city in 2014 and was amazed to discover she could go grocery shopping largely incognito.
“My friends and people who know me have commented that I’m physically different since being here,” she told NYC radio station WKTU. “That song is about the endless hopefulness and endless possibilities that New York seems to present,” she added in an interview with Access Hollywood.
All proceeds from the track are donated to New York City’s Public Schools.
2) Blank Space
Pretty much the perfect Taylor Swift song, Blank Space takes every horrible rumour that was being spread about her love life, and amplifies it with satirical relish.
“In the last couple of years the media have had a wonderful fixation on painting me as the psycho serial dater girl,” she told the Grammy Museum. “Every article was like, ‘Here’s Taylor Swift standing near some guy. WATCH OUT GUY!’
“My first reaction was to be like, ‘That’s a bummer. This isn’t fun for me’. But my second reaction was, ‘Hey, that’s actually a really interesting character they’re writing about: She jet-sets around the world collecting men – and she can get any of them, but she’s so clingy that they leave and she cries in her marble bathtub surrounded by pearls’.
“I was like, ‘I can use this’.”
Lyrically, it contains some of her best lines (“darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream“) and there’s a delicious attention to detail – with a pen click signifying every new entry in her little black book.
An epic aural painting of windswept coastlines and propulsive wanderlust, Style is (supposedly) named for Harry Styles, with whom Taylor had a brief relationship in 2012.
Except she says it was inspired by fashion, and how certain items like a black dress or red lipstick will “never go out of style”. That prompted her to write about the people who’ll always be part of your life, even after the flame of romantic love wanes (all of which sounds like a classic piece of deflection to a probing journalist).
Whichever interpretation you prefer, the song marks a shift in Swift’s psychology, as she briefly admits to having been unfaithful.
“I would never have said anything like that on a previous album,” she told Ryan Seacrest.
“My previous albums have always been, ‘I was right, you were wrong’. What happens when you grow up is you realise that the rules in a relationship are very blurred. It gets very complicated, very quickly.”
4) Out Of The Woods
One of 1989’s strengths is how the music reflects the emotional tenor of the words. Here, that means frantic anxiety.
As Taylor and her partner run from forces that seek to destroy them, they’re pursued by pounding drums and rushing synths. And there’s a desperation to her voice, as though she’s repeating “everything’s fine, everything’s fine, everything’s fine,” against evidence to the contrary.
By the middle 8, it seems they’ve made a clean getaway. Then car brakes are slammed, and it’s “twenty stitches in a hospital room“.
In interviews, Taylor delighted in revealing this was based on a true story.
“It was almost like this very strange, subtle clue to the media that they don’t know everything that happened in that relationship, and I can have something really major and traumatic happen to me and they don’t know about it,” she told NPR.
In her Rolling Stone cover story, Taylor said the crash actually occurred on a snowmobile “with an ex who lost control and wrecked it so badly that she saw her life flash before her eyes”.
That prompted speculation the track was also about Styles: The couple had gone skiing with Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez in late 2012.
The lyrics also reference their identical aeroplane necklaces and a December break-up, which ties in with the “Sad Taylor on a boat” meme.
But the singer steadfastly refuses to name names: “The fact that I’ve never confirmed who those songs are about makes me feel like there is still one card I’m holding,” she told GQ.
5) All You Had To Do Was Stay
Traditionally, track five on a Taylor Swift album is the record’s most raw and vulnerable moment – but All You Had To Do Was Stay is no Dear John or All Too Well.
Instead, it’s a big disinterested “nope” to an ex who comes back begging for a second chance.
The song came to Taylor in a dream where her ex turned up at the door and, instead of giving him a piece of her mind, all that came out was a high-pitched plea to “stay”.
When she woke, she recorded the sound into her phone and decided to base a song around it. Only this time, she got to say everything she wanted.
6) Shake It Off
Rattling like a bag of spanners, Shake It Off is a 21st Century Hey Mickey, a honking great party record with a chorus that drills so far into your brain you start seeing lights.
It was the last song recorded for 1989, and Taylor arrived at the studio with a challenge for her co-writers Max Martin and Johan “Shellback” Schuster: “We need drums that make even the person who’s having a terrible night at the wedding [go], ‘Oh, it’s my song!'”
Like Blank Space, Shake It Off is a response to celebrity takedown culture. Taylor lists all of her supposed flaws (“She’s an airhead!’ ‘She dates too many men!”) with a defiant “so what?”, sounding much less bothered than the girl who’d written Mean as a riposte to a snarky music critic three years earlier.
Released as 1989’s first single, Taylor spent three days shooting a video, codenamed Project Sparrow, that built on the lyrical conceit.
“When I’m at award shows, I have the best time dancing [but] I’m really tall and lanky so I look a little bit like a baby giraffe learning how to walk,” she told a group of young Swifties.
“So all over the internet, it’s like,’Taylor Swift looks awkward when she dances’. And as soon as I wrote [Shake It Off] I knew I wanted to do an entire music video of me awkwardly dancing.
“I’m like, ‘Yeah, I do dance awkwardly, but I’m having more fun than you.'”
7) I Wish You Would
One of Taylor’s many 2am songs, I Wish You Would, is powered by a choppy, unrelenting guitar line that mimics her thoughts as they race uncontrollably in the middle of the night.
She’s pining for an ex, absent-mindedly driving down their street and wishing she’d never hung up the phone or broken things off.
But in real life, the story was reversed. Taylor told Rolling Stone the song was “about an ex who bought a house two blocks from hers”; while a hidden message in the CD booklet said: “He drove past her street each night.”
The mystery deepens.
8) Bad Blood
Bad Blood has the dubious distinction of taking last place in Rolling Stone’s ranking of all 237 Taylor Swift songs.
It’s certainly not her finest work – a vendetta disguised as a pop song, with a ham-fisted chorus that lacks her usual melodic instincts.
Swift hinted in a Rolling Stone interview that the track was about a high-profile female musician, saying the person did something “so horrible” that made them “straight-up enemies.”
Although she tried not to identify the target, it became common knowledge that Katy Perry was in the crosshairs, after allegedly “stealing” Taylor’s backing dancers just before a tour.
Perry confirmed the situation on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke, adding that she “tried to talk to [Swift] about it and she wouldn’t speak to me.”
The pop divas eventually reconciled in the 2019 video for You Need To Calm Down… but Taylor’s still performing Bad Blood on her Eras tour.
9) Wildest Dreams
Growing up means letting go of youthful optimism, and Swift confronts that notion several times on 1989.
On one hand, she’s developed an ability to laugh off her critics; on the other, she seems increasingly jaded about love.
Here, she’s imagining the end of a relationship before it’s truly begun. When it all goes wrong, she asks her partner, “Say you’ll remember me / Standing in a nice dress / Staring at the sunset.“
“The way I used to approach relationships was very idealistic,” she told Rolling Stone. “I used to go into them thinking, ‘Maybe this is the one – we’ll get married and have a family, this could be forever’.
“Whereas now I go in thinking, ‘How long do we have on the clock before something comes along and puts a wrench in it, or your publicist calls and says this isn’t a good idea?”
Interestingly, an early draft of the lyrics had the couple fleeing the city and blotting out the pressures of the world, an idea which eventually resurfaced in I Know Places.
10) How You Get The Girl
What’s that? An acoustic guitar? Surely not…
This is one of the few 1989 tracks you can imagine working as a country song, if it was stripped of its whip-crack snare drums and buzzing basslines.
Over that backing, Taylor turns agony aunt, dispensing advice on how to win back someone’s heart… although her solutions (standing outside their house in the rain, bombarding them with cute photos) suggest she hasn’t quite weaned herself off Love, Actually just yet.
“It’s kind of a tutorial. All the steps you’d have to do to edge your way back into her life, because she’s probably pretty mad at you” she told Radio.com.
“If you follow the directions in this song, chances are things will work out… Or you may get a restraining order.”
11) This Love
Taylor was beginning to experiment with different vocal styles on 1989, and the multi-tracked, semi-whispered performance on this track foreshadows the delicate sounds of the Folklore and Evermore albums.
The effect is almost aquatic, as though Taylor is drowning in the high tide she depicts in the opening verse. And that suits the song perfectly, with its theme of cutting someone adrift because they’re not ready for a full relationship.
In an interview with the Scholastic book club, Taylor said the song originally started out as a poem in her journal.
“I just wrote it down, and closed the book and put it back on my nightstand, like, ‘Oh, that was fun’.
“Then all of a sudden in my head, I started hearing this melody – and that’s when I realised it was going to be a song.”
12) I Know Places
Continuing the theme of thwarted love, I Know Places was fuelled by Taylor’s increasing anxiety over holding down relationships in the spotlight.
“I was like, ‘No-one’s gonna sign up for this. There are just too many cameras pointed at me, there are too many ridiculous elaborations on my life’,” she told the Grammy Museum.
“But I decided to write a love song [about] what would I say if I met someone really awesome and they were like, ‘Hey, I’m worried about all this attention you get’.
“So I wrote this song about, ‘Hey, I know all these places we could hide. We can outrun them’.”
Co-written with indie-pop auteur Imogen Heap, 1989’s original album closer is very much the palette cleanser its title suggests.
For once, the cavernous 1980s drums are swapped for the plucked keys of a Zimbabwean mbira, while a weary Taylor emerges from the ruins of a relationship.
And the song prompts one of her best lyrics – establishing drought as a metaphor for emotional desolation (“the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst“) before she’s reborn in the cleansing waters of a rainstorm: “When I was drowning, that’s when I could finally breathe / And by morning, gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean.“
The song is all about the necessity of pain, she told Popcrush.
“For most people that I’ve known who’ve fought through struggle, a lot them who have really just faced the pain head on have come out OK a lot faster than the ones who just pretended to be in denial of it.”
“It’s all fun and games til someone loses their mind.“
After dressing as the Mad Hatter at the 2013 Grammy Awards, Taylor returned to Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland for this EDM-tinged banger.
The song describes a fling with a “green-eyed” man (Styles again?) with whom she “fell down a rabbit hole” where “nothing’s as it seems” until, in the end, “we both went mad”.
“Any song [on 1989] that is touching on a relationship issue is looking back on it, and discussing what I learned, rather than you did this and now I feel this way,” she told Radio 1. “There aren’t any accusations made. There aren’t any outright diss tracks.”
Originally a deluxe edition bonus track, Wonderland doesn’t add anything new or insightful to the mix.
Even Taylor agrees it’s a minor entry in her songbook: To date, she’s only played it seven times in concert.
15) You Are In Love
A gently-sung romance, this was inspired by Taylor observing her producer Jack Antonoff and his then-girlfriend, Lena Dunham.
“I remember thinking [the backing track] sounded so much like the sound of actual love, true love. Like, through thick and thin, sickness and health love,” she told MTV.
Drawing directly on conversations she’d had with Lena, the song blends scenes of everyday life (burnt toast, borrowed shirts) with moments of incandescent tenderness (kisses on sidewalks and late night heart-to-hearts).
In an interview with Elle, Taylor talked wistfully about the couple’s ease around each other.
“I’ve never had that,” she said. “[But] now I have more of a grasp on the fact that when you’re in a state of infatuation and you think everything that person does is perfect, it then – if you’re lucky – morphs into a real relationship when you see that that person is not in fact perfect, but you still want to see them every day.”
16) New Romantics
Proof that even Taylor gets it wrong: New Romantics, one of her most beloved songs, was originally held back as a bonus track.
It’s a beast, though. An armour-plated anthem to resilience and power, where Taylor takes all the pain that’s come her way and uses it to make herself bulletproof.
“Heartbreak is the national anthem, we sing it proudly,” she declares, while glitterballs shatter around her. “I could build a castle out of all the bricks they threw at me.”
That defiance also acts as a bridge to her next album, Reputation, which dismantled her critics, one-by-one. But that’s for another article..
17 – 21) Tracks from the vault
Unlike previous re-recordings, the new version of 1989 will only contain five new tracks: Slut!, Say Don’t Go, Now That We Don’t Talk, Suburban Legends and Is It Over Now?
That’s despite the fact Taylor wrote more than 100 songs for the project. Perhaps she’s trying to remain true to her original vision.
“There were so many songs I wrote for this album that were really good, but if I felt in any way that they would have belonged on my last album, Red, they got cut,” she told New York radio’s The Todd Show in the Morning in 2015.
“There are really, really good songs on the cutting room floor because they weren’t innovative enough or new enough. It’s so weird to look back on that – you’ve got heaping piles of discarded songs that I really loved when I wrote them and I still love now.
“I just need each album to have its own sound and if it doesn’t fit that sound, it doesn’t matter if it’s a great song to me.”