Review #393: 1989, Taylor Swift

Karla Clifton
4 min readMay 29, 2023


#393: 1989, Taylor Swift

It’s been nearly two years since I reviewed Red. Since then, Swift released Midnights and went on an Internet-breaking, legislation-making tour. (My sister is seeing her in July — I’m too busy reviewing albums, I guess.) She’s even got herself a little controversy.

But let’s go back even further — not to 1989, but to 2014, when 1989 was released. This was the first Taylor Swift album I gave a real chance. Which was actually logistically difficult, since it was also around this time that Swift took all her music off streaming services, doubling down on an op-ed she penned for the Wall Street Journal. Yet for all the contradictory hand-wringing she did over the future of music, her holdout only lasted three years. And when her discography finally did return to streamers, she had nothing to say about her decision — though she did it on the release date of Katy Perry’s Witness, after a long and petty feud with the pop star. See, this is part of the reason I still struggle with Swift. She’s such a circus.

Note that I am NOT accusing her of being a hack, or a bad artist, or a fake songwriter (like a certain Gorilla did). This album is a huge achievement. She took a page out of the Shania Twain playbook and took it a step further, stating that she set out to make a “blatant pop” record. Production was overseen by Max Martin, who kind of defined pop radio in the 2000s. (See Robyn’s Body Talk for more of his work.) Red was a country foray into pop; 1989 is a complete departure, delving into Eighties-style synth pop and early-Aughts-style electronica.

Even beyond the genre shift, 1989 saw the maturation of Swift’s songwriting. “Blank Space” is the first Swift song I learned to love, in large part because of its unhinged music video. It’s also the first song I ever heard where Swift wasn’t just a victim — she’s an active participant in the dissolution of a relationship. Same goes for the heinously catchy (and somewhat shallow) “Style,” which is definitely not about a former member of One Direction. That’s not to say that she doesn’t still write the wistful, optimistic tunes of her earlier days — “How You Get The Girl” and “I Wish You Would” would both fit right in on her debut, if they had a little more twang. Then again, “I Know Places,” about being hounded by the paparazzi, probably wouldn’t.

I know that Taylor worked her magic on me because not only did I love the bops, I loved the ballads, too. The way T’s voice sounds on “Wildest Dreams” had me enchanted, Lana del Rey comparisons be damned. And closer “Clean” was so sweet I didn’t even mind its sentimentality. I guess Max Martin worked on me too, because even the songs with lyrics I didn’t love had production tricks that I thought were genius. “Out Of The Woods” has a thudding urgency to it, and sleepy, woozy “This Love” has layered shouts and whispers at the end that make it suddenly, strangely magical. She also worked with Jack Antonoff on a couple songs — you can guess which ones by the guitar parts. The one where you can feel him the most is “All You Had To Do Was Stay,” where Antonoff sings backup.

Of course, there are certain Swifty things that I’m unable to get past. For instance, her penchant for kiddie pop — pop so high-pitched and wide-eyed that I can’t help but roll my eyes. “Welcome To New York” is the most platitude-filled NYC song ever written, and the melody of “Bad Blood” feels like it was designed for third-graders. Worst offender is obviously “Shake It Off.” My sister told me, “Think of it this way. There’s always one song on her albums that remind you that she’s a theater kid at heart.” And my theater-kid boyfriend loves all of those songs, so maybe I’m just not the target audience.

I still wouldn’t say I’m a fan. Like, I’m not gonna go cry at her concerts or anything. But it’s so nice not to be as snobby as I was in high school. I drove around today with my windows down, blasting T. Swift, belting along. An old man laughed at me. It felt amazing.

Fun Fact: Ryan Adams covered this whole album. Like, every song on the album. Insanity. And it’s awesome. My favorite is his heavy metal take on “Style,” where he transforms You’ve got that James Dean daydream look in your eye to You’ve got that Daydream Nation look in your eye.

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