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Monday, March 4, 2024

‘1989 (Taylor’s Version)’ — magic, madness, heaven or sin?

Is it gonna be forever, or is it gonna go down in flames?


By MOLLY THOMPSON — mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu


Why doesn’t Taylor Swift ever “go out of style?” Is “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” a “wonderland” or “is it over now?” Is she “gonna be forever” or is she “gonna go down in flames?”

With the ongoing Eras Tour, the release of the Eras Tour film, multiple recent re-recorded albums and new projects always in the works, Swift is currently at the peak of her career. At least, that’s what sources like Billboard, Time Magazine and The Guardian say. So why does she need to re-release old albums, and why do people care so much about them? I mean, we’ve already heard the songs, why is everyone so excited to hear them again?

In short, the re-recordings are symbolic. Yes, Swift benefits financially from that set of parentheses at the end of every re-released song, but to her as a recent member of the billionaire club, it’s not primarily about the cash. It’s about her art being in her name — she wants her work to belong to her, for legal, logistical and emotional reasons. Her discography is incredibly vulnerable, which is one of the reasons for its mass appeal, but it’s also one of the reasons why it’s so important for it to belong to Swift herself — it’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s her life’s work, but it also represents her life. Her songs create a poetic, anecdotal diary of her life: the lessons she’s learned, her emotional growth, her heartbreak, her love and her triumphs — it’s inevitable that she wants it all to be her own.

In a way, it transcends that too. Beyond Swift’s personal reasons for wanting to reclaim her masters, the “Taylor’s Version” eras have arguably brought more to her fan base than anything she’s ever done before. Each new, revamped era brings a unique kind of nostalgia and sentiment to her followers, many of whom grew up listening to the songs that are reentering the spotlight. The lyrics that meant so much to them a decade ago take on a whole new meaning now.

“1989” was originally released in 2014. It was, in a way, a cultural reset in that it broke numerous records, won countless awards, pioneered a genre of pop music that drew no inspiration from other contemporary pop records and was a significant genre shift for Swift; its uniquely “pop-y” sounds contrasted her previous country releases. Even the album title itself — “1989,” the year Swift was born — was intended to symbolize a rebirth of her artistry and public image.

Suffice it to say, the original version of “1989” made its mark on society. So now, as Swift and her fans have simultaneously grown, “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” has a doubly powerful impact: it appeals to a very specific sense of yearning for the carefree yet heartsick, sophisticated yet unsure, empowered yet broken feelings of the original “1989” era a decade ago. It also provides comfort and a reminder of growth. Echo McFadden, UC Davis student and avid Swiftie, notes the depth of what “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” means to them.

“[…] Because of those long car rides with my mom when I was younger where we would blast it on the stereo,” McFadden said, “some of my best core memories were made with Taylor’s music in the background, and I am glad I can continue making them with her version[s].”

“1989” is arguably Swift’s most anxious album. She’s spoken about the eating disorder and other mental struggles she dealt with during its prime, and while the most well-known songs are exceptionally upbeat and optimistic, the majority of the album carries a more fretful, troubled tone beneath its confident rhythms. Fans who are intimately familiar with the album know this all too well, which makes it, as a whole work, even more dear to them. So when the re-recording came out, fans were able to look back on that initial period of time, in both Swift’s life and the parallels of their own, and savor the bittersweet sensation of looking back on a low point after having learned, grown and survived.

On top of all of those layers, the re-released version has the addition of five never-before-heard songs “from the vault” of Swift’s songwriting journals. “Is It Over Now?,” one of these songs, has already topped charts, alongside a few of its sibling tracks. The combination of old and new, nostalgia and ingénue, creates a powerful record that has yet to come down from its high, even as of more than three weeks past its release.

Swift has a notoriously passionate and dedicated fan base, and it’s only continuing to thrive. This album means more to the fans than it’s possible to see from a casual listener’s perspective, which is why it’s been unprecedentedly successful. No artist has done what Swift has done and gotten away with it, nonetheless expanded from it. But Swift’s allure is so multifaceted (from her lyricism to her vulnerability to her stage presence to the deep lore behind her music) that it’s almost impossible to compare her to anyone else anyway. So while it might seem nonsensical to an onlooker that a 10-year-old, bygone album is making a splash today, it’s merely a matter of “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” being “so magnetic it was almost obnoxious.” Its impact is far from “over now,” it’s the “one thing I’ve been wanting,” it’s “gonna leave you breathless,” and, honestly, it’s “gonna screw me up forever.”


Written by: Molly Thompson —  mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu 


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