August 21, 1989 (Deluxe Edition) by Taylor Swift
Total Number of Tracks: 16. 13 from the standard edition, and 3 bonus songs. And for once, none of the bonus tracks are rehashes of standard edition songs. Halle-freakin-lujah.
Songs you might know:
– “Blank Space”
– “Out of the Woods”
– “Shake It Off”
– “Bad Blood”
– “Wildest Dreams”
– “New Romantics” (deluxe edition exclusive)
My prior relationship with the album: When 1989 first came out, I was still in a phase where I just didn’t see the hype of Taylor Swift. She simply was not my cup of tea. In my brain, she had already made the jump to pop with “I Knew You Were Trouble.” and “22” on the Red album. So the fact that this would be her first “full pop” album didn’t feel like an exciting new development so much as admitting what had been obvious for over a year. It’s like when Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes finally admitted they’re a thing. Like yeah… no shit, Sherlock, we know.
I never really liked “Shake It Off,” and wrote it off as shallow drivel for music consumers with inferior taste to mine, but “Blank Space” gave me hope that maybe 1989 was real growth for Taylor. Suddenly this New Taylor was making fun of her own reputation while simultaneously owning that reputation with no shame about it. It was a pop song that felt like something only Taylor could have made, letting us walk in her shoes for 3 minutes and 51 seconds, whilst still being something ordinary people can relate to. Really, who ISN’T a nightmare dressed like a daydream? I paid attention to some of the other singles that came from this album, but none impressed me the way “Blank Space” did. And when Swift decided that 1989 wouldn’t be easily streamable and only those who paid for the album could hear it, I elected to not hear it.
I eventually did listen to the whole album months after its release, and quite a few times thereafter. I did get SOME of the hullabaloo over it. 1989 is a great example of an album where I can totally see why so many people love it the way they do, but I never quite fell in love with it the way I have with similar albums. Maybe that’s because “Bad Blood” is still one of my least favorite songs Taylor has ever made, and “Shake It Off” isn’t that much better. Maybe it’s because it’s slightly overproduced for my taste. For whatever the reason, 1989 never really grabbed my soul and moved me on a deep level, but I did respect it. And that’s more than I had been able to say about prior Swift albums at that time. At the very least, I was glad to see Taylor pushing herself out of her comfort zone and stretching herself creatively rather than recycling the same song ideas over and over again.
My impression this time around: After a solid week of binging Swift’s catalog, I feel quite confident in saying that 1989 is the most album-y of her albums. There’s a clear narrative between track 1 (“Welcome to New York”) and the final track of the standard edition (“Clean”). Even the additional bonus songs on the deluxe version don’t disrupt this narrative but rather enhance it (they’re also some of the best songs on the whole album!).
What’s fascinating to me is that 1989 is chock full of songs that I don’t really go out of my way to listen to on their own. The closest I get is probably the deluxe exclusive track, “Wonderland,” but I also have a soft spot for “All You Had To Do Is Stay.” And yet, every time I listen to the album in full I can’t help but think “Wow. Solid album.” Almost every song is made stronger by the other songs around it, and yet each song still has its own identity and is playing a unique role in the overall album narrative. This allows 1989 to avoid both the disjointedness of Red and the redundant predictability of Fearless.
I also love how 1989 has its fair share of slow burn songs as well catchy love-at-first-listen songs. “How You Get the Girl” and “I Wish You Would” are both amazing and underrated songs that get you with catchy hooks and classic Taylor Swift storytelling. But then there’s also songs like “This Love” and the deluxe exclusive “You Are In Love.” Both of which were easy to overlook for probably 10 listens or more, but they’re actually quite beautiful and the latter is some of the best lyricism of the whole album. They also provide just the right notes of quiet reflection needed to give the album some dynamic contrast.
The one sore spot 1989 has is “Bad Blood” (the album features a version sans Kendrick Lamar, so any redeeming qualities he brought to the single version are not present here.) The song only gets worse when you know that Taylor eventually DID resolve her feud with Katy Perry, thus making it incredibly hard to take lyrics like “these kinds of wounds they last and they last” seriously. Even when Taylor and Katy seemed to be at odds with each other, I still hated this song. It lacks the kind of compelling storytelling Swift is known for. There’s no narrative here. It’s literally just Taylor coming up with new overdramatic ways to say “you pissed me off and I’m mad.” Once you’ve heard the first 20 seconds of it, you’re just listening to the same sentiment over and over again without any kind of growth or building upon earlier lyrics. And given how many of the 1989 songs have more nuanced, mature lyrics, “Bad Blood” sticks out as the exceptionally juvenile whininess it is. Also, “cut” does not rhyme with “problem” or “solve them” and that’s just lazy songwriting. You’re better than that, Taylor.
Who would enjoy it? Unlike most of Taylor’s albums, this is one where I WOULD say a fair amount of the album’s popular singles are indicative of what the rest of the album sounds like. However, I’d also say that even if you think the singles are just okay, the album is still worth a listen as the ALBUM is a stronger piece of art than many of the songs are as individual songs. The whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.
My other Taylor Swift Reviews: