For Taylor Swift, 1989 was the album that solidified her status as a pop icon.
And for me, 1989 was the album that secured my position as a Taylor Swift stan for life.
That, on top of the fact that it seems like it’s only a matter of time before 1989 (Taylor’s Version) is released, is why I’ve chosen this album as Subjectify’s Third Thursday Throwback for the month! This column is where we pick a movie, TV show, album, book, or game that we love from the past to gush about all over again.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been a fan of Taylor Swift’s music from the very beginning. Thanks to the very specific tastes of my parents, I’ve always had an appreciation for country music. Whether this developed out of a true interest or simply a lack of any alternative during family road trips, country music became one of my most-listened-to genres at an early age, and this only became more true once Taylor Swift and other young women my age came on the scene.
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From Taylor Swift’s debut album, I was immediately drawn to her raw sound, her brutally honest lyrics, and the pure and unbridled emotion that seemed to emanate from every track. At that age, she seemed to simultaneously be seeing into my own soul and perfectly expressing my feelings while also being a figure that I hopelessly wanted to be more like. She got me, and I desperately wanted to get her.
My interest in Taylor Swift only grew through the release of Fearless, Speak Now, and Red, both with her expanding music catalog and media presence. As she laid her own heart bare in her music and interviews, she stole more of mine, piece by piece.
With all that said, to say that 1989 made me a Swift stan is certainly an incomplete statement, considering how much of this standom is owed to everything leading up to this album.
Would I have devoured 1989 as furiously had it not been for the countless country hooks of the previous albums? Don’t know. Would I have belted “Wildest Dreams” as loudly had I not first belted “Love Story” at the very top of my lungs? Who’s to say? Would the 1989 album liner bare the stains of all my tears had the Red liner not collected them first? I can’t possibly be sure.
These questions are central to this thesis, but they cannot be answered. The truth of these are unknown. The truth of these will never be known.
What I do know, and what I can say with absolute certainty, is that something changed for me with 1989. After 1989, there was no turning back.
It may have been her new sound connecting with me on a deeper level, or perhaps how far she’d progressed in her craft by that point in her career. It might have been the subject matter of the lyrics, taking on a new depth as she lived longer and loved deeper. Honestly, it could have just been my own age when 1989 was released, or what was happening in my life at the time.
Likely, it was all of these things combined into one perfect storm of musical magic that captured me under its spell and holds me to this day. 1989 was a perfect wonderland, and boy, did I get lost in it.
The Taylor Swift 1989 album was the first one that I actually stayed up to listen to. This is a tradition that I’ve not only kept, but intensely expanded upon with each passing album.
When 1989 was released at midnight on October 27, 2014, I couldn’t bear to sleep knowing that there was going to be new Taylor Swift music in the world that I hadn’t heard. I needed to take it in and have it become a part of me as soon as possible.
And become part of me, it did. Soon after the first, incredible listen (is there anything better in the world than your first time hearing a Taylor Swift album?), there was the second, and then the third…and pretty soon there was the hundredth. I just couldn’t stop. No sooner did the album stop playing than I was desperate to hit play again, both to discover new sounds and lyrics and to relive those that I’d already fallen head over heels for.
It was like nothing I’d ever heard before, while still being the same old Taylor that I’d come to love. In the album’s opening track, “Welcome to New York,” Swift confesses she was “searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before,” and she found it with this album in a genre that we’ve already heard so many variations on.
With 1989, Taylor Swift captures some of the best parts of the era she’s emulating while still creating something completely fresh and new. She harnessed her indisputable lyrical mastery into an entirely new genre, forging her already obvious depth of talent into a completely different shape that was equally as impressive and impactful.
One of the things I love most about Taylor Swift’s 1989 is how beautifully cohesive it is as an album, which was illustrated by Swift herself with how she chose to present the hidden messages in the album liner.
Unlike her previous albums, which highlighted a different name or remark for each track to help fans decipher who or what the song was about, the capital letters in the 1989 lyrics told a complete story from the first track to the last.
This only made the lore of the album more compelling as I worked to connect the dots between tracks and unfold the full narrative. Some tracks had obvious inspirations, such as Harry Styles for “Style” and “Out of the Woods,” and Katy Perry for “Bad Blood.” These tracks, combined with the ambiguity and more subtle hints of some others, gave Swifties a lot to work with when it came to speculation, which is honestly half the fun of listening to a Taylor Swift album.
At the time, 1989 was the most cohesive album Swift had released, perhaps now sharing that title with folklore.The album is sonically held together by the synthy pop sounds of its namesake decade, but also by a pervasive sense of optimism that shines through even the saddest tracks on 1989 and the album’s story as a whole. It’s an album I can put on to feel deeply, with the certainty that I will still always feel good at the end of the experience.
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Of all the Taylor Swift albums, 1989 is the one that I have the most visceral memories of. The album came out at a pivotal time in my life, and was there for me through all of it. Every song on the album has a view, a feeling, or even a smell associated with it. I still taste pumpkin spice lattes when I hear “Out of the Woods” because of how often I would blast that song during my daily coffee breaks.
For me, 1989 didn’t just propel Taylor Swift into pop stardom, but also into a whole new class as an artist. This album was the first that I fully paid attention to her artistry, obsessing over how her lyrics and production perfectly evoked the feeling that the song was written about.
“Style” feels effortlessly cool, telling of a love that’s so timeless it’s practically inevitable. It’s darker toned verses feel clandestine and sexy, pulling you in, before the chorus and bridge erupt into the full magnetic power of this relationship.
“Blank Space” truly feels like a “nightmare dressed like a daydream,” as Swift sings from the perspective of the character the media made her out to be. The tone on the surface is pretty and light but it’s such a thin veil masking something sinister and wild underneath.
“Out of the Woods” sounds as frantic and uncertain as the new love it describes, “Wildest Dreams” feels like the hopeful wish made in the chorus, “Shake It Off” is sure to evoke the devil-may-care attitude that its writer so desperately needed, and after all that, “Clean” actually feels like coming up for air after nearly drowning.
These are just a few of my favorites, but each track on the Taylor Swift 1989 album is crafted with the same care and skill. Each song pulls you into its essence completely, making you feel like you’ve lived the entire crazy experience alongside her by the end of the album.
Often, the singles Taylor Swift releases are not the favorite songs of her fans. One need look no further than “Cold As You,” “Enchanted,” and of course, “All Too Well,” to determine that some of the singer-songwriter’s most impactful work doesn’t get released to the masses.
Since 1989 had a whopping seven singles, many of its catchiest hooks seemed to collide with the lyrics that resonated with fans most. Sure, “Shake It Off” and “Bad Blood” were the obvious crowd pleasers that are still synonymous with the album for casual fans, but we also got the deliciously satirical “Blank Space,” the hauntingly gorgeous “Wildest Dreams,” and the artistically anthemic “New Romantics.”
Of course, that’s not to say that the non-singles aren’t just as good! It’s hard to point to a song on 1989 that couldn’t have been released as a single, and fans still fight vehemently for their favorites.
All of this just proved what a wild success Taylor Swift’s transition into pop music was. Taylor has said it herself, the thing that she’s best at, and the thing that her fans connect the most with, are her lyrics. To move from a genre packed with storytellers and singer-songwriters like herself to one that often caters more to easily digestible anthems so seamlessly was so impressive and indicative of the true, and versatile artist that she is.
Since 1989 was released, Taylor Swift has only proven that she is more multifaceted and that her lyrical style can fit into basically any genre and make the same impact. She did with Reputation, then Lover, then folklore, then evermore. But this album did it first.
With this album, she took a huge leap and proved not only that she was also a pop artist, but that she was simply an artist, and that she could make that work in any genre that she wanted.
With 1989, Taylor Swift created a perfect piece of art that still means so much to me. Because of its significance to her career, its optimism, its cohesiveness, and all of the amazing memories I have attached to it, it will always be special to me.
It’s impossible to say if 1989 will always be my favorite Taylor Swift album, but it will definitely always be the one that changed the way I interacted with Taylor Swift music, and the one that made me a Swiftie for life!