Something changed in the universe when Taylor Swift invented the polaroid camera in 2014. Endeavouring to create a ‘blatant pop’ album, Taylor put ’80s flamboyance, Madonna catchiness, and signature T-Swiz vulnerability into a blender and poured out a track list so full of bangers it’s almost unbelievable.
Revisiting 1989 is like going to a club and suffering from dehydration as the DJ plays hit after hit after hit. You’re shackled to the dancefloor, lest you miss even a second of ‘Blank Space’. The tracklist is relentless. I would go as far to say that 1989 has more household-name Taylor songs than any other album she has released to date. When considering her top 10 songs of all time (as of December last year), five of them are from her 2014 album 1989. These song’s aren’t iconic because they are nostalgic, they’re iconic because they are some of Taylor’s best pop writing of all time.
The tone of 1989 was this unabashed authenticity and jubilation set to pumping kicks and glittery synthesisers. Taylor told Rolling Stone in 2014 that “There are no rules to this. I don’t need to use the same musicians I’ve used, or the same band, or the same producers, or the same formula. I can make whatever record I want.” The record strays away from a whimsical ‘bright eyes and finding yourself’ album, and instead rejoices as a confident expression in, yes, screaming colour.
So how can we possibly rate them? With great personal challenge, I assure you.
#16. ‘How You Get The Girl’
This song could very well have been a breakthrough banger for any other artist, but Taylor is on another level. It’s perfectly fine, and has a sweet charm to it, but I mean it comes right after ‘Wildest Dreams’ on the tracklist?? That track is impossible to follow (more on that later).
Despite its cute and catchy energy, ‘How You Get The Girl’ just doesn’t really compare to the strength of the rest of the 1989 album. It doesn’t have the same sparkly synth vibe that defines Taylors fifth studio album, and while there is truly nothing wrong with this track, it just comes across as a bit of a forgettable afterthought.
#15. ‘Shake It Off’
Taylor’s biggest commercial hit of her career, ‘Shake It Off’ became an oppressive pop-song overlord in 2014. It was a completely inescapable track that followed you everywhere you went, having you clutch your ears for desperate relief like Katniss being tortured by the Jabberjays. Okay, I’m being dramatic, but it felt like everyone and their grandma knew that the haters were gonna hate hate hate hate hate.
A lot of Swifties reject the big hits in solidarity of the bangers that go unappreciated, and though we can hate on ‘Shake It Off’ as much as we like instead of getting down to its sick beat, the song exists as an ironically dorky reminder that ultimately criticism is something you choose to be affected by. I will always dance to this song at weddings and parties, and the main reason it’s so low on the list is out of spite. I’ve simply heard it too many times to enjoy it anymore by my own volition. It’s also made the fateful and sadly inevitable journey that all major pop hits succumb to: becoming a kid’s party anthem.
#14. ‘All You Had To Do Was Stay’
The fifth track of the album ‘All You Had To Do Was Stay’ is another example of a great song that is totally underrated. The percussive approach with the production was a refreshing change from what we were used to from Taylor up until this point, and the chorus is really catchy and fun. The sentiment is pretty adaptable too, and doesn’t automatically lend itself as a narrative that focuses on a flakey love interest. I will say that Taylor’s voice doesn’t really shine in this song; the range is a little flat for her, and after three choruses it gives off this apathetic tiredness that ultimately stops it from being put on repeat.
#13. ‘I Wish You Would’
The glittery frustrated energy of ‘I Wish You Would’ is totally infectious. The eclectic production with a healthy dose of chaos is in classic Jack Antonoff style. It feels to me a bit like the upbeat sister of ‘Hard Feelings’ by Lorde; the drive never really quits, just like our protagonist’s unwavering feelings (how very relatable). The repetition is not exhausting and fits in with the theme really effectively, and while it was initially really contemporary and interesting 10 years ago, I wonder if the production will venture into more experimental territory with Taylor’s Version.
#12. ‘You Are In Love’
The 15th track and second deluxe release of 1989 is ‘You Are In Love’, a gentle love song written about the relationship between her producer and friend Jack Antonoff, and her friend (and his partner) Lena Dunham. In an interview with Jack, Taylor remarked that “it was the most beautiful, poignant, simple track I’ve ever received and I wrote it really quickly, I remember writing it really fast, ’cause I just remember thinking it sounded so much like the sound of like, actual love. True love. Like through thick and thin, sickness and health love.” The release is so purposefully controlled and matter-of-fact, and explores love in a very unobtrusive and candid way. Anyway, lol who wants to be reminded of their own loneliness? Not me! Let’s move on.
#11. ‘Welcome To New York’
The opener of the 1989 album sets a fun tone, but it benefits from being an introductory track for the album. It just doesn’t quite have the legs to stand alone as a single. ‘Welcome To New York’ works to set up this new chapter of Taylor’s career, and its glittery cinematic quality feels intoxicatingly optimistic as she captures the excitement of moving to a new city — though it does have a bit of a Muppets Take Manhattan tone to the experience of New York. The track has also been embraced as a bit of a pride anthem:“You can want who you want/Boys and boys and girls and girls.” It’s not quite the outspoken declaration of equality that would have made waves from Taylor in 2014, but hey we got there in the end.
#10. ‘Bad Blood’
Another casualty of excessive airtime is ‘Bad Blood’, the track that became a glimpse of the bad-bitchery that was to come in Reputation. The lead up to, and the dropping of, the music video for ‘Bad Blood’ was a cultural shift. It was the girl-boss MCU. It was leather-fitted, OH&S locker room weapons testing, “bandaids don’t fix bullet holes”, theatrical madness. ‘Bad Blood’ is more of a moment than a song, and we love it in the same way we love Ariana Grande’s ‘Break Free’ rocket launcher titties: not because it’s sophisticated art, but because it’s campy and fun.
One of Taylor’s best pre-choruses on the 1989 album was saved for the deluxe track, ‘Wonderland’. The song is a seamless blend of confetti cannons glimmer and EDM chorus breakdowns. Taylor gives us quite a bold and emotive vocal performance here, and there’s something about the way she says “green eyes” that’s just so?? *Chefs kiss*
#8. ‘I Know Places’
The thick groove in the lyrics and juicy bass moments in ‘I Know Places’ are a complete tangent from the 1989 vibe, but it totally works for Taylor here. The strumming acoustic guitar tones down the sensuality a lot in this track, but there is this undeniable passion injected into the release that feels like a real evolution from the fairytale-princess Taylor we were accustomed to on her early albums.
#7. ‘New Romantics’
Best embodying Taylor’s drive to create blatant fun pop music, the second deluxe track ‘New Romantics’ is more linked to the ’80s synth-y aesthetic than you might realise. New Romanticism was a particular flavour of ’80s pop in the UK that epitomises an unbridled flamboyance and inclusive tone. The track bursts with joy and freedom in a way that certainly hadn’t felt synonymous with the Taylor brand ever before. Many feel like ‘New Romantics’ is the true opener of 1989, but I like the thought that ‘New Romantics’ is about six months into living in a new city, where you finally feel like you’re at home.
#6. ‘This Love’
Swifties have been indulging in the ethereal release of ‘This Love (Taylor’s Version)’ for over a year now, its release lining up beautifully with the sonic qualities of folklore and evermore. Taylor’s reclamation of her catalogue has meant that songs like ‘This Love’ can finally be used as a creative tool for the screen, as seen in its fitting placement in the trailer for the Amazon Prime Video original series The Summer I Turned Pretty. ‘This Love’ is the second promotional single of 1989 (Taylor’s Version), and gave a beautifully deserved boost of adoration to a song that was not always seen as a favourite of the album. ‘This Love’ has a pure simplicity, similar to the vibe of ‘You Are In Love’, but with this gorgeous restraint and haunting nostalgia that defines it as a classic.
“The drought was the very worst/When the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst.” The poetic audacity of this being the opening line is unparalleled. The vulnerability of ‘Clean’ has a courageous finality to it that perfectly suits the album as it comes towards its end. It represents a self-assurance and brave autonomy that isn’t preoccupied with the petty drama which can overtake Taylor’s narrative at times. Heartbreak and infatuation aren’t these binary sides of Taylor, and ‘Clean’ showcases the maturity of moving forward with your life.
Back in 2015, Taylor told Us Weekly, “You replace these old habits with new habits, like texting your friends in a group chat all day and planning fun dinner parties and going out on adventures with your girlfriends, and then all of a sudden one day you’re in London and you realise you’ve been in the same place as your ex for two weeks and you’re fine. And you hope he’s fine.”
Well, we know Harry Styles is doing fine, and I am more than hoping that he makes an appearance on 1989, maybe ‘Style’?
#4. ‘Blank Space’
Right at the top of the tracklist is the first of Taylor’s impressive catalogue to hit one billion streams, that’s billion with a B, the iconic track ‘Blank Space’. When this track dropped in 2014, it changed everything. We didn’t know what a “Starbucks lover” was (as many people mis-hear), but we absolutely knew that “boys only want love if it’s torture”. Acting as a thunderous and perfectly unapologetic nod to the years of tabloid articles of her relationship history, Taylor was determined to embrace the insanely salacious man-eater persona the media had ruthlessly crafted.
The music video was many people’s gateway into the appreciation of Taylor’s catalogue. There was just something so captivating about her performance and the catchiness of the song — suddenly, Taylor Swift music wasn’t just for Swifties anymore. Armed with knives, golf clubs, and her iconic red lipstick, Taylor became a nightmare dressed as a daydream, and ‘Blank Space’ quickly became a cathartic anthem for glamorously unhinged behaviour.
Besides ‘Dear John’, this is about as obvious as you can get when you’re a superstar referencing your superstar boyfriend. To capitalise on Harry Styles’s last name like this is forever iconic. Even though there are some very steamy moments in ‘Style’ (à la, “The lights are off, he’s taking off his coat”), the energy of the chorus has always felt like a friendship anthem to me; the kind of song you sing at your friends after two margaritas.
Much like its perennial message, it’s so easy to fall repeatedly into the hypnotism of the track. ‘Style’ is so sonically radiant, the catchiness of the chorus is timeless and addictive, like that relationship you just can’t let go of.
#2. ‘Out Of The Woods’
I would say that I don’t know what was injected into this song to make it so goddamn good, but I do know: it’s Taylor magic. There are so many fantastic lyrical choices in this track — it’s an indulgent feast of vibrant imagery and romance that’s packaged into a repetitive chorus. A big element to the track is that it feels like the entire song is building up to something explosive, like, are we out of the woods yet? You look over your shoulder, expectation rising, “are we in the clear yet?”. That anticipation is blown through the roof with the power of the bridge. I’ve never been in a major car accident, but I feel like I can deeply relate to her lyrics simply from the irrepressible oomph of her delivery. Those final chorus’ of ‘Out Of The Woods’ are just soooo fucking good. About the lyrics, Jack Antonoff stated, “parts of it reads like a diary, and parts of it read like something 100,000 people should be screaming all together”.
#1. ‘Wildest Dreams’
1989 is an undeniable evolution from the wide-eyed fairytale of Taylor’s early releases, but ‘Wildest Dreams’ certainly captures that story-book essence of old, then elevates it. ‘Wildest Dreams’ is triumphant and heart-swellingly enchanting, and it showcases the massive range of Taylor’s vocal performance. However, it’s also an entirely singable anthem for anyone living out their theatrical rose-coloured-glasses era.
The ‘dangerous love’ narrative is the perfect flavour of enabling juice for any person trying to justify an unsavoury situationship. It’s also why it’s eternally relatable .“Someday when you leave me/I bet these memories/Follow you around” — I mean, haven’t we all at least felt tempted to send that text to someone?? Something that has always stood out to me with this track is how self-confident it is, despite its ostentatious messaging. Taylor doesn’t back down here, she leans into the fantasy in a way that is totally not cutesy Taylor. While Reputation might be a better sonic representation of Taylor’s bad-assery, to me, 1989 showcases so many more moments of zealous passion than we give it credit for, and ‘Wildest Dreams’ illustrates that perfectly.
1989 (Taylor’s Version) is out on October 27. Taylor Swift’s set to play stadium shows in Sydney and Melbourne in February 2024 — we hope you were able to get tickets!
Image: 1989, Taylor Swift