Long before Taylor Swift went into the woods for Folklore, she desperately wanted out of them. In the sixth music video she released from 2014’s 1989, she’s running through the forest in a blue dress, escaping a pack of wolves and magical roots that long to twist and curl around her. She’s tackling every kind of climate: crawling through the mud in the pouring rain; pausing in a blizzard to witness the icicles scattered across her arms; standing barefoot in a wildfire, covered in soot. When it ends, the weather is finally calm, and Swift is standing on the beach, tapping the shoulder of her sunnier (and cleaner) doppelgänger. The words “She lost him but she found herself, and somehow that was everything” appear on the screen.
“Out of the Woods” is hardly the most memorable video of the 1989 era. Our minds tend to go straight to mascara-stained cheeks, stabbed heart-shaped cakes, and chlorine-soaked cell phones (“Blank Space”), or Lena Dunham smoking a cigar while a pre-Euphoria Zendaya kicks some serious ass (“Bad Blood”). But that beachy happy ending comes full circle exactly nine years later on 1989 (Taylor’s Version), with cover art that features Swift serenely on the shore surrounded by seagulls, frozen in that moment of time. Somehow, it’s everything.
For many Swifties, this is the re-recording we’ve been waiting for. Ever since she announced her genius plan to reclaim her masters in 2019, we’ve been shouting “We want our 1989 TV!” And we’ve had to wait a while — for Midnights, for three other Taylor’s Versions to have their moment, and for Swift to embark on the second highest-grossing tour of all time and release it as a movie. After dropping the re-recordings of “Wildest Dreams” and “This Love,” the entire album is here, on the anniversary of the original. We can finally log off, get our red lipstick on, and play “Slut!” in peace.
1989 is the album that changed everything for Swift, but also for us. After 1989, everyone became a Swiftie, whether it was the 65-year-old neighbor who offers to mow your lawn or the three-year-old you babysit who likes “Shake It Off” because of Sing. The album marked Swift’s official abandonment of country music to become a full-fledged pop star. She had already signaled this change on her 2012 cross-genre masterpiece Red, but this time there was absolutely no confusion which path she was taking, trading in her cowboy hat for some mirror shades, her guitars for glossy synths. “If you chase two rabbits,” she wisely told Rolling Stone at the time, “You lose them both.”
Swift named 1989 after the year she was born, but the album became the moment of her artistic rebirth. While making the record, she immersed herself in Eighties pop, diving into Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox, and Madonna, resurfacing with a boombox on her shoulder. There to assist was Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin (who had already worked on some Red gems) and a young Jack Antonoff, who was not nearly as chill about working with Taylor as he is now. “Just having her songs on my hard drive makes me feel like I have Russian secrets or something,” said the poor guy. “It’s terrifying.”
Now let’s get to the good stuff: the five vault tracks that us 1989 diehards have somehow found a way to live without until now. No one really knew what to expect of “Slut!,” written at a time where the word was a lot more common than it is now (it honestly just reminds me of a Season Six moment on Friends between Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon). But by the fourth line — “Being this young is art” — it’s obvious, the track is a stunner. It’s a hazy, shimmering ode to being unabashedly in love, even if you’re shamed and sexualized for it. “If they call me a slut/You know it might be worth it for once,” she sings over twinkling synths. Then a gut-punching, devastating line: “I’ll pay the price, you won’t.”
Thematically, “Say Don’t Go,” co-written with Dianne Warren, is a distant cousin of the 1989 banger “I Wish You Would,” except reimagined as a straight-up power ballad. The chorus (“Why’d you have to lead me on? Why’d you have to twist the knife?”) hits so tragically hard that it was destined to be screamed by stadiums full of fans at future Eras shows. “Suburban Legends” is a euphoric, dizzying rush to the head, with Antonoff’s production making it sound like the soundtrack to the world’s most addictive arcade game. “You kiss me in a way that’s gonna screw me up forever,” she sings. Game over. To quote “Maroon,” that’s a real fucking legacy!
Which leaves us with the two tracks that bookend “Suburban Legends”: “Now That We Don’t Talk” and “Is It Over Now,” undoubtedly the highlights of the vault. The latter is a sequel to “Out of the Woods,” a song about waiting to call an unstable relationship quits while looking back on a certain snowmobile accident presumably involving Harry Styles (“When you lost control/Red blood white snow”) and famous photo (“Blue dress on a boat”). “Now That We Don’t Talk” is a dreamy disco anthem that contains a classic Swiftian diss: “I don’t have to pretend I like acid rock/Or that I’d like to be on a mega yacht/With important men who think important thoughts.” (That is so much to unpack that it may engender a whole new branch of Taylor Studies. What kind of acid rock did this dude like? Blue Cheer? Iron Butterfly?)
As for the non-vault, re-recorded songs: Many of the reviews for Taylor’s Versions like to note the sonic similarity between the original and the re-recording, but this feels redundant, since this is Swift’s exact intention — the very definition of what a re-recording is. On the other hand, it’s also too obvious to point out how much richer her voice sounds nine years later. Imagine if Joni Mitchell decided to re-record Ladies of the Canyon during Mingus, and you’ll realize how impressive this entire endeavor is.
1989 was released almost a decade ago, in the last days of the mindset where pop music wasn’t taken seriously by many cultural gatekeepers (Pitchfork didn’t even bother to review it until 2019, four years after they reviewed the Ryan Adams’ cover version of the LP). But now, in a post-rockist world, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) shines a lot brighter. Standing on the beach, in the clear and out of the woods, so does Swift.