The magic of 1989: How Taylor Swift took over the music industry
Later this year, Taylor Swift will be releasing the re-recorded version of her undeniable smash hit album 1989. Of all of Swift’s albums, 1989 seems to be the one that truly defined her career and also made her a darling with the general public beyond her own fans, as well as the critics.
So, why exactly was 1989 such a hit in the mid-2010s?
To really show the impact 1989 had both on the music industry and Taylor Swift’s own career, it’s important to provide the context regarding its release.
At this point in her career, Taylor Swift was four albums deep and although she’d had several hits, and her most recent album Red was very commercially successful, she was technically still a country artist. Although Red had leaned somewhat into pop, it hadn’t committed to it. Red’s biggest criticism was that it wasn’t consistent enough, partially due to the fact it didn’t commit to either sound, and this is likely why it lost all of its nominations at the Grammys.
Swift herself said that after that loss, she felt determined to make a better album and 1989 pretty much came to her straight away.
Taylor Swift wanted 1989 to be a success. She was determined to write and release a sonically cohesive album, and she wanted it to be a smash hit. Too often music artists pretend success just stumbled upon them: this was not the case for 1989.
Taylor Swift wanted a fantastic and successful album, and the rest of this post will explain how she did achieved that.
Concept and cohesiveness of the album
One of the reasons why 1989 worked so well is because of the strong concept.
Swift’s music had gone from whimsical dreams of true love, to the gut-wrenching reality of heartbreak, but with 1989 came a new phase: the complex woman in the big city, being young and free and making mistakes and coming out the other side of it all okay.
Of course there are remnants of whimsical dreams of love and being the victim of a heartbreak, but there’s a clear mentality shift from dream to reality and from blunt victimhood to ‘Oh wait actually, maybe I was part of the problem too’.
The album also had a clear visual identity, with the marketing associating it with New York City and polaroids. To this day, I still associate both of those things with this album.
This more mature and complex outlook on life, combined with its clear motifs, means that 1989 has an identity completely separate to the rest of her music before you even press play on any of the songs.
And then of course, the new consistent genre and production style match all of this when you finally do listen to the album.
Singles and music videos
If you’re a Taylor Swift fan, then you’ll know it’s a bit of a running joke about how she is not necessarily good at picking singles that represent the album.
However, this time it was different.
Although Shake It Off may not represent fully the sound of the album, it does represent the concept of the album. How she’s going through the struggles of being a famous 20 something in a big city navigating life and, well, shaking things off. It was a perfect choice of song to show a new pop-heavy swift that was fun, and also self aware.
Then, following on the theme of self-awareness, in comes Blank Space, which is a parody of the ‘serial dater’ reputation Swift had gained for herself at the time. It was a brilliant way to say that she’s no longer a target people can laugh at: she’s in on the joke, and she loves it, whilst also further showcasing the fantastic pop sound she was creating for the album.
Swift then released 5 further music videos during the 1989 era, most of them released after the album’s release. If there’s something Taylor Swift is good at, it’s consistent marketing after the album’s release to keep it in the charts and in people’s minds.
1989 was the era that Taylor Swift met Jack Antonoff and she has not let go of him since.
It’s clear that Jack, and then also Max Martin at the time, were a huge part of the change in Taylor’s sound.
First things first, the production on this album is absolutely fantastic, arguably the best production in her discography.
The production of 1989 combines sounds reminiscent of the 80s but combining it to be something fresh, and new, and most importantly: timeless.
The reason why 1989 has withstood the test of time is because it doesn’t sound like it’s from a particular era of music. There are plenty of songs you could listen to from that era of pop music and think ‘yep, that’s from 2014’ but 1989 doesn’t fall into this category. You could go as far to say that Swift could release this album now, and it would still feel like something fresh. (I mean, she literally samples the song Out of the Woods in Question? From her latest album Midnights released in 2022)
It’s also worth bearing in mind that before this point, the sound of the 80s wasn’t as big in pop as it is now. Nowadays, every artist and their mother seems to be having a go at bringing the 80s vibes to their pop music, but there are only few that can do it well. While I wouldn’t go as far to say Swift was the first artist to do this, she’s certainly the one that’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind when you talk about this kind of 80s-influenced mainstream pop.
It is a bit of a no-go now to suggest that Swift’s personal life influences her success but it’s difficult to talk about the impact of this album without talking about her public persona at the time.
Taylor presented a version of herself that was fun, free and cool, which was far from the more demure country-girl version of her that had been in the public eye for precious releases. She had a group of friends filled with models and IT girls of the time. She was supposedly feuding with Katy Perry, and she had dated Harry Styles, who was at the peak of his One Direction, so much of the album was suspected to be about him (and, depending on what side of the internet you’re on, perhaps one of her IT girl friends too).
Obviously, none of these things affected the critical reception of the album, but this persona she had would absolutely have impacted sales and public perception of the era as a whole. She was even writing songs herself making fun of the reputation she had in the public eye at the time.
Taylor had created a narrative for herself as an IT girl and everyone was eating it up. Which what made her downfall and transformation into a private person and the transition into the reputation era so significant.
But that’s a conversation for another day.
The 1989 Tour
After the insanity of the 1989 album release, came the 1989 album tour. The 1989 Tour was Swift’s biggest to date.
Swift has always known how to put on a show, and this was no exception for this tour. The set list was impeccable and featured 1989-ified versions of her older hits and the stage design and production was immediately recognisable.
However, the other big draw of the tour were the guests. Taylor invited so many guests to this tour. It’s said that whenever she heard a famous person was in the audience, she would ask if they wanted to come up on stage with her. This wasn’t even limited to musicians performing songs with her, which ranged from Fetty Wap to Beck and St Vincent, but also her model friends, the US Women’s Football Team and Ellen Degeneres.
These guests upped public interest in the tour, and continued to showcase not only Swift’s cool girl image, but her wide musical knowledge and genuine support for other upcoming and/or indie musicians
So what does this mean for the re-recording coming out on the album’s 9th anniversary this year?
There’s a lot of pressure on the re-release of 1989 to be perfect. Where the previous re-released albums like Fearless and Speak Now were primarily for the fans, 1989 will be for the public. The promotion for 1989 TV is set to be mega, possibly bigger than the already huge campaign for Red TV, and Swift needs this re-recording in the general public’s consciousness as this is their favourite album of hers.
There’s a gap in her touring schedule likely for promotion around the album’s release, and bearing in she’s already lit up the roof of So-Fi Stadium to promote the release, it’s safe to say it will be inescapable.
However, in the previous re-recordings, it seems to be the pop production that has suffered as a result of the re-creations. Antonoff, Martin, and Swift need to absolutely rectify this with 1989 Taylor’s Version otherwise the release will suffer. From This Love TV, and Wildest Dreams TV, which have already been released, it seems the production is doing a pretty good job of being carbon-copied.
But, we won’t really know until the day it’s released.