‘1989 (Taylor’s Version)’ carries the promise and terror of rebirth

source : www.ncronline.org

Nearly ten years ago, Taylor Swift reintroduced herself.

“1989” — originally released in 2014 — was a radical shift. She replaced acoustic chords with shimmering synths and electronic drum loops, trading in the long flaxen curls and white dresses of a country star for a neat bob and pencil skirts that better suited her new home in Tribeca. The title of the album, her year of birth, announces her intentions: this is nothing less than a rebirth.

“1989 (Taylor’s Version)”, the newly recorded edition of the album, was released on October 27. Nine years and several subsequent rebirths later, I now recognize it as the beginning of an exciting and experimental phase of her career. While “1989” isn’t my number one Swift album (currently it’s “Speak Now”), it is the album that turned me from a casual appreciator to a fan. This was the album that taught me what is truly at the core of Taylor Swift’s artistic identity, more than any other genre: poetic sadness, a defiant belief in love against all odds, and a deep longing for something more.

The Swift of “1989” is sadder and wiser (even sadder and wiser than on “Red,” which was already an exponential increase in sadness and wisdom from “Speak Now,” etc.). She has suffered multiple heartbreaks and all fairytale ideas about love have been trampled by the messy reality of relationships. It is also, crucially, after her star rose enough to become the target of media attention, her romantic life was dissected and questioned in the public eye.

You can’t find a better example than ‘Out of the Woods’. It’s “1989” in microcosm: achingly sad over an irresistible beat. The song builds with brutal inevitability, a sense of foreboding hanging over even the sweet moments (after describing one, Swift’s voice turns bitterly: “Baby, like we had a chance”). The refrain is a question, repeated with increasing urgency the longer it remains unanswered. Even the shouted ‘good’ doesn’t solve things; it’s the rare Taylor Swift song that makes you feel uncomfortable.

When I first listened to ‘1989’ I was in my late twenties, and the spiritual uncertainty of those songs really spoke to me. “Out of the Woods” was particularly powerful, expressing my deepest worries about my marriage, career, art, faith: the fear that I would always wait for the other shoe to drop, that I would never feel right. It remains my favorite song on this album and is among the best of Swift’s post-country phase.

But when I revisited 1989 (Taylor’s Version) all these years later, I found myself most moved by her enduring faith in love. It is a faith that has been trampled and tested and has emerged stronger.

On ‘Clean’ love is compared to addiction, but in the context of healing and moving on (Imogen Heap returns as producer for the new recording and once again provides the raindrops-on-your-bedroom-window plinks of the mbira) . “I Know Places” and the vault song “Slut!” answer heartbreak and leering media with fervent resistance; “Blank Space” and of course “Shake It Off” offer a more tongue-in-cheek refusal to surrender. Even more wistful songs like ‘Wildest Dreams’ or ‘Style’ hold on to the precious moments of doomed relationships and choose beauty over regret.

Love is not the first spark of attraction or a perfect date. It’s something you settle into, something that reveals itself over time. It is, as Swift sings on ‘You Are in Love’, something you hear and see in the silence when the lights are off. When your heart has been broken over and over again, love becomes a matter of faith. You must choose to keep looking for it, to keep your heart open. ‘1989,’ and much of Swift’s music is filled with what I’m tempted to call a sacred longing: a longing for something more, something true. She believes it exists, even if it’s “a shot in the dark.”

All these years later, ‘1989 (Taylor’s Version)’ still carries the thrill, promise and fear of rebirth. These themes find a quiet culmination in “This Love,” with its images of baptism and resurrection, and finding peace in the ebb and flow of life and love. “When you’re young you just run,” Swift sings, “but you come back to what you need.” That is the courage needed for rebirth: living with the sadness and uncertainty, without losing your faith in the beauty of life. To let go, trusting that the most important things will come back to you.

source : www.ncronline.org

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