1989 is the fifth studio album by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, released on October 27, 2014, through Big Machine Records. Swift's long-standing status as a country artist following the release of her cross-genre fourth studio album Red (2012), noted for straightforward pop hooks and electronic production, was met with media skepticism. Inspired by 1980s synth-pop to create a record that shifted her sound from country-oriented to mainstream pop, Swift enlisted Max Martin as co-executive producer and named the album after her birth year.
Martin and his collaborator Shellback shaped the album's synth-pop sound characterized by heavy synthesizers, programmed drums, and processed backing vocals. Swift wrote the songs primarily inspired by her personal life surrounding past romantic relationships, which had been a trademark of her songwriting. The 1989 songs express lighthearted perspectives towards failed romance, departing from her previous antagonistic attitude. To promote the album, Swift and Big Machine implemented aggressive marketing through product endorsements, television and radio appearances, and social media engagement. They pulled 1989 from free streaming services such as Spotify, prompting an industry discourse on streaming following the decline of the album era.[B]
Having been known as "America's Sweetheart" thanks to her wholesome and down-to-earth image, Swift saw her reputation blemished from her history of romantic relationships with a series of high-profile celebrities. Her relationship with English singer Harry Styles during promotion of Red was particularly subject to tabloid gossip. She disliked that the media portrayed her as a "serial-dater", feeling that it undermined her professional works, and became more reticent to discuss her personal life in public. Most of Swift's lyrical inspirations during conception of the album came from her journal detailing her personal life, which had been a staple in her songwriting process. A new inspiration this time was her relocation to New York City in March 2014, which gave Swift a sense of freedom to embark on new ideas. Swift also took inspirations from the media scrutiny on her image, which prompted her to write satirical songs in addition to her traditional fairytale-like fictions.
Recording and production
Swift began songwriting for her fifth studio album in mid-2013, when she was touring in support of Red. For Red's follow-up, she sought to create a "blatant pop" record, departing from the country/pop experimentation as she believed that "if you chase two rabbits, you lose them both". To this end, Swift was much inspired by 1980s synth-pop and titled the album after her birth year. She viewed the 1980s as an experimental period that embraced "endless possibilities" when artists abandoned the generic "drums-guitar-bass-whatever" song structure and experimented with stripped-down synthesizers, drum pads, and overlapped vocals. She took inspirations from the works of artists from the period, such as Peter Gabriel and Annie Lennox, to make a synth-pop record that could convey her thoughts without obscured by heavy instrumentation.
To ensure a smooth transition to pop, Swift recruited Max Martin and Shellback as two major collaborators, partly due to their reputation as the biggest mainstream pop hitmakers at the time. Speaking to the Associated Press in October 2013, Swift described Max Martin and Shellback as "absolute dream collaborators" because they would take her ideas in a different direction, which challenged her as a songwriter.Scott Borchetta, president of Swift's then-label Big Machine, was initially reluctant towards Swift's decision. He failed to persuade Swift to record "three country songs", and ultimately accepted that Big Machine would not promote the new songs to country radio. Martin and Shellback produced seven out of 13 tracks for the album's standard edition. Swift credited Martin as co-executive producer because he also recorded and produced her vocals on tracks he were not credited, which solidified Swift's vision of a coherent record rather than a mere "collection of songs".
Another key figure in the album's production team was Jack Antonoff, with whom Swift had worked on the new wave-influenced song "Sweeter than Fiction" for the soundtrack of One Chance (2013). Antonoff co-wrote and co-produced two tracks on the standard edition. The first of which, "I Wish You Would", stemmed from Antonoff's experimental sampling of snare drum instrumentation on Fine Young Cannibals' 1988 single "She Drives Me Crazy", one of their mutual favorite songs. Antonoff played his sample to Swift on an iPhone and subsequently sent it to her to re-record. For the other, "Out of the Woods", Antonoff sent his finished instrumental track to Swift while she was on a plane, and she sent him back a voice memo containing the lyrics roughly 30 minutes later. The song was Swift's first to write the lyrics on an existing instrumental. Antonoff produced one more track for the album's deluxe edition, "You Are in Love".
Swift contacted Ryan Tedder, whom she had always wanted to work with, through a smartphone voice memo. He co-produced two songs—"Welcome to New York" and "I Know Places". For "I Know Places", Swift scheduled a meeting day with Tedder at the studio after having formed a fully developed idea on her own, and the recording process finalized the following day. Tedder spoke of Swift's work ethic and perfectionism on Time: "Ninety-five times out of 100, if I get a track to where we're happy with it, the artist will say, 'That's amazing.' It's very rare to hear, 'Nope, that's not right.' But the artists I've worked with who are the most successful are the ones who'll tell me to my face, 'No, you're wrong,' two or three times in a row. And she [Swift] did." For "Clean", Swift approached English producer Imogen Heap in London after having written the song's lyrics and melody. Heap helped complete the track by playing instruments on it, and the two finished recording after two takes within one day at Heap's studio.Nathan Chapman, Swift's longtime collaborator, co-produced the track "This Love". The whole album was mastered by Tom Coyne within two days at Sterling Sound Studio in New York City. Swift finalized the record upon completing the Asian leg of the Red Tour in mid-2014.
Music and lyrics
The standard edition of 1989 is composed of 13 tracks, and the deluxe edition includes six extra tracks—three original songs and three voice memos. The album uses heavy synthesizers, programmed drums, pulsating basslines, and processed backing vocals. As Swift aimed to recreate authentic 1980s pop, the album is devoid of the contemporary hip hop and R&B influences that were popular on the mainstream music scene. Although Swift declared to move from country to pop on 1989, a number of reviewers—including The A.V. Club's Marah Eakin—argued that Swift had always been more pop-oriented even on her early country songs. The three voice memos on the deluxe edition contain Swift's discussions on the songwriting process and unfinished demos for three songs—"I Know Places", "I Wish You Would", and "Blank Space". Scholar Myles McNutt described the voice memos as Swift's effort to claim her authority over 1989, defying pop music's "gendered hierarchy" which had seen a dominance of male songwriters and producers.
Although the production of 1989 was a dramatic change from Swift's country repertoire, the distinctive storytelling ability through Swift's songwriting, which had been nurtured by her country background, remained intact. The songs are primarily about Swift's recurring themes of the emotions and reflections ensued from past romantic relationships. However, 1989 showcased a maturity in Swift's perspectives: Rolling Stone observed that the album was Swift's first to not villainize her ex-lovers, but instead express "wistful and nostalgic" viewpoints on broken romance.Pitchfork's Vrinda Jagota summarized 1989 as a "fully-realized fantasy of self-reliance, confidence, and ensuing pleasure", where Swift ceased to dramatize failed relationships and learned to celebrate the moment. The album liner notes, which include a one-sentence message for each of the 13 songs, collectively tell a story of a girl through a tumbled relationship, who ultimately found that "She lost him but she found herself and somehow that was everything." Swift explained her shift in attitude to Rolling Stone: "Different phases of your life have different levels of deep, traumatizing heartbreak. And in this period of my life, my heart was not irreparably broken. So it's not as boy-centric of an album, because my life hasn't been boycentric."
The opening track, "Welcome to New York", was inspired by Swift's feelings when she first moved into New York City. The song incorporates pulsing synthesizers, and finds Swift embracing her newfound freedom. "Blank Space", set over a minimal hip hop-influenced beat, satirizes the media's perception of Swift as a promiscuous woman who dates male celebrities only for her songwriting material. Swift targeted the song at the scrutiny on her image, "Every few years the media finds something that they unanimously feel is annoying about me. Me, my character, the way I live my life, the way I talk, the way I react when I win stuff." The production of "Style", a funk-flavored track, was inspired by "funky electronic music" artists such as Daft Punk. The lyrics detail an unhealthy relationship and contain a reference to the American actor James Dean in the refrain.
Swift described "Out of the Woods" as the song that "best represents" the album. The track incorporates heavy 1980s-styled synthesizers and percussions, and was lyrically inspired by Swift's personal struggles.
"Out of the Woods" features a graphic imagery of a car accident surgery requiring "20 stitches in a hospital room". Swift said that the track was inspired by a relationship of hers that evoked constant anxiety because of its fragility: "every day was a struggle. Forget making plans for life – we were just trying to make it to next week." She picked it as a favorite from 1989 because it "best represents" the album. "All You Had to Do Was Stay" laments a past relationship and originated from Swift's dream of desperately shouting "Stay" to an ex-lover against her will. "Shake It Off", sharing a loosely similar sentiment with "Blank Space", sees Swift expressing disinterest with her detractors and their negative remarks on her image. The track incorporates a subtle saxophone line in its instrumentation.
The bubblegum pop-infused number "I Wish You Would" uses heavy synthesizers, pulsing snare drums, guitars, and layered vocals. Swift said that "Bad Blood", a track that incorporates heavy, stomping drums, is about betrayal by an unnamed female peer. Various publications speculated the song to be about Katy Perry, with whom Swift was being involved in a heavily publicized feud. "Wildest Dreams" speaks of a dangerous affair with an apparently untrustworthy man and incorporates a sultry, dramatic atmosphere accompanied by string instruments. On "How You Get the Girl", a bubblegum pop track featuring guitar strums over a heavy disco-styled beat, Swift hints at her desire to reunite with her ex-lover. "This Love" is a soft rock-flavored electropop ballad; music critic Jon Caramanica opted that the song could be mistaken as "a concession to country" because of the production by Swift's longtime co-producer Nathan Chapman.
Swift said that the standard edition's penultimate track "I Know Places", which expresses her desire to preserve her unstable relationship, serves as a loose sequel to "Out of the Woods". Using metaphors of foxes running away from hunters to convey Swift and her lover's hideaway from scrutiny, the song is accompanied by dark, intense drum and bass-influenced beats. On "Clean", an understated soft rock-influenced number, Swift details her struggles to escape from a toxic yet addictive relationship, finding herself "finally clean" after a destructive yet cleansing torrential storm. "Wonderland", the first of the three bonus songs on the deluxe edition, uses allusions to the fantasy Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to describe a relationship tumbling down the "rabbit hole". The ballad "You Are in Love" finds Swift talking about an ideal relationship from another woman's perspective. The final song's title, "New Romantics", is a namesake of the cultural movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Evoking strong 1980s synth-pop sound, the song sees Swift reigniting her hopes and energy after the heartbreaks she had endured.
Swift and Big Machine implemented aggressive marketing to bolster 1989 sales. Swift extensively used social media to communicate with her fan base; she had previously promoted her country songs online to attract a younger audience. Her social media posts showcased her personal life, making fans feel engaged with her authentic self and thus cemented their support while attracting a new fan base in addition to her already large one. She further promoted the album through product endorsements with Subway, Keds, and Diet Coke. Swift held a live stream via Yahoo! / ABC News on August 18, where she announced the details of 1989 and released the lead single "Shake It Off". The single debuted atop the US Billboard Hot 100. To further connect with her supporters, Swift selected a number of fans based on their engagement on social media and invited them to secret album-listening sessions, called "The 1989 Secret Sessions". The sessions took place at her homes in Los Angeles, New York City, Nashville, Rhode Island, and London throughout September 2014.
The album's standard and deluxe editions were released digitally on October 27, 2014. In the US and Canada, the deluxe edition was exclusively available through Target Corporation. Each CD copy of 1989 includes a packet of 13 Polaroid pictures, portraying Swift during the making of the album. The songs "Out of the Woods" and "Welcome to New York" were released through iTunes Stores as promotional singles on October 14 and 20, respectively.1989 was further supported by a string of commercially successful singles, including Billboard Hot 100 number ones "Blank Space" and "Bad Blood" featuring rapper Kendrick Lamar, and top-10 hits "Style" and "Wildest Dreams". Other singles were "Out of the Woods", previously a promotional single, and "New Romantics". The deluxe edition bonus tracks, which had been available exclusively through Target, were released onto the iTunes Store in the US in 2015.
On November 3, 2014, Swift removed her entire catalog from Spotify, the biggest on-demand streaming service at the time. She argued that Spotify's ad-supported, free service undermined the premium service which provides higher royalties for songwriters. She had written an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in July 2014 expressing her concerns over the decline of the album as an economic entity upon the rise of free, on-demand streaming. Big Machine and Swift only kept 1989 on paid subscription-required platforms such as Rhapsody and Beats Music. The move prompted an industry debate on the impact of streaming on declining record sales during the digital era. In June 2015, Swift stated that she would remove 1989 from Apple Music, criticizing the service for not offering royalties to artists during the free three-month trial period. After Apple announced that it would pay artists during the free trial period, she agreed to keep 1989 and featured in a series of commercials for Apple Music. She re-added her entire catalog to Spotify in June 2017. In August 2019, Swift announced plans to rerecord her first six studio albums, including 1989, in November 2020. The decision came after talent manager Scooter Braun acquired her masters, which she had been trying to buy for years, following her departure from Big Machine in November 2018.
Media professor Maryn Wilkinson noted that Swift's 1989 era public image, which she described as "zany",[C] raised questions regarding its authenticity. She wrote that although Swift deliberately showcased her "'natural' state" clumsy dance moves "to conceal commercial and professional autonomy" in music videos and live performances, gradually increasing doubt about her authenticity caused a backlash concerning her "uncomfortable public 'performances' off-screen and stage" that led to Swift taking a prolonged hiatus.
1989 received generally positive reviews from contemporary critics. The majority of reviewers acknowledged Swift's songwriting and her maturity in lyrical perceptions.The A.V. Club's Marah Eakin praised Swift's shift from overtly romantic struggles to more positive themes of accepting and celebrating the moment.Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph commended the album's "[sharp] observation and emotional engagement" that contrasted with lyrics found in "commercialised pop".Alexis Petridis from The Guardian lauded Swift's artistic control that resulted in a "perfectly attuned" 1980s-styled synth-pop authenticity.Pitchfork's Vrinda Jagota, in a 2019 retrospective review, found the album freed from the dramatic heartbreak on Swift's previous records, which shows that "everything doesn't always have to be so serious".
The album's 1980s synth-pop production diversified critics. In an enthusiastic review, The New York Times critic Jon Caramanica complimented Swift's avoidance of contemporary hip hop/R&B crossover trends, which distinguished her from other mainstream artists and made 1989 a possibly timeless album. Writing for Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield characterized the record as "deeply weird, feverishly emotional, wildly enthusiastic".Robert Christgau applauded her departure from country to experiment with new styles, but noticed that this shift was not radical.NME reviewer Matthew Horton considered Swift's transition to pop "a success" had the album excluded the "soft-rock mush" of "This Love" and "Clean". Shane Kimberlin writing for musicOMH deemed Swift's transition to pop on 1989 "not completely successful", but praised her lyrics for incorporating "enough heart and personality", which he found rare in the mainstream pop scene.
Several reviewers lamented that the musical shift erased Swift's authenticity as a lyricist.Slant Magazine's Annie Galvin observed that Swift maintained her clever songwriting that had distinguished her earlier releases, but was disappointed with the new musical style.Entertainment Weekly's Adam Markovitz and Spin's Andrew Unterberger were critical of the heavy synthesizers, which undermined Swift's conventionally vivid lyrics.AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine described the album as "a sparkling soundtrack to an aspirational lifestyle" that fails to transcend the "transient transparencies of modern pop". Mikael Wood, in his review for the Los Angeles Times, found the album inauthentic for Swift's artistry, but acknowledged her effort to emulate the music of an era she did not experience.
1989 was released amidst a decline of record sales because of the emergence of digital download and streaming platforms. Swift's two last studio albums, Speak Now (2010) and Red (2012), each exceeded one million copies within one week, establishing Swift as one of the best-selling album artists in the digital era. Given the music industry's climate and Swift's decision to eschew her characteristic country roots that had cultivated a sizable fan base, sales performance of 1989 was subject to considerable speculation among industry experts. One week prior to the release, Rolling Stone reported that US retailers predicted the album to sell from 600,000 to 750,000 copies within its debut week.
1989 debuted atop the US Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 1.287 million copies, according to data compiled by Nielsen SoundScan for the chart dated November 15, 2014. Swift became the first artist to have three million-selling albums within the first week of release, and 1989 immediately became the only album released in 2014 to sell one million copies.1989 topped the Billboard 200 for 11 non-consecutive weeks and spent its full first year of release, or 52 weeks, in the top 10 of the Billboard 200. As of September 2020, the album has spent 300 weeks on the chart.1989 crossed five million in US sales by July 2015, the fastest-selling album since 2004 up to that point. With 6.215 million copies sold as of January 2020, the album was the third highest-selling album of the 2010s decade in the US. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has certified the album 9× Platinum, which denotes nine million album-equivalent units.
The album reached number one on record charts of various European and Oceanic countries, including Australia, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland. In Canada, it was certified 6× Platinum and was the fifth best-selling album of the 2010s, with sales of 542,000 copies. It was the fastest-selling album by a female artist of 2014 in the UK, where it has sold 1.25 million copies and earned 4× Platinum certifications.1989 became one of the best-selling digital albums in China, crossing one million sales units as of August 2019. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), 1989 was the second-best selling album of 2014 and the third best-selling album of 2015, and had sold 10.1 million copies worldwide by the end of 2016.
1989 effectively transformed Swift's image from a country singer-songwriter to a worldwide pop phenomenon thanks to its commercial success.Entertainment Weekly considered it the record representing the year of 2014 on their 2020 list of the "30 essential albums from the last 30 years". The scholar Shaun Cullen described Swift as a figure "at the cutting edge of postmillennial pop" following the release of 1989. The album was the second to spawn five or more US top-10 singles in the 2010s decade, following Katy Perry's Teenage Dream (2010). Together with Fearless (2008), it made Swift the second woman to have two albums each score five US top-10 hits, tying with Janet Jackson.Consequence of Sound's Michael Roffman compared 1989 to Michael Jackson's 1982 album Thriller, as both albums yielded a string of successful hits that became "part of our American life". According to the BBC, 1989 "[forged] a path for artists who no longer wish to be ghettoised into separated musical genres".
Retrospective reviews from GQ's Jay Willis,New York's Sasha Geffen, and NME's Hannah Mylrea lauded the album's avoidance of contemporaneous hip hop and R&B crossover trends, which made 1989 a timeless album representing the best of Swift's talents. Mylrea dubbed it Swift's best release and described it as an influence for such artists as Dua Lipa and Lorde to embrace "pure pop". Geffen also attributed the album's success to Swift's songwriting offering emotional engagement that is uncommon in pop. Contemporary artists who cited 1989 as an influence included American singer-songwriter Conan Gray and British pop band The Vamps, who took inspiration from 1989 while composing their album Wake Up (2015).Jennifer Kaytin Robinson cited 1989 as an inspiration for her 2019 directorial debut Someone Great. American rock singer-songwriter Ryan Adams released his track-by-track cover album of 1989 in September 2015. He frequently listened to the album, which he found to be a "joyful" record, to cope with his broken marriage in late 2014. On his rendition, Adams incorporated stripped-down, acoustic instruments of indie rock and country genres, which contrasts with the original's electronic production. Swift was delighted with Adams' cover, saying to him "what you did with my album was like actors changing emphasis".
^ abThe location of The Hideaway Studio, where "Clean" was recorded, is not indicated in the liner notes of 1989.
^1989 has since been re-added to Spotify since June 2017.
^Wilkinson used "zany" to describe Swift as "a figure who emphasises the pop 'performance' as one of hard work instead, because she exposed its construction as one that does not come 'naturally'."
^Canadian sales figures for 1989 as of January 2020
^"Czech Albums – Top 100". ČNS IFPI. Note: On the chart page, select 201444 on the field besides the word "Zobrazit", and then click over the word to retrieve the correct chart data. Retrieved November 4, 2014.
Cullen, Shaun (February 17, 2016). "The Innocent and the Runaway: Kanye West, Taylor Swift, and the Cultural Politics of Racial Melodrama". Journal of Popular Music Studies. 28 (1): 33–50. doi:10.1111/jpms.12160.
McNutt, Myles (2020). "From 'Mine' to 'Ours': Gendered Hierarchies of Authorship and the Limits of Taylor Swift's Paratextual Feminism". Communication, Culture and Critique. 13 (1): 72–91. doi:10.1093/ccc/tcz042.