When news of the release of 1989 (Taylor’s Version) came out in August, fans were quick to point something out about the new album cover. Taylor Swift’s smiling face is clearly seen, and the seagulls that were once just a print on her shirt are now released and flying freely in the background.
Taylor reportedly picked the original cover—the now iconic Polaroid picture with only half her face visible—because she didn’t like her smile. She wanted something more mysterious, that didn’t really elicit any feeling.
✨ | Taylor Swift announcing #1989TaylorsVersion on the last night of the first leg of US #TSTheErasTour and acknowledging she’s crazy for the date and the five blue dresses 😂 pic.twitter.com/pwHf0U59pV— Taylor Swift Updates (@SwiftNYC) August 10, 2023
Admittedly, 1989 might be one of her albums I like the least, but its re-release album cover is by far my favorite of all of Taylor’s versions. It just made me feel something—maybe because the re-released cover is everything she didn’t like about the first.
I can’t pinpoint a core memory associated with any of the songs from its initial release exactly nine years ago today. But looking back on the tracklist now, I find myself associating unexpected memories filled with happiness and hope with some of the most popular songs on the album —and it’s only now that I’ve come to know how special 1989 actually is to me.
Welcome To New York
2015 was a rough year for me and my family. We lost my grandmother, the first major loss of a loved one I’d ever experienced. In January of the year after, I was set to do an exchange program abroad and I already knew I’d be missing her usual check-in texts every time I was out of the country.
We knew the holidays were gonna be hard without her. In our quest to fill the space she had left, we decided to fly to the States for Christmas to be closer to family.
While we weren’t welcomed by the blinding bright lights of the Big Apple and the mood was quite somber, we were happy and comforted knowing we were surrounded by loved ones going through the same feelings too.
We stayed with my uncle and aunt from upstate New York, and other family members from different parts of America flew in to be with us too. For some reason, apart from physically being in New York, I couldn’t get Taylor’s Welcome To New York out of my head.
While we weren’t welcomed by the blinding bright lights of the Big Apple and the mood was quite somber, we were happy and comforted knowing we were surrounded by loved ones going through the same feelings too. I was happy and comforted knowing despite what I had lost, my upcoming opportunity right after the holidays opened up so many possibilities for me. The song reminded me of that.
It wasn’t until the release of the movie Someone Great in 2019—which was inspired by this song, according to its writer and director—that I learned to appreciate Clean for what it was. Around that time, I had been two years into my career as a copywriter, yet I never had it in me to call myself a writer. Despite the guidance I received at work, I felt lost and didn’t know where I wanted to be career-wise.
It was the monologue at the end of the film, the one that allegedly inspired Taylor to write Death By A Thousand Cuts, that made me think: “I don’t know what it is I want to write, but I know I want it to be this good.”
And for the first time ever, I felt cleansed from the insecurity of not knowing where I wanted my career to take me.
Shake It Off
Undeniably a feel-good song from 1989, Shake It Off was something I thought was extremely mainstream; so much so that I found myself trying hard to like songs that were more niche and lesser known.
Fast forward to early 2023, when I had to pack up most of my life to chase a long-time dream. I’d just moved to cold and gloomy London in the middle of winter, and I decided right then and there I wasn’t really gonna like living there.
A few weeks later, I moved into what became my home during most of my stay in London, and after my flatmates and I had warmed up to each other, we’d go on nights out together. Pop music was common ground for us, and so we’d pick places with songs we could sing and dance to. It seemed that wherever we went, Shake It Off was always on the playlist (the same way Poblacion bars would always play You Belong With Me), and I was never at all mad at it.
In fact, it brought feelings of familiarity despite the unknown, a carefreeness despite my many worries, and surprisingly, for the first time, a feeling of being home.
So yes, best believe I’d sing at the top of my lungs and shake it off (pun intended) each and every time. Shake It Off, among many other things like the rare days the sun decides to show, made me realize that I was actually, wholeheartedly so happy to be there.
Perhaps you may have been misled by the title of this piece—that maybe Taylor Swift’s 1989 offered a step-by-step guide to what it means to truly be happy and hopeful. But as I got older, through memories I associate with hits from this record, I realized that the happiness and hope we long for isn’t just something from our wildest dreams; it’s in the simplicity of the everyday. That’s what makes life sweeter than fiction.