Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of Taylor Swift’s 1989, and a lot has changed since its release, especially my opinion of the album and how it relates to my own life. I must confess that my initial reaction was not what it is today…. Before its debut, my expectations for Taylor’s crossover to pop were astronomically high: her previous album Red got me through a breakup due to the raw, unrelenting lyrics mixed with her pseudo-country, acoustic melodies that identified the album. But 1989 took some time and growth for me to truly appreciate the genius that it is. Being only a few years older than myself, Taylor mirrored my teenage years and early twenties almost identically through her music, and I now realize that 1989 is doing the very same thing.
“Shake It Off” was the first single to be released, and I immediately fell in love with its upbeat message and irresistible-dancing-tempo. If this was any indication of how the entire album would be (which was confirmed by Taylor, herself), then I was sold. The thing was, I didn’t want another Red or any of her previous albums, frankly. We, as the collective public, were getting glimpses into her friend-fueled existence; summer of 2014 saw the early origins of her now-famous “Squad”, as she had been single for quite some time. Likewise, I had just come off of a year sans dating and was loving every minute of my beau-less existence. Like Taylor, my friends were the center of my universe, and I was reveling in the independence and ease that comes with not thinking about boys.
After “Shake It Off” came “Welcome to New York” and “Out of the Woods”: both of which surprised me with their unique sound and made me incredibly curious to hear the rest of the album. While “Welcome to New York” is an homage to the city she now calls home, “Out of the Woods” deals with an unsteady relationship… But I assumed that this was the one and only “he done me wrong” song on 1989, because that’s not what this album is about, right?
Wrong….or so I thought… The day 1989 hit stores, I woke up early that morning and went to Target when the store opened. Alongside fellow “Swifites” I giddily purchased my deluxe version of the CD and spent the rest of the morning driving around town so that I could listen to 1989 in its entirety. What I had hoped to hear was an album filled with lyrics about Taylor’s amazing group of friends, the trials and excitement of being in a new environment and how her life now is so much better without the pressure of a relationship. Instead, I was disappointed by songs like “All You Had To Do Was Stay” and “I Wish You Would”: songs that were centered around a boy with whom she’s infatuated or by whom she’s been hurt. Where was the Taylor from “Shake It Off” who wasn’t going to let the players or haters (literally) bring her down? What happened to the Taylor whose Instagram was filled with pictures of Karlie Kloss and Selena Gomez, her resident besties? Why was it that Taylor, who has been able to express my feelings better than I ever could, was on a different wavelength than me for the first time since her self-titled album rocked my 14 year-old self’s world all those years ago?
I wallowed in frustration as I heard the critical acclaim and non-stop chatter about 1989 – how Taylor had finally come into her own as a musician and found her best sound. I pined for the immediate connection I had to Red, wishing I could relive that sense of consolation and wonder that came with her songwriting and serenading. Weeks passed, and I continued to analyze 1989, settling on the thought that maybe this album wasn’t meant to radically change my life but rather just be something fun to listen to until her next album (which presumably would debut in two years).
Then everything changed when I started liking a boy. My previously peaceful and pleasant mind was all-consumed with emotions, and once more I became plagued with the grand highs and devastating lows of having a crush. But what made me reconsider my stance on 1989 was not the act of falling for someone – rather it was the way that I, personally, was dealing with this situation. In my earlier years of adolescence and young adulthood, boys would send my world spinning, making it impossible for me to focus on anything other than our interactions. But in this case, I was fairly calm and collected: confident in myself and comfortable with how things were transpiring. Even when the crush fizzled out, I moved on and maintained emotional stability. Over the next few months, I would go on several dates, feel unsure about where I stood with someone and be hurt by the sting of rejection, both on the giving and receiving ends. Through it all, though, I never sold out – never picked a boy over my friends, never compromised my integrity and never scared away or said something I shouldn’t have. For the first time in my “romantic” life, I had no regrets.
That’s what 1989 is about: navigating relationships while prioritizing yourself. Taylor has had her fair share of romantic downfalls, but instead of chasing after boys who don’t treat her right, she’s now choosing to celebrate the people who support her…and letting go of those who don’t. Even when she expresses her insecurities about a relationship (“Out of the Woods”), Taylor is aware how things are unfolding (“Style”) and protecting herself from real despair (“Wildest Dreams”). She’s taking responsibility for her end of the bargain (“Blank Space”, which depicts an exaggeration of her persona but is still applicable) and recognizing that complications can make or break a relationship (“This Love”). Ultimately, Taylor chooses herself, discovering that the turbulence of life and love has shaped her into someone that can stand alone on her own two feet (“Clean”).
As 1989 turns 1 this week, I am filled with more admiration and love for Taylor Swift than ever before. A year later, I am still blissfully single, embracing all the changes that have taken place (new job, new city) while remaining cautiously optimistic about future romantic pursuits. More than anything though, I’m treasuring my independence for the great value it’s worth. Just as Taylor’s final words proclaim on the 1989 Deluxe album, the best people in life are free.