Moment of Truth: a Taylor Swift Superfan and a Complete Novice Go Head-to-Head on Ryan Adams' 1989
Alison Schwartz LOVES Taylor Swift. (Editor’s note: Duh.) I am peripherally familiar with Swift’s magnum opus, but I’ve never listened to 1989 all the way through before Ryan Adams, whom I love, decided to cover it in its entirety. (Editor’s note Pt. II: Do you trust someone who has never listened to 1989 all the way through?)
So, that leaves us only one option: We’re going to argue about it. And talk about pizza.
Track 1: ‘Welcome to New York’
Alex: This is a good Bruce Springsteen song from the ’80s.
Alex: The whitewashed, pie-in-the-sky positivity of this song is really nicely tempered by big vocal reverb and innate melancholy.
Alex: Because today I watched a video of a rat dragging an entire slice of pizza down a flight of subway stairs.
Alison: I couldn’t think of a better description of New York than “a rat dragging an entire slice of pizza down a flight of subway stairs.” (Especially if you tell me the rat stole the pizza out of a child’s hands DID THE RAT STEAL THE PIZZA FROM A CHILD’S HANDS?)
Alison: But that’s why the Ryan Adams version of “Welcome to New York” is perfect because it’s the other New York.
Alex: “It’s been waiting for you … in a dark doorway, and it’s going to kick you in the Achilles tendon.”
Alison: “Took our broken hearts but couldn’t fit them in a drawer because the drawer was full of pizza-thieving rats.”
Track 2: ‘Blank Space’
Alex: Your turn to go first.
Alison: I honestly just don’t really feel ready to talk about this because “Blank Space” is my favorite OG 1989 track and there are a lot of feelings involved AND WILL YOU PLEASE STOP YELLING AT ME TO TALK ABOUT IT.
Alex: This one feels like sort of an easy A to me. Because I’ve watched Ryan make an Iron Maiden song into a touching acoustic number.
Alison: Watched? With your own two eyes?
Alex: Not “watch” so much as “realized,” because a touching acoustic version of an Iron Maiden song is something I dreamt of before I knew anything of Iron Maiden or Ryan Adams.
Alex: My point is that I know he can do this kind of stuff in his sleep, so obviously he was going to make this a touching acoustic number. Mostly I’m impressed by the fact that he just sounds, like, devastated on this song.
Alison: I think I want sadder though. I want to completely remove all of the humor and whimsy of Taylor’s version.
Alex: Then boy do I have an Iron Maiden cover for you.
Track 3: ‘Style’
Alex: I don’t know if you know this about Ryan Adams, but he loves, like, Black Flag and heavy metal. So I’m pretty into the “1982 Jeep Wrangler driving down the San Diego coast” sound of this song.
Alex: However, changing James Dean to “Daydream Nation” is a little heavy-handed.
Alison: Can you explain that reference to the less cool people involved in this conversation? (Me.)
Alex: Daydream Nation is Sonic Youth’s most famous album, released in October of ’88.
Alison: I mean, I was just testing you.
Alison: This one’s really sexy though. Is there a better way to phrase that?
Alex: It’s like “a 1985 movie about a scrappy pack of lower-middle-class BMX bikers banding together to save their bike … park, or whatever” level of sexy.
Alison: Like stare-into-my-eyes-while-we-listen-to-Exodus-together sexy.
Track 4: ‘Out of the Woods’
Alex: Sounds like elves.
Alison: Are we talking Santa’s elves
Alison: Or Keebler elves
Alison: I would like you to be more specific.
Alex: Lord of the Rings elves, maybe?
Alison: On a related note, I was actually just thinking that this is the most heartbreaking Ryan Adams 1989 cover.
Alex: Actually, this song is super interesting to me because one of the things I love about Adams’ lyrics are their specificity.
Alex: “Out of the Woods” is just so vague until you get to the line about 20 stitches.
Alison: But that’s why this song is so good – you have to really, really, reaaaally listen for all of Taylor’s Easter eggs.
Alison: Talk to me when you understand why “your necklace hanging from my neck” is important.
Alex: Wait is this song about that movie with Meryl Streep?
Track 5: ‘All You Had to Do Was Stay’
Alison: So this song reminds me of my mom.
Alison: Sorry, that was for someone else.
Alex: Hearing this without the benefit of knowing the original, all I can say is that I love it.
Alison: No, but really, like I wish my mom was here in this room so she could talk to us about this song. I think she would love it, too.
Alison: What I’m trying to say is that I truly feel like the subtext here is that Ryan Adams is all, “Hey, 12-year-old Taylor fans, lemme tell you a bit about the ’80s.”
Alex: I think it’s also revealing how much of Swift’s work is, at its core, basically Don Henley or Bryan Adams or any of those great ’80s soft-rock pioneers.
Alison: I just don’t know how to properly listen to this one without shoulder pads, and my mom.
Track 6: ‘Shake It Off’
Alex: I was sort of dreading how well the “haters gonna hate” stuff was going to sit.
Alex: But, honestly, I buy into it. I’m glad he went kind of sinister with it.
Alex: After all, he is a 40-year-old man who actually lived through the decade Swift is referencing.
Alex: Like, when he growls a little at “shake” at 2:52 – that’s 40-year-old-man sincerity. The world needs more of that.
Alison: It’s like you listen to this after hearing Taylor’s version, and you just think …
Alison: Were we ever so young?
Track 7: ‘I Wish You Would’
Alison: I kind of feel like a man is sitting on a stool singing to me.
Alex: Oh, he was on a stool for sure.
Alex: Reclaimed wood, probably.
Alison: There are few other things of which I am certain.
Alex: I’m having trouble buying this one. IDK, am I being jaded now?
Alison: Do you want some of my trail mix?
Track 8: ‘Bad Blood’
Alex: I want to hear your thoughts on “Bad Blood.”
Alison: Most people do.
Alison: For me, his cover doesn’t really start until around the 40-second mark, and then there’s no turning back, I’m all in, I’m sobbing under my desk, how did we get here?
Alison: It is so sad to think about the good times, ya know?
Alison: But, also, to me, a fellow 25-year-old, I find this song harder to navigate coming from someone who is not a 25-year-old girl.
Alex: But it’s about 40-year-old man sadness!
Alex: The best kind of sadness!
Alex: Earned sadness!
Alison: To earned sadness! (Clink.)
Track 9: ‘Wildest Dreams’
Alex: What a good title.
Alison: I just wish this version was more, I don’t know, longing.
Alex: “Most Average-est Dreams.”
Alison: Ry-Ry’s (may I call him that?) just not taking me all the way there. There = a bodega, filled with emotion.
Alex: “Most Kinda So-So Dreams.”
Alison: All of my dreams are like that.
Track 10: ‘How You Get the Girl’
Alison: I think this made more sense to me when I read Ryan’s interview about going through a difficult time.
Alex: Yeah, I mean, this was practically a Ryan Adams song to start with. All the hallmarks are there: standing, rain, doors. A long six months.
Alison: For the uninitiated (you), this is a very upbeat Swift song originally.
Alison: I mean, I thought it was. But, you know, that was a different time.
Alex: This might be the best about-face, tonally.
Alison: This is going to work overtime when it gets a little colder. Put on a knit sweater, headphones in buckle up for the saddest pumpkin spice latte of your life.
Track 11: ‘This Love’
Alex: It’s just that … I want more cruisin’ tunes. More triumph in the night. I see a Trans Am. A weathered denim jacket. The horizon beckons.
Alison: “Clear blue, waaaaater.” I’m sobbing. Help.
Alex: And almost five minutes, no drums? Was this a sad song originally?
Alison: I wouldn’t say sad. How about vulnerable? Fragile? A light at the end of the tunnel kind of thing?
Alex: There is a light that never goes out. That’s a Smiths reference for you, while I’m padding out the “obligatory list of ’80s indie bands I think Ryan Adams is super-into.”
Alison: Sorry, what? Still sobbing.
Track 12: ‘I Know Places’
Alex: This is, like, the slow-mo introduction to a dangerous stranger in a coming-of-age movie.
Alex: Steam is coming out of grates. Neon lights the night.
Alison: Okay, the thing is, I see Scooby-Doo … in a coming-of-age movie.
Alex: Adams really sells the lyrics though. He’s not blasting the big anthemic choruses, but I believe him when he says he knows places. Oh, and FINALLY a guitar solo.
Alison: I’d follow him though. Given the right supply of trail mix. It’s just a little too upbeat in the chorus.
Alex: That’s the yearning!
Alison: Exclamation point!
Track 13: ‘Clean’
Alison: “Clean,” I feel, is one of Taylor’s most sincere, thorough, important songs.
Alex: Ultimately, I would’ve preferred that he go out on a bigger note. This is just, like, a quiet whimper after all those sad songs.
Alex: Also, how do butterflies turn to dust in a room that’s in a house underwater? I think the ambient moisture alone would prevent dehydration.
Alison: Don’t think, just feel.
Alison: “Let the flood carry away all my pictures of youuu.” Which would really be a problem, if you think about it logistically. Also, is that a seagull?
Alex: Seagulls bookend this album.
Alison: Why didn’t you lead with that? How many other seagulls have I missed?