Who Did 1989 The Best, Taylor Swift or Ryan Adams?
When you think of Ryan Adams, you don’t think glittery, squad-obsessed pop star, which is why it was so surprising when the aging alt rocker announced that he was going to release a cover album of Taylor Swift‘s 1989. Whether it was a publicity stunt, a dare or just a gesture of respect from one artist to another is still a secret, but now that the album’s out there, the only thing people want to know is who did 1989 better. Obviously, music is subjective, so keep that in mind as we present our track-by-track comparison, written by Taylor Swift expert, and resident pop princess, me.
“Welcome To New York”
It’s no real secret that “Welcome To New York” as performed by Taylor Swift is a giant piece of stinking garbage. The track is practically unlistenable for its idealistic, saccharine portrait of New York, and could only be written by somebody who was welcomed to New York from atop a million dollar penthouse suite. On his cover track, Ryan Adams does something impossible: he makes “Welcome To New York” sound good. Starting off with the sound of seagulls and crescendoing chords out of a horror story, right off the bat, his New York sounds like something recognizable. He gives the song a Bruce Springsteen treatment and brings out its innate catchiness while slurring together some of its more unfortunate lyrics.
Verdict: Ryan Adams For The Win
“Blank Space” was Taylor Swift’s second single from 1989, and unlike “Shake It Off”, nobody really wanted to hate on it. Why? Because Taylor Swift was doing what everybody else was doing: she was making fun of herself. “Blank Space” isn’t just a catchy pop song, it’s also the only time on 1989 that Taylor Swift gets a chance to showcase her sense of humor. We make fun of her all the time, but nobody can do it quite like Swift. Ryan Adam’s “Blank Space” wisely avoids trying to rival the bombast of the original, settling for a delicate, finger-picked melody, full of wistful, woe-filled whispering. If there’s anyway to cover somebody’s colossal hit, it’s like this.
Verdict: Taylor Swift For The Win, But A For Effort, Ryan
Even though “Style” failed to make much of an impression as a single (I blame that awful music video), but it’s a strong pop song that simmers more than soars. The track, which we can only assume is written about Harry Styles, is just about the closest Taylor Swift comes to sounding like her Red self on 1989, and it’s generally considered one of the album’s strongest songs. Ryan Adams turns it into a rock song sung in the epic key of Arcade Fire. He sounds drunk, he sounds frustrated, and he can’t help but stammer over the fact that once again, he’s going home with the one girl he has no trouble getting involved with. But resistance is futile. They never go out of style.
Verdict: This is a close one, but I gotta give it to Taylor Swift
“Out Of The Woods”
In “Out Of The Woods”, Taylor Swift experimented with 80’s synth pop, and thanks to the help from producer Jack Antanoff, she mostly pulls it off. Although the collaboration is heavy on sophomoric revelations and light on genuine sentiment, the song sounds good, and even moving when listened to in the right situation. Ryan Adams, drawing inspiration from the opening line “it all seemed so simple,” performs the song like a couple’s last slow dance together before they drift apart forever. It’s all feeling, and profoundly more moving than the original.
Verdict: Ryan Adams all the way
“All You Had To Do Was Stay”
One of Taylor Swift’s album filler pop songs, “All You Had To Do Was Stay” is effortlessly charming. For once, Taylor isn’t breaking down into tears or letting her vengeance loose on the lovers that broke her heart. Now that she’s older and wiser, she can keep her calm about the situation, and even find the positive. As is often the case with his covers, by slowing down the song and transposing it into a lower register, he highlights just how strong of a songwriter Taylor Swift is. “All You Had To Do Was Stay” is one of the most slept-on songs on 1989, and listening to his cover, I can’t help but want to listen to the original.
Verdict: Taylor Swift hands down
“Shake It Off”
Even though people tried, nobody could hate “Shake It Off.” It was so catchy, so infectious, so…positive. Even though the lyrics were hardly original, and the cheerleader chant interlude is an unfortunate choice, there’s just something about “Shake It Off” that works. No matter what Ryan Adams did with his cover version, Taylor Swift’s would remain untouchable. Still, giving the song a gentle rock and roll, he does the almost impossible job of making his version capable of standing beside Taylor’s.
Verdict: Taylor Taylor Taylor
“I Wish You Would”
“I Wish You Would” isn’t my favorite song on 1989. Honestly, most of the time I just skip it. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just junk food pop, too sugary sweet for its own good. And there’s something about the emotional range in the song that just feels…unnatural. The song itself is unflinchingly bright, and happy-sounding, and yet the song is all about loss, and wishing the man you once loved was still with you. In the span of less than thirty seconds Taylor goes from “I wish you would come back / wish I never hung up the phone like I did” to “it’s all good” and back to “I wish you would.” Ryan Adams sings “I Wish You Would” with all the emotion and depth I wish Taylor would have given us, but even with a country treatment, this song works best as bubblegum pop.
Verdict: Three in a row for Taylor
“Bad Blood” is another Taylor Swift song that I just don’t like that much. Something about a militant, cheerleading anthem about backstabbing bitches as performed by a mobilized squad of angry femme fatals just doesn’t do it for me. Unsurprisingly, I’m all in favor of Ryan Adams and his much more adult handling of the song, complete with emotions stronger than vague outrage and a stellar outro.
Verdict: Ryan Adams all the way
“Wildest Dreams” is a unique Taylor Swift song because it finds Taylor Swift doing her best Lana Del Rey impression, albeit in a PG-13 kind of way. Still, it’s about as sexual and sexually explicit as Taylor’s allowed her songs to be, making it a breath of fresh air on 1989. Ryan Adams tones down the Lana and lets the song stand on its merits. The result is much the same as Taylor’s “Wildest Dream”: a breathtaking pop song.
Verdict: too close to tell
“How You Get The Girl”
“How You Get The Girl” is an annoying piece of bubblegum pop with a mindless beat that reads like the inner musing of a 14-year-old girl who’s daydreaming about how boys are supposed to act (and really gets turned on by the idea of getting kissed on the cheek). From a twenty-five-year-old woman, it’s inexcusable. On his “How You Get The Girl,” Ryan Adams brings out his Springsteen impression again, and brings out a level of depth and dynamics the song will never see again. It’s still not a great song, but at least he makes it sound like an alright song.
Verdict: Ryan Adams
“This Love” is hands-down one of the strongest songs on Taylor Swift’s 1989. Amidst an album of bombast, generalized imagery, and feelings sung about rather than expressed, “This Love” stands out for its delicacy and tenderness. Ryan Adams could touch that, but his cover of “This Love” is one of his few missteps of his cover album.
Verdict: Taylor Swift
“I Know Places”
“I Know Places” is the darkest and angriest Taylor Swift gets on 1989, drawing a comparison between hunters and foxes and the paparazzi and celebrities. It’s a song that only a bonafide pop star could sing, and try as Ryan Adams may, he can’t quite pull it off.
Verdict: Taylor Swift
“Clean” as performed by Taylor Swift is practically a country song, loosely based on the idea of getting baptized after months of feeling covered in the stain of an ex-lover. “Clean” is a song cut from the same cloth as “This Love,” and there’s a chance that it would have been on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack, if only Taylor Swift had the gravitas to have written it so many years earlier. It makes for a very rewarding and cathartic end to the album, and Ryan Adams fails to come up with the same payoff.
Verdict: Taylor Swift
You don’t even need to tally up the score to know which artist had a superior 1989. That should hardly come as a surprise. Taylor Swift spent millions of dollars and months of her life crafting her album, and Ryan Adams probably spent less than a thousand, and less than a month on his. Still, it’s remarkable how good his 1989 is. I assumed my $9.99 were going to be wasted. How very wrong I was.