10 Days of Taylor: Who won the battle of '1989,' Taylor Swift or Ryan Adams?
(Welcome to 10 Days of Taylor, our epic countdown to the epic finale of the most epic pop tour of all time: Taylor Swift’s 1989 Tour, stopping Halloween Night at Raymond James Stadium. For all of our Taylor Swift coverage, click here.)
When Ryan Adams announced he was working on an album-length cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989, fans, including Swift herself, were excited to see what the alt-country star would bring to this year’s shiniest pop album.
Adams’ version, released Sept. 21, is so cohesive that it manages to fit right in with his discography, showing off the best qualities of both artists. Still, both versions of 1989 have some hit-and-miss songs, which means there are some clear winners and losers.
Pop music/culture critic Jay Cridlin and staff writer Alexa Volland share a cubicle and a few strong opinions about both Swift and Adams, so they decided to break down both versions of 1989 track by track to see who came out ahead. Here’s how they voted.
1. Welcome to New York
Jay: Some people despise Swift’s album-opening act of Big Apple imperialism; I don’t mind it. Adams isn’t from New York, either, but at least he infuses the song with a gruff Springsteenian grit that suits the city’s rough edges. ADVANTAGE: Adams.
Alexa: You have to take Welcome to New York for what it is: An introduction. Swift’s version was the album’s most derided track, but Adams’ manages to take the repetitive, Empire State of Mind wannabe and turn it into a pretty decent rock song. The synth is gone and you can really hear the deeper lyrics like, “Everybody here was someone else before.” ADVANTAGE: Adams.
2. Blank Space
Jay: It’s all about that pen click, one of the most innovative pops of percussion in recent memory. Swift’s version is fun, flirty, possibly 1989’s best song; whereas Adams’ sensitive-wildflower take is lovely but way too depressing. I’m already pencilling — excuse me, penning — Swift’s Blank Space in as your next Grammy winner for Song of the Year. ADVANTAGE: Swift
Alexa: What was a standout, cheeky song for Swift was transformed into an acoustic ballad for Adams. He ditches the spoken words and the bridge, and replaces “We’re young and reckless” to a more Adams-sounding “We’re g--d--- reckless.” ADVANTAGE: Swift
Jay: Style is my most-played song on Swift’s 1989, four perfectly produced minutes of pumping, pulsing desire. Adams’ jagged disco-rock version is also pretty great, but he loses points here (and elsewhere on 1989) for tweaking Swift’s lyrics to fit a masculine point of view. We’re living in post-Caitlyn Jenner America, Ryan. You can rock a red lip classic look, too. ADVANTAGE: Swift
Alexa: Here’s a song I wouldn’t be surprised if Adams wrote himself. Swift’s moody verse and insanely catchy hook are revved up by Adams with a little punk to it. This track got one of the most radical makeovers, and is a standout on both albums. ADVANTAGE: This kills me, but Ryan Adams takes this round.
4. Out of the Woods
Jay: I salute the looped vocals and Lion King-sized finale of Swift’s original, which also happen to feature some of 1989’s most memorable lyrics. The dreamy, waltzy haze through which it’s been filtered has never been my favorite flavor of Ryan Adams. Nice try, but Taylor takes it. ADVANTAGE: Swift
Alexa: One of my favorite pop songs by Swift gets drawn out into a six-minute ballad. The music builds and the lyrics come across more passionate for Adams. But the collaboration between Swift and Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff is just too good. ADVANTAGE: Swift.
5. All You Had to Do Was Stay
Jay: Another tough choice. I love Swift’s original, more so for the giddily electric chorus than anything that precedes it. But this is the best song on Adams’ 1989, a flat-out rocker that harkens back to his Love Is Hell/Rock N Roll days. The last minute or so is 100 percent bliss. ADVANTAGE: Adams
Alexa: Probably the closest track on Adam’ cover to the original; unfortunately, both versions are pretty skip-worthy. ADVANTAGE: Eh, Swift.
6. Shake It Off
Jay: HOT TAKE ALERT: Shake It Off is the single dumbest song in Taylor Swift’s catalog. COME AT ME, BRO. Adams spins it once again towards Springsteen, this time with I’m On Fire in his sights. Good enough for me. ADVANTAGE: Adams
Alexa: There is something about Ryan Adams singing “haters gonna hate” unironically that I just can’t get behind. ADVANTAGE: Swift
7. I Wish You Would
Jay: Another slice of classic heartbreaking Adams, who smartly trades Swift’s jittery synthesizers for an intimate acoustic guitar and effortlessly melodic chorus. As for Swift, this may be the song that harkens the most to the actual 1980s ... but in that regard, it also feels like a lesser version of any song from Carly Rae Jepsen’s superior Emotion. ADVANTAGE: Adams.
Alexa: For having the saddest lyrics on Swift’s 1989, the poppy, ’80s-sounding I Wish You Would doesn’t sound all that sad from Taylor. Adams doesn’t change much, but he delves pretty deep into the melancholy lyrics that are hidden in the club jammer. ADVANTAGE: Adams
8. Bad Blood
Jay: Those strummy, Wonderwall chords! That stripped-down bridge! That endless, flowery outro! Adams’ heartfelt version squeaks by the 1989 version of this gigantic hit. (Put it up against the Kendrick Lamar remix, though, and the tide might turn the other way.) ADVANTAGE: Adams
Alexa: Besides ditching the stomping, drums and Lamar’s rap, these versions are pretty much one and the same. However, no song or music video has ever evoked so many squad goals. ADVANTAGE: Swift
9. Wildest Dreams
Jay: Forget classic Adams — this is classic friggin’ Whiskeytown, a drunken alt-country charmer the likes of which Adams no longer really writes. Again, I don’t love how he twists the song’s gender roles, but I’ll take it over Swift’s snoozy ode to Lana Del Rey. ADVANTAGE: Adams
Alexa: Like Bad Blood, this song is very similar to the original; the main difference being the jam sesh in the last minute. Similar to Lana Del Rey’s wispy sound, Wildest Dreams is a breathy ballad for Swift compared to more classic rock for Adams. ADVANTAGE: Swift
10. How You Get the Girl
Jay: We’ve talked a lot here about songs that sound like classic Ryan Adams, and this sober one also qualifies. But this is also the first song on 1989 that could pass for classic Taylor Swift — or, perhaps more accurately, an innocuous remix of classic Taylor Swift. ADVANTAGE: Swift
Alexa: What comes off as a bubblegum pop explainer to men on keeping a girl from Taylor is the saddest song from Adams. The cutesy how-to turns into a love lost ballad, sounding from Adams like everything he should have done to hold on to someone. Both tracks use an acoustic guitar, but these lyrics describing how to keep a woman sound vastly different coming from a grown man. ADVANTAGE: Adams
11. This Love
Jay: If anything on 1989 qualifies as Taylor lifting her foot off the throttle, even just a little, it’s this softer number. Adams’ version sounds like any number of stark, solo moaners from his catalog. Taylor wins for breaking, however briefly, from her 1989 norm. ADVANTAGE: Swift
Alexa: Adams revolves This Love around a piano instead of a guitar and sings in his falsetto for a sweeter sound. Still, the lyrics, “This love is good, this love is bad, this love is glowing in the dark,” just sound silly coming from him. Or anyone. ADVANTAGE: Swift
12. I Know Places
Jay: Adams’ surfy, MexiCali-flavored twist on the Swift original is kind of a goofy kick. Otherwise I’m pretty ambivalent about both versions. ADVANTAGE: Adams
Alexa: Teetering on the line of blues, Adams’ version has a hint of Dylan. Considering the lyrics revolve around running away from hunters, the song is more than fitting for Adams. As a whole, Adams’ version is stronger, but Swift’s chorus arrangement is just so catchy. ADVANTAGE: Adams
Jay: As an album closer, I’ll take Adams’ sunny, jangly Clean over Swift’s blippy, bloopy original. Fading back to the seagulls that open the album is the icing on the cake. ADVANTAGE: Adams
Alexa: I think this is the only time a Swift version comes off sadder than Adams. Clean, for Adams, has a very laid-back, beachy vibe, enhanced by the last few seconds of seagull caws. ADVANTAGE: Swift.
Jay: Adams topples Swift eight songs to five in my book, though a couple could’ve gone either way. Considering I’ve been a huge Adams fan for years, the real surprise here might be that the vote was even this close.
Alexa: I’m no doubt a Ryan Adams fan-girl, but when it comes to 1989, no one does Taylor like Taylor. I came to eight songs for Swift and five for Adams. Now I’m waiting for Swift to cover Adams’ 1984.
It’s an even split — 13 votes for Swift, 13 for Adams. Both versions of 1989 are equal. We swear we didn’t plan it this way.