Songs on 1989
Foreword & Songs
“These songs were once about my life. They are now about yours.”
I was born in Reading, Pennsylvania on December 13, 1989.
In the world we live in, much is said about when we are born and when we die. Our birthday is celebrated every year to commemorate the very instant we came into the world. And a funeral is held to mark the day we leave it. But lately I’ve been wondering… what can be said of all the moments in between our birth and our death? The moments when we are reborn…
The debate over whether people change is an interesting one for me to observe because it seems like all I ever do is change. All I ever do is learn from my mistakes so I don’t make the same ones again. Then I make new ones. I know people can change because it happens to me little by little every day. Every day I wake up as someone slightly new. Isn’t it wild and intriguing and beautiful to think that every day we are new?
For the last few years, I’ve woken up every day not wanting, but needing to write a new style of music. I needed to change the way I told my stories and the way they sounded. I listened to a lot of music from the decade in which I was born and I listened to my intuition that it was a good thing to follow this gut feeling. I was also writing a different storyline than I’d ever told you before.
I wrote about moving to the loudest and brightest city in the world, the city I had always been overwhelmed by… until now. I think you have to know who you are and what you want in order to take on New York and all its blaring truth. I wrote about the thrill I got when I finally learned that love, to some extent, is just a game of cat and mouse. I wrote about looking back on a lost love and understanding that nothing good comes without loss and hardship and constant struggle. There is no “riding off into the sunset,” like I used to imagine. We are never out of the woods, because we are always going to be fighting for something. I wrote about love that comes back to you just when you thought it was lost forever, and how some feelings never go out of style. I wrote about an important lesson I learned recently… that people can say whatever they want about me, but they can’t make me lose my mind. I’ve learned how to shake things off.
I’ve told you my stories for years now. Some have been about coming of age. Some have been about coming undone. This is a story about coming into your own, and as a result… coming alive.
I hope you know that you’ve given me the courage to change. I hope you know that who you are is who you choose to be, and that whispers behind your back don’t define you. You are the only person who gets to decide what you will be remembered for.
From the girl who said she would never cut her hair or move to New York or find happiness in a world where she is not in love…
When I was 24 I sat in a backstage dressing room in London, buzzing with anticipation. My backup singers and bandmates gathered around me in a scattered circle. Scissors emerged and I watched in the mirror as my locks of long curly hair fell in piles on the floor. There I was in my plaid button down shirt, grinning sheepishly as my tour mates and friends cheered on my haircut. This simple thing that everyone does. But I had a secret. For me, it was more than a change of hairstyle. When I was 24, I decided to completely reinvent myself.
How does a person reinvent herself, you ask? In any way I could think of. Musically, geographically, aesthetically, behaviorally, motivationally…and I did so joyfully. The curiosity I had felt the first murmurs of while making RED had amplified into a pulsing heartbeat of restlessness in my ears. The risks I took when I toyed with pop sounds and sensibilities on RED? I wanted to push it further. The sense of freedom I felt when traveling to big bustling cities? I wanted to live in one. The voices that had begun to shame me in new ways for dating like a normal young woman? I wanted to silence them.
You see — in the years preceding this, I had become the target of slut shaming — the intensity and relentlessness of which would be criticized and called out if it happened today. The jokes about my amount of boyfriends. The trivialization of my songwriting as if it were a predatory act of a boy crazy psychopath. The media co-signing of this narrative. I had to make it stop because it was starting to really hurt.
It became clear to me that for me there was no such thing as casual dating, or even having a male friend who you platonically hang out with. If I was seen with him, it was assumed I was sleeping with him. And so I swore off hanging out with guys, dating, flirting or anything that could be weaponized against me by a culture that claimed to believe in liberating women but consistently treated me with the harsh moral codes of the Victorian Era.
Being a consummate optimist, I assumed I could fix this if I simply changed my behavior. I swore off dating and decided to focus only on myself, my music, my growth, and my female friendships. If I only hung out with my female friends, people couldn’t sensationalize or sexualize that — right? I would learn later on that people could and people would.
But none of that mattered then because I had a plan and I had a demeanor as trusting as a basket of golden retriever puppies. I had the keys to my own apartment in New York and I had new melodies bursting from my imagination. I had Max Martin and Shellback who were happy to help me explore this new sonic landscape I was enamored with. I had a new friend named Jack Antonoff who had made some cool tracks in his apartment. I had the idea that the album would be called 1989, and we would reference big 80’s synths and write sky high choruses. I had sublime, inexplicable faith and I ran right toward it. In high heels and a crop top.
There was so much that I didn’t know then, and looking back I see what a good thing that was. This time of my life was marked by right kind of naïveté, a hunger for adventure, and a sense of freedom I hadn’t tasted before. It turns out that the cocktail of naïveté, hunger for adventure and freedom can lead to some nasty hangovers, metaphorically speaking. Of course everyone had something to say. But they always will. I learned lessons, paid prices, and tried to…don’t say it … don’t say it…I’m sorry, I have to say it…shake it off.
I’ll always be so incredibly grateful for how you loved and embraced this album. You, who followed my zig zag creative choices and cheered on my risks and experiments. You, who heard the wink and humor in “Blank Space” and maybe even empathized with the pain behind the satire. You, who saw the seeds of allyship and advocating for equality in “Welcome to New York.” You, who knew that maybe a girl who surrounds herself with female friends in adulthood is making up for a lack of them in childhood (not starting a tyrannical hot girl cult). You, who saw that I reinvent myself for a million reasons, and that one of them is to try my very best to entertain you. You, who have had the grace to allow me the freedom to change.
I was born in 1989, reinvented for the first time in 2014, and a part of me was reclaimed in 2023 with the re-release of this album I love so dearly. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the magic you would sprinkle on my life for so long.
This moment is a reflection of the woods we’ve wandered through and all this love between us still glowing in the darkest dark.
I present to you, with gratitude and wild wonder, my version of 1989.
It’s been waiting for you.