“They’re not cover songs,” Swift insisted, guesting on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show with Adams. “They’re reimaginings of my songs, and you can tell that he was in a different place emotionally than I was.”
He certainly was, and that — along with his own musical prowess — led to some killer renditions to sink our teeth into. Here they all are, ranked from most to least favorite.
1. Blank Space
The best song on Adams’ 1989 takes the music to a completely different place. What was a synthpop song overflowing with eagerness becomes something reminiscent of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or — soothing fingerpicking nestled in a cocoon of strings. You can hear a lot of someone’s outlook on life based off how they sing, “Got a long list of ex-lovers / they’ll tell you I’m insane.”
2. All You Had to Do Was Stay
One of the most supremely underrated pop songs in recent memory (seriously, how has it not been a single?) still sounds awesome when stripped down to a driving bassline. Speaking with Billboard, Adams preferred not to talk specifically about how he interpreted Swift’s lyrics, but from the desperation with which he sings, “now you say you want it back,” you can only imagine what went into this one.
3. I Know Places
The first few seconds of this one recall the Cure’s “Lovesong,” and that sets the tone for a delectably haunting college rock vibe with goth undertones from around, oh hey, 1989.
Adams changed “James Dean daydream look in your eye” to “Daydream Nation look in your eye,” tipping his hat to the Sonic Youth classic that came out of New York the year before 1989. But that’s not the only change; Adams sped up the BPM, shaved off a minute, and turned it into the most straight-ahead-rockin’ song on the album.
5. Welcome to New York
Adams’ most poignant song about leaving the South will probably always be “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and the accidental post-9/11 anthem “New York, New York” will probably do the same for his time in the city. But his take on Swift’s big move is a winsome combination of the two. The shimmering guitar tones in the final minute are shimmery enough to make a delayed New Jersey Transit train tolerable.
6. How You Get the Girl
Adams told Billboard about how he reinterpreted Swift’s feelings for his own 1989 cuts: “Where it might have been hopeful before, it might sound more filled with regret, like ‘How You Get the Girl.’” Who knows what regret Ryan had in mind, but flipping the song’s speaker and subject elicits all kinds of dynamics worth pondering.
7. This Love
If you enjoyed Ryan Adams’ 2004 album Love Is Hell, you’d probably like this song. If you just think love is hell, you’re still in luck.
8. I Wish You Would
Taylor Swift’s reconciliation cry over wanting a guy back translates unsurprisingly well to a Ryan Adams song. The guitar tones in this one are gorgeous.
9. Wildest Dreams
The first ballad-like single released off Swift’s 1989, “Wildest Dreams” already exists in a form and tempo that’s in Adams’ wheelhouse. Taylor’s emotional longing isn’t lost on Adams, who communicates it on a track that could’ve been a breezy addition to his 2005 double album, Cold Roses.
10. Shake It Off
Unlike the original, Adams’ “Shake It Off” sounds like it was never expected to be the centerpiece on its respective album. The way analog key sounds fade into the distance and the beyond-minimal rhythmic tap give this one some haunting stylistic vibes. Respect to Adams for not attempting T-Swizzle’s hip-hoppin’ spoken-word breakdown.
11. Out of the Woods
Taylor Swift’s Jack Antonoff collaboration is stretched out to a meandering six minutes here, but fans looking for a quick pop fix early in the record shouldn’t write it off. It’s especially touching in its string quartet-assisted outro, though it’s hard to refute the superiority of the original here.
As the final track on the standard issue version of Swift’s 1989, “Clean” is a welcome outlier with its how its minimal production creeps along. Adams of course does his due diligence on his rendition, but much of the song’s original appeal loses its identity on the rock transition.
13. Bad Blood
On most of 1989, Adams’ interpretations bring out the universal strengths in Swift’s songwriting. Here, they bring out her all-too-human shortcomings. The way the guitar jangles over the chorus isn’t enough to distract from how Adams sounds singing, “used to be mad love,” or “really big cuh-uh-ut.”