The New Yorker’s review of Adams’s 1989 (it’s worth noting that the magazine did not review Taylor Swift’s album at all), is headlined “Haters Gonna Hate”. Like Guilt by Association, the joke dismisses the pop artists at the music’s core: “You’re going to hate this, but we actually reviewed an album written by Taylor Swift”. In it, Ian Crouch writes that Adams’s cover is “subversive” and “more sincere than the original”:
“‘Blank Space’, Swift’s posh, sexy provocation about the thrills of being a wild woman, becomes, in Adams’s hands, a hushed, whispery lamentation of troubled love. In that song, Swift’s ‘long list of ex-lovers’ is a boast about the hearts she’s broken; the same line, sung by Adams, is a warning about his emotional baggage, the heartbreaks he’s suffered.”
Crouch’s criticism is undeniably gendered. Swift is hypersexual and uncomplicated: something to be looked at, rather than seriously listened to. Indeed, for Crouch, Adams’s achievement is that he didn’t sympathetically engage with Swift’s lyrics at all, but simply appropriated her words by applying them to his own, more complex, man emotions.
“Something in his state of mind and musical sensibility listened to the romantic exuberance of a young woman’s pop album and heard his own melancholy. He responded with music that is both personal and generous.”
When Crouch celebrates Adams’s generosity and candidness, he does so because he sees these qualities that Swift’s original lacks. Where Swift is “goofy”, “wistful” or even “banal”, Adams is “urgent, confessional, lonely”. Of course, these are the qualities that Adams, a genuine fan of Swift, so admires in the original songs. “They’re constructed from such an honest place,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “They’re all completely giving.”
In the same interview, he also said that he sees Swift and himself as singing about the same things: “The world of romance and the confusion of being alive and knowing how you fit in – all that stuff is there. It’s what we write about.” This is hardly surprising: Adams and Swift are both singer-songwriters rooted in country music, who slowly but surely started pushing at the edges of their genre. The only difference is that while Adams danced around the mainstream, Swift was catapulted towards it.
A whole range of publications make a similar claim that Adams’s masculine, alternative cover lifts Swift’s original to higher plains. Even reviews that laud Swift’s original achievement applaud Adams for making us realise its strength, as though Swift’s album alone could never convince us. The Atlantic wrote that Adams “vindicated” Swift; the Telegraph that he exposes “emotion beating beneath [her] gleaming surfaces”; the A.V. Club that he provided “a stark reminder that Swift’s songwriting continues to deserve respect and kudos”. (Seemingly, only Pretty Much Amazing thought to invert this patriarchal logic with their piece, “Taylor Swift Writes Ryan Adams’ Best Album”.)
It’s a response that will be eerily familiar to women across the globe who have sat in a meeting and watched as their ideas have been shot down, only to be taken seriously when co-opted by a male colleague. Who have listened to male friends repeat their own jokes back to them, as though they had hit on something funny utterly by accident. Even with the intention of celebrating her, Ryan Adams has made it possible for dozens of music journalists to mansplain Swift’s own album to her.
Taylor Swift is one of the most fucking amazing writers I’ve ever seen. I’ve sat in this room with her before and heard a song she was constructing on the spot and it was unbelievable. It was pure alchemy.
Ryan Adams, ‘American Songwriter Magazine’, Nov. 2014
They’re not cover songs. They’re reimaginings of my songs, and you can tell that he was in a different place emotionally than I was. There’s this beautiful aching sadness and longing in this album that doesn’t exist in the original.
Taylor Swift is one of the most fucking amazing writers I’ve ever seen. I’ve sat in this room with her before and heard a song she was constructing on the spot and it was unbelievable. It was pure alchemy. I couldn’t be any different.
Ryan Adams is one of the artists who shaped my songwriting. My favorite part of his style of creating music is his ability to bleed aching vulnerability into it, and that’s what he’s done with his cover project of my album 1989. When I first heard that Ryan was going to be covering my entire album, I couldn’t believe it. It’s such an honor that he would want to take my stories and lyrics and give them a new life. He’s gotten some of the best musicians together to record this album and if the clips he’s released are any indication, this is going to be something really special.
Taylor Swift on Ryan Adams covering 1989 (Entertainment Weekly)
The first time I heard it I got chills head to toe. I remember feeling shocked by her voice, shocked at how clean that song was. I like stuff that sort of penetrates through my regular consciousness and hits me where I’m not looking. That’s usually stuff that’s a little darker. You know, that song is really about disillusionment on such a grand scale. I just thought about how this is hitting me like a tidal wave, it’s so romantic and so beautiful, and yet so sad and so disillusioned – it’s all the stuff I love about the Smiths. That song fucked me up and I couldn’t believe it. Her voice does this thing. It just goes through all my bullshit detectors and right into my heart and soul.
Ryan Adams recalling the first time he heard White Horse (The Guardian)
USA Today: How Ryan Adams wound up covering Taylor Swift's '1989'
Before Ryan Adams considered covering a Taylor Swift album, he wrote a song with her.
Adams, who released a track-by-track remake of Swift’s blockbuster 1989 Monday, got a call from Swift while she was writing songs for her 2012 albumRed, asking if they could work on a song together.
“She basically already had this thing done,” says Adams, a prolific singer-songwriter and five-time Grammy nominee whose music Swift has said helped shape her songwriting. “I just sat down and went, ‘What about this?’ And 'What about this?’ We worked on a bridge, and we finished it. I guess I was the guy who could call people that would come in around 11 or 12 to jam.”