Ryan Adams vs. Taylor Swift: A mostly un-musical 1989 analysis

Ryan Adams, left, and Taylor Swift

Ryan Adams, left, and Taylor Swift

In what was possibly one of Taylor Swift’s best marketing moves to date, Ryan Adams’ cover of her mega-selling album 1989 was released online yesterday.

Ryan was having a tough time earlier this year. He got a divorce from his pop-star wife Mandy Moore, plus I’m sure being Ryan Adams means every day offers a new opportunity for melancholy. But lucky for Ryan, Taylor Swift works wonders on heartache. The woman has single handedly gotten me through every breakup I’ve had since I was a tween. Taylor gets it; it’s tough out there.

I was excited to hear Ryan’s stripped-down, twangy take on Taylor’s highly produced pop masterpiece. I thought his edge might make something I already found incredibly interesting even more interesting. Plus, I was very selfishly hoping his “different place emotionally” would take a nearly perfect album (to me, OK?) and make it more badass and cool.

What did I get? I got kind of bored.

Before you Ryan Adams superfans start with the comments, here’s my song-by-song explanation. I will also note that I am not a music critic, and am writing this as a fan of Taylor, and a sort of fan of Ryan who knows way too much gossip about both of their personal lives.

'Welcome to New York'

“Welcome to New York” is the worst song on Taylor Swift’s 1989. Ryan Adams makes it seem less terrible. But it’s still pretty bad. The seagulls at the beginning are a nice touch, though.

Verdict: +1 Ryan

'Blank Space'

Before each song, I’m trying to listen to Taylor’s version. I am now watching Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” video and am trying to picture Ryan Adams as the handsome man Taylor is torturing in her mansion. For some reason, it’s not working, so I start picturing Mandy Moore hitting Ryan’s motorcycle with a golf club. Then I get sad. Anyway, I quite like Ryan’s version of “Blank Space.” Maybe it’s because he, like Taylor, has a long list of ex lovers and can really relate to the song. I’m tempted to give them a tie, but Taylor’s “Blank Space” is too good to be beat. Sorry, Ryan.

Verdict: +1 Taylor


In my opinion, “Style” is the best song on 1989. Ryan’s version of “Style” is way worse than Taylor's. I have no idea what he is saying half the time, and I know all the words to “Style.”

Verdict: +1 Taylor.

'Out of the Woods'

“Out of the Woods” reminds me of when on American Idol the contestants try to “make songs their own” and then Simon tells them to stop ruining greatness. I will note that I stopped listening to this song at the 3:42 mark because it is six-minutes long and I didn’t want to miss out on three more minutes of my life.

Verdict: +1 Taylor

'All You Had to Do Was Stay'

I can’t tell if I actually like this cover or if it is just better than the other songs so far. This song probably made Ryan even more sad, so he can have a point.

Verdict: +1 Ryan

'Shake It Off'

If anyone can take a completely joyous song like “Shake It Off” and make it sound depressing as hell, it’s Ryan Adams. I hope he’s happy with himself. Can any of you really picture Ryan shaking it off? I cannot. He should have just skipped this song

Verdict: +1 Taylor

'I Wish You Would'

“I Wish You Would” works pretty well with Ryan’s brooding voice and, unlike Taylor, I can actually picture Ryan being out until 2 a.m.

Verdict: +1 Ryan.

'Bad Blood'

Unpopular opinion: “Bad Blood” is the worst song on Taylor’s version of 1989, other than “Welcome to New York.” Ryan kept some semblance of the original song on this one and it worked. Ryan’s “Bad Blood” is much better than Taylor’s version. I actually like it as a song now! I just wish Ryan would have rapped the Kendrick Lamar parts.

Verdict: +1 Ryan

'Wildest Dreams'

I think the funniest part about this cover is that the song is pretty scandalous, Tay-wise. Before this album, I believe boys taking off their clothes had only been hinted at. But when you hear Ryan sing it, it sounds like he is singing the equivalent of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Ryan did a good job with this song. I like both versions, and I think Ryan did it justice, but Taylor still wins.

Verdict: +1 Taylor

'How You Get the Girl'

Sorry, I fell asleep before this song ended.

Verdict: +1 Taylor

'This Love'

A lot of people hated “This Love” on 1989. I was not one of them, although I will admit it was on the weaker half of the album for me. The two versions are somewhat similar, although I will say Ryan’s version is a little more haunting, whereas Taylor’s version has a more fluid feel to it. I like them both fine, although the bridge on Taylor's makes the whole song. Ryan’s bridge is kind of whatever, but the piano at the end is beautiful, so I’m going to call this one a wash.

Verdict: TIE +0 points given.

'I Know Places'

“I Know Places” on Taylor’s 1989 sounds like she is being chased, which is the whole point of the song. Ryan’s version does not.

Verdict: +1 Taylor


“Clean” is one of the sadder-sounding songs on Taylor’s 1989. Compared to the other songs on Ryan’s 1989, his version of “Clean” is the cheeriest and least emotional thing I’ve heard all album long. When he says, “When the flowers we grew together died of thirst,” he sounds excited about it, Ryan Adams-wise. It is weird.

Verdict: +1 Taylor

Ryan did not cover Taylor’s Deluxe Edition songs, which is probably for the best. So that’s it for Ryan Adams' take on 1989. How’d we end up?

Final Thoughts:

Taylor’s 1989 is such a production, with each song just bringing something totally different to the table. Ryan’s songs were sad and pretty, but many of them sounded the same. One of the things I love about Taylor Swift is how she uses her voice to tell a story, and I felt like Ryan took a lot of that joy out of listening to the album as a whole.

To be fair, I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting; it is really an apples and oranges type of situation. I do wonder how I would feel about most of these songs had I not listened to Taylor’s versions on repeat for the last year.

I do hope the project made Ryan feel better.

After all of this, there’s just one thing I really want to know: What does Taylor think about Ryan releasing a cover of her album on the evil, artistry-killing Spotify?

Final Tally: 

Taylor: 8 points

Ryan: 4 points