Ryan Adams Locates The Dark Underbelly Of Taylor Swift's '1989' Adams handles Swift's music with care and respect, to the point where his version of 1989 can feel positively dour.
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Ryan Adams Locates The Dark Underbelly Of Taylor Swift's '1989'

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Ryan Adams Locates The Dark Underbelly Of Taylor Swift's '1989'

Ryan Adams Locates The Dark Underbelly Of Taylor Swift's '1989'

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

This week, a new album came out by singer-songwriter Ryan Adams.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK SPACE")

RYAN ADAMS: (Singing) Got a long list of ex-lovers. They'll tell you I'm insane. But I've got a blank space, Baby. And I'll write your name.

MCEVERS: And if that song sounds familiar, it is. It is a word-for-word cover of Taylor Swift's megahit "Blank Space."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLANK SPACE")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) Got a long list of ex-lovers. They'll tell you I'm insane. But I've got a blank space, Baby. And I'll write your name.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLANK SPACE")

ADAMS: (Singing) I'll write your name.

MCEVERS: Ryan Adam's new album of Taylor Swift songs has the same name as Taylor Swift's album. It's "1989." And joining me in the studio to talk about it is NPR Music's Stephen Thompson. So OK, we all know who Taylor Swift is, but remind us. Who is Ryan Adams?

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Ryan Adams is a veteran singer-songwriter. He's put out an enormous catalog of music. He was incredibly prolific 10 or 15 years ago and has made some records that I think are considered classics, albums like "Heartbreaker." He's very well-received, well-reviewed and has a certain amount of gravitas about him, especially as he's formed this large body of work.

MCEVERS: OK, so is this new project a Taylor Swift-sanctioned project? I mean, what's the motivation here for an album-length tribute to her?

THOMPSON: I like the idea that Taylor Swift industries has signed off on this.

MCEVERS: Right, right, right, yeah.

THOMPSON: But she has purported to be a Ryan Adams fan. She has said so for years now. And so I think she approves of it and has said that she's very excited about it. I think the motivation for Ryan Adams recording this album - he has said that it's a breakup record. You know, Taylor Swift writes very convincingly about heartbreak, and he went through a very high-profile breakup in his own life. And so he drew on a lot of her songs for inspiration. And I think as he was listening to them and learning how to play them, he realized how much song craft there is in her writing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLANK SPACE")

ADAMS: (Singing) I'll write your name.

MCEVERS: Do I need Ryan Adams to tell me what a good songwriter Taylor Swift is?

THOMPSON: That is a great question. I think there are people who do need to be told what a good songwriter Taylor Swift is. But it's a little frustrating to have, like - finally, a 40-year-old dude has declared that he approves of Taylor, and now we can take her seriously? Like, we should have been taking Taylor Swift seriously. Not for nothing is she one of the best-selling musicians in the world right now. She is very, very good at what she does, even if what she does is very spangly pop music that a lot of people don't take seriously.

MCEVERS: And quickly, let's listen to Taylor Swift's version of that huge hit, "Shake It Off."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

SWIFT: (Singing) 'Cause the players going to play, play, play, play, play, and the haters going to hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Baby, I'm just going to shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.

MCEVERS: All right. Now let's listen to Ryan Adams's version of that song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

ADAMS: (Singing) The players are going to play, and the haters are going to hate. Baby, I'm just going to shake. Baby, I'm just going to shake.

MCEVERS: OK, this one is a lot more mopey. I mean, it's sad. What's going on?

THOMPSON: It's suddenly an incredibly somber take. To me, it sounds incredibly like Bruce Springsteen's song...

MCEVERS: Yeah, right?

THOMPSON: ..."I'm On Fire."

MCEVERS: The...

THOMPSON: The little slow percussion and guitar and everything. The whole record sounds a lot like Bruce Springsteen, which is kind of interesting in its own right.

MCEVERS: That's NPR Music's Stephen Thompson. Thanks for joining us.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

ADAMS: (Singing) Shake it off. Shake it off.

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