“Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” is nostalgic for old listeners, fresh for newcomers
May 2, 2021
“There’s somethin’ bout the way, the street looks when it’s just rained…” the title track of Taylor Swift’s 2008 album, “Fearless” begins. When the original album was released, 19 year old Swift skyrocketed into mainstream recognition. The album went on to win Album of the Year at the Grammys along with awards from Teen Choice Awards, American Music Awards, and more.
Swift is re-recording her old music beginning with “Fearless,” a choice influenced by her rocky history with music labels. Swift was signed to Big Machine records in 2005 when she was 15. In 2018 she switched to Universal’s Republic Records. As with many contracts for up and coming artists, Swift’s contract with Big Machine dictated that they own every master recording (original recording) that she created under them, totaling to six albums. In switching to Republic Records, Swift now has ownership over her own music.
However, Big Machine was sold to Ithaca Holdings, owned by Scooter Braun, who sold Swift’s master recordings, without her permission or knowledge, to Shamrock Holdings. Anytime her old masters are streamed or bought the money goes directly to Shamrock. Swift has since spoken out publicly against Braun, claiming that he bullied her, and decided to re-record her masters to take full ownership of her work.
This leads us to “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” which was released Apr. 9. Swift had an incredibly busy year, releasing “evermore” on December 11, 2020, less than five months after releasing “folklore.” While “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” may not sound like a cause for excitement, seeing as it’s a re-recording of an album that came out 13 years ago, the re-recording has caused quite the stir. With this re-recording, Swift is bringing listeners back to her country origins, which she has long since abandoned, currently favoring indie pop. Swift fans on TikTok and other social media platforms have made videos analyzing every minute detail that differs between the versions — down to the way she breathes between phrases or the intonation of different words.
The differences between the albums are subtle. The songs (minus the newly released vault songs) are the same. The production is nearly identical. However, it is obvious when listening to the two side by side how much Swift’s voice has matured in the past 13 years. For long-time fans of Swift who have grown up with her music, the re-recordings are a full-circle moment. It feels like the fans have grown up alongside Swift in a way and are now revisiting this album together. Other than resparking long-time fans’ love for the album, Swift is reintroducing the album to a new generation of listeners who get to experience the songs for the first time. Overall, the re-recordings of “Fearless” and of more albums still to come are a masterful move by Swift to both retake ownership of her old music and revisit some of her original work in new ways.
Other than re-recordings of songs previously released, the album contains songs “from the vault,” meaning that these songs were written by Swift at the time of the initial recording of “Fearless” but were never released. These include singles “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” “You All Over Me,” along with four others. “Mr. Perfectly Fine” is by far the strongest of the new releases. It’s a classic break-up song, less heartbreaking than it is snarky. After one listen, one can almost sing along due to its catchy nature. The fact that Swift has chosen to release songs she wrote as a teenager is a testament to her songwriting. The song, while never released, was hinted at in many released Swift songs. Little phrases, such as “casually cruel” show up both in released songs (in this case, “All Too Well” on the “Red” album) as well as in “Mr. Perfectly Fine.” Swift is a master at giving fans little easter eggs to hunt for and dissect and the vault songs are no exception.
Although “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” is hardly fresh, it makes for a very compelling relistening experience. It is a clear reminder that Swift has always been a master of storytelling and catchy melodies. The upcoming re-recordings are something to look out for.
Originally published in the May 2020 Print Edition.