It was 2008. Obama was in the 1st year of his presidency, Twilight was released, and Taylor Swift released her 2nd studio album, Fearless. The album was huge. I was in middle school, and I remember that during our annual talent show, about half the girls were performing songs from the Fearless album. Taylor's songwriting has been the soundtrack to millions of kids’ formative years who grew up in the mid-aughts. White Horse has been on every breakup playlist I've ever made. Following the selling of her masters by Big Machine Records to Scooter Braun, Taylor lost the ownership rights of her first 6 albums. She has been outspoken about wanting to be in control of her art, and as a result has announced her plan to re-record and release her old albums. Out April 9th, 2021, Fearless-Taylor's Version is the first re-recorded album, and it comes with previously unreleased songs from the vault.
[bf_image id="q7k0s7-d5fei0-1mdqtr"] 1. Taylor's Looking Back... and Looking Forward
Taylor was 19 when Fearless was released in 2008. Now a 31-year-old woman, her music has evolved from county-pop to pop to indie. Her recent sister-albums Folklore and Evermore were experimental in her writing approach and mark a brand new era of Taylor's songwriting and creative abilities. Re-recording Fearless and having the power to change arrangements, inflections, and tones of her old work is an amazing window into her personal growth. The piano and tempo of the vocals in Forever and Always-Taylor's Version encapsulates a higher level of sadness and hopeless desperation that stands in contrast with the angrier 2008 version. She's claiming her space and exerting her power to make her music exactly how she envisions it. Rather than yielding to more experienced producers, Taylor is now a professional with multiple albums and years of experience. She's fully realizing her power and the new versions of the songs on Fearless echo these sentiments.
2. Taylor's Vocal Ability Has Improved
There's a new power in her vocals. While the 2008 version of Fearless sounds lovestruck and sweet, songs like The Way I Loved You feel much more powerful and in-control on Fearless-Taylor's Version. Taylor's years of being an artist have led to greater control of her voice than she had while recording her 2nd album at 18. In Fearless-Taylor's Version, she feels much more self-assured and comfortable in her ability. Her breath control is, for lack of a better word, absolutely insane. The amount of control and precision on every single track is Grammy worthy. The vocal performance of Forever and Always is absolutely incredible. The tiniest changes to the pronunciation and inflections on different parts of a word or a phrase in the lyrics make the song hit just a bit differently than the original, which breathes new life into songs that came out 13 years ago. Change- Taylor's Version is breathtaking and hits so hard knowing the struggles Taylor later experienced (watch Miss Americana on Netflix!), this song feels even more triumphant than the original version.
3.The Previously Unreleased Songs Are Gold
Taylor Swift has blessed us with SIX!!! previously unreleased songs that didn't make the cut to be on 2008's Fearless album.
- You All Over Me (Feat. Maren Morris)- This song is beautiful and Maren Morris's voice brings a multilayered harmony that's very calming and melancholic.
- Mr. Perfectly Fine- We all have a Mr. Perfectly Fine; the person who broke your heart and is unaffected while you're breaking down. I love that "casually cruel" lyric parallel to the one in arguably the best bridge in her discography, Taylor's All Too Well off of the Red album. (Side note: the re-recorded Red album is going to emotionally destroy me, and I look forward to it!) Taylor's songs about Joe Jonas are just so incredibly good and so fun to sing along to!
- We Were Happy- If you like Exile from her album Folklore, then We Were Happy from Fearless-Taylor's Version is made for you. It's a heart wrenching breakup song, with soaring vocals on the bridge that rip your heart out and bring you to tears. It's a look back at a relationship you thought was going to last forever, and then things fell apart. I think it might be my favorite of the new songs, I'll let you know when I stop crying.
- That's When (Feat. Keith Urban)- I'm not a big fan of country, but this track is a beautiful duet between Taylor and Keith Urban. It's a sweet song and an easy listen.
- Don't You - I love the choral arrangement echoing Taylor in the chorus! A mid-tempo sad song about lost love, this song is beautiful and makes me think of her song Closure on Evermore. Also, Taylor is truly the queen of bridges. Nobody can write a bridge quite like Taylor Swift.
- Bye Bye Baby- The instrumental intro is really pretty! Her control on the chorus is strong! It's a breakup song that feels sad but in control of the situation. It feels like she knows the breakup is for the best and while it hurts, she's destined for bigger things. Is there anything more relatable than the line "I want you bad but it's come down to nothing"? Breakups from relationships, unrequited crushes that formed after a hookup, high school crushes that never went anywhere, there's so many scenarios that you could relate this song to.
4. Personally Nostalgic But Also New
Much like returning to your childhood bedroom during winter break the first year of college, listening to Fearless-Taylor's Version is like returning to something familiar with a new sense of self and a perception of distance and growth. Listening to Fifteen-Taylor's Version as a 23-year-old is a very different experience than listening to it at 11. Hearing songs from middle school with an accumulation of life experience, relationship experiences, and so many more feelings and scenarios than you could've imagined at 11 is like a strange time-traveling religious or spiritual experience. It feels like doing inner child work and reconnecting to a younger version of yourself and thinking, "wow kid, you have no idea what's coming." Middle-school me thought she understood Fearless, but listening to Fearless-Taylor's Version is a completely new experience. While a few of my favorite songs haven't changed, the emotional attachment and level of personal relatability has shifted and evolved. Hearing these songs as an adult who has actually experienced heartbreak, unrequited crushes becoming drunken kisses, and just growing up and growing in my relationship with myself, Fearless-Taylor's Version is transcendent. It feels like coming home while also recognizing you aren't who you once were.
2021 Taylor Swift's release of the re-recorded and mastered Fearless album, and the inclusion of new songs, is a groundbreaking step in her career. Taylor is asserting agency as a creator of some of the biggest songs in pop music. Taylor as an artist is on a big enough platform that her choices and decisions can have a ripple effect on the entire music industry--just look at how her stance on streaming brought about national conversations about paying artists for their work and about offering fair prices to go from the streaming platform to the artist. Experiencing Fearless-Taylor's Version as an almost 24-year-old woman is an interesting examination of nostalgia and nuance as I re-experience the era of Taylor Swift I was experiencing as a naivè 11-year-old. I look forward to her other re-recordings and the emotions they're bound to unlock within me.