My Thoughts Before and After Fearless (Taylor's Version)

April 8th, 2021

On April 9th, 2021, Taylor Swift will be releasing the re-recording of her 2008 Grammy award-winning album, Fearless. This album means a lot to a lot of people. For many, it was the first Taylor Swift album they ever listened to. It’s a source of nostalgia, a way to return to a moment of childhood innocence when every crush feels like true love and every heartbreak weighs heavier. This album is about growing up, about realizing that life and love are more complicated than they look in the movies. 

This album and I go way back. I had the hits on my iPod shuffle back in the day, and my friends and I used to sing them together on the playground at recess. I watched the music video for “Fifteen” approximately four million times when I was nine years old. My favorite song was “White Horse,” and I still love to play it on the guitar. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about the re-recording. 

Taylor Swift is re-recording her albums in order to regain ownership of her masters -- the original recordings -- of all of her songs. The masters are used in commercial properties and on streaming apps, so currently, anyone who streams or buys any Taylor Swift songs benefits her old manager, Scooter Braun. Until now, Swift has been blocking the commercial use of her work. After the re-recordings, the creators of commercials and movie trailers will be allowed to use the masters that Swift owns, which will take control of her work away from Braun. She is outspoken about the fact that artists should have ownership of their work, and has been talking about the future of her re-recordings for some time. Now that the re-recording restriction on her work is passed, she is putting this plan into effect. 

Interestingly enough, Taylor began this release process 13 years after Fearless was originally dropped, as 13 is her self-proclaimed “lucky number,” and she used to perform with a 13 painted in glitter on her hand. Not to mention that many people who were children or teenagers themselves when the original album came out are now adults with nostalgia for these songs. 

So far, she has released snippets of several songs from the album, notably the title track, “Fearless,” on Good Morning America this morning, a few seconds of “Breathe” featuring Colbie Caillat on Tumblr, and some of “Fifteen” in a Snapchat filter, among many others. In addition to these sneak peeks, she released the lead single, “Love Story,” on February 11th to announce the re-recording. But my favorite part of the lead-up to the album release has been the inclusion of the (From the Vault) tracks -- six songs that were written back in 2007-2008 that didn’t make the original album. Since announcing the re-recording release, she’s dropped two (From the Vault) tracks: “You All Over Me” and “Mr. Perfectly Fine.” 

If “Love Story” is anything of a litmus test for how the rest of the album is going to sound, we’re in for a treat. It is similar enough to the original track that it still evokes the same nostalgia and can easily be used as a substitute to the original for streaming/commercial purposes (this being a primary goal of the re-recording venture), but it is different enough that long-time fans can appreciate the changes in her voice and inflection. Approaching an album that encompasses the innocence of first love from a more mature perspective definitely adds a new dimension to these tracks. It will be interesting to see how this perspective plays out in songs like “Fifteen” and “Change” where she speaks very clearly about what it feels like to be young and in the process of discovering your own identity. 

The (From the Vault) songs so far have been amazing, and I cannot wait to see what the other four tracks have in store. “You All Over Me” was released first back in March, and it has that signature Swiftian imagery in the lyrics. It’s produced by Aaron Dessner, so it feels like Fearless and Folklore at the same time. But my favorite release so far has got to be “Mr. Perfectly Fine.” Where was this song when I got dumped in the seventh grade? It takes me right back to that simple teenage angst and heartbreak, along with the streak of “I’ll show them” determination that drives you to grow from those early experiences. I cannot believe this song didn’t make the original cut. If she was holding these back from Fearless, I can only imagine what the (From the Vault) tracks from Speak Now and Red are gonna look like. 

If I have to pick favorites, I’m most excited for (Taylor’s Version) of “The Way I Loved You,” “Hey Stephen,” “Change,” and “White Horse.” Now, I’m going on a 12-hour Fearless lockdown to prepare for the midnight release, and I’ll come back with my thoughts after my first (or first several) listens of the re-recording. See you then, Her Campus. 

 

April 10, 2021

So, It’s been a full 24 hours since the re-release. I was right in my speculation that the album would be comfortably familiar and refreshingly new at the same time. Many of the differences are along the lines of subtle variations in production and pronunciation. But the biggest change is the 13 years of vocal training and maturity between the original and the re-record. Where on the original, Swift might have been straining to hit certain notes or pushing through the longer phrases, she now takes on her old work with an effortlessness that only comes with years and years of practice. The new production allows the songs to showcase her vocals more while retaining the spirit of the original. 

Now, onto the tracks themselves.

I listened in order. “Fearless” was great as the opening track, of course, but it was “Fifteen” that made the whole thing really hit home for me. Hearing her sing the line “I didn’t know who I was supposed to be at fifteen,” was so powerful to me, not just because of the new perspective she brings to the song (some have said that it now reads like a mother or older sister giving advice to a teenage girl), but also because it reminded me of my own experience with change and self-discovery after I left high school, and how much I’ve learned since I was that age. This song definitely means something different to me at 19 than it did when I was 9. 

Because this is a 27 track album, I’m going to speedrun most of the song reviews.

“Hey Stephen” was everything I thought it would be and more. “White Horse” is just as heartbreaking as it was the first time around, but twice as hopeful on lines like “I’m going to find someone someday who might actually treat me well.” I cannot believe how hard she went on “You Belong With Me.” Honestly, she sings it like she’s a fan of the song belting it out at karaoke, but in the absolute best way. I wasn’t a huge fan of “Breathe” on the original album, but something about this new mix has me reconsidering that stance. “Tell Me Why” exists in a wholly different realm from the first album, and it might be a new favorite of mine. The same goes for “You’re Not Sorry.” I’m not even ready to talk about “The Way I Loved You;” I need to emotionally process it first. “Forever and Always” has me realizing that this rerecording has totally scrambled my original ranking of the songs on this album. I was pretty neutral on “The Best Day,” but it’s still as sweet and fun as it’s always been. Like “Fifteen,” “Change” has taken on a new life as a song about reflection and growth. 

Moving onto the original bonus tracks, I was pretty neutral on most of these going in, and I still am. Again, I think they benefit from the new mixing and vocals, and I find that I’m much more on board with them now than I was. I’ll probably keep skipping “Superstar,” but “Jump then Fall” and “Forever and Always (Piano Version)" have sparked a change of heart. 

When I wrote the first half of this article, I had totally forgotten that “Today Was a Fairytale” was going to be on this album. This was one of my absolute favorite Taylor Swift songs back in the day, to the point where even though I hadn’t heard it in years before this re-recording, I realized I still knew all of the words. This new mix made my soul leave my body for a second. It might be my absolute favorite track on the album. 

As for the (From the Vault) tracks, I was surprised by how much they varied from each other. Now, I was on YouTube back in the 2010s, I’ve listened to a lot of unreleased Taylor Swift songs. I’m still holding out hope that “I’d Lie” will make a future re-recording. But I hadn’t come across any of these back then. “We Were Happy” is a solid ballad. I feel like you don’t see a lot of songs about just falling out of love with your first boyfriend/girlfriend and realizing that you don’t really want that future the two of you had talked about, especially from the perspective of someone so young. I will definitely be revisiting this song. “That’s When” is fun and groovy. I don’t really listen to Keith Urban, and I don’t know much about him, but I liked his vocals on this track. I especially like the chorus in this one. “Don’t You” honestly feels more like a Red track, but it’s still a pretty good song. It reminds me of “the one” a little bit, too. I definitely have to listen to “Bye Bye Baby” again. It is so full of themes that are everywhere throughout her later work, like the book metaphor and the fear of a relationship that meant a lot to you just fading into memory. 

Overall, the album blew me away. If Fearless came out of the gate so strong, I am in no way emotionally prepared to handle Speak Now when it hits the market on some unspecified future date. I’m looking forward to the other five albums (hopefully including Debut), and I can’t wait to see what creative changes and surprises Miss Swift has in store. Anyway, if you need me, I’ll be listening to “Today Was A Fairytale (Taylor’s Version)” on repeat until further notice.