Album Review: Fearless (Taylor's Version)

Since the promotion of Taylor Swift's seventh studio album, Lover, in 2019, Swift has teased the re-release of her first six studio albums, previously recorded with Big Machine Records. As a young teenager, Swift signed a record deal that took away all of her rights to her creative work. Now signed under a new record label — Republic Records — and after more than a decade since its release, Swift has re-released her breakout 2008 album, Fearless

As a Gen-Z woman and an avid Taylor Swift fan, Swift has been a steadfast part of my day-to-day life. Who knows how many times I have listened to Fearless back to back? When it released in 2008 and I went to Target the same day to buy the album? Blasting it on my CD player in my childhood room? Downloading it all to my iPod nano? Streaming it on my way to high school? Sliding the CD back in my car on the drive between college and home? Making my coworkers listen to it during the COVID pandemic? Fearless has been through it all. 

In her re-release — aptly titled Fearless (Taylor's Version) — Swift takes back ownership of her album, her lyrics, her art. Now 31 years old, Swift's voice is matured and skillful. With more control and range, classic Swift songs reach a new intensity. Swift's growth as a vocalist allows backing instrumentals and production to be turned up as well. It makes the drop of "The Way I Loved You", the raw hurt of "Breathe (featuring Colbie Calliat)" and the reverence of "The Best Day" resonate even more strongly than its original. New context also reframes some of Swift's songs. Now very much over Joe Jonas, biting songs become fun. Remember how devastated Swift was? If not, you can revisit tracks like "Forever & Always" with humor rather than trepidation. And we know now that the love Taylor Swift yearned for — most obviously in her liner note for the original "Love Story," which reads, "Someday I'll find this" — has been found with her long-time partner, Joe Alwyn. 

However, the glaring issue of Fearless (Taylor's Version) isn't even a problem at all. There's simply so much content. Coming in at 26 tracks (27 if you count the bonus Elvira remix of "Love Story"), the album works more as an ode to the fans and an album to dissect. Fearless (Taylor's Version) isn't a quick and easy album. Don't get me wrong — I'll still scream sing Taylor's version of "You Belong with Me" and "Love Story" and bop along to "Hey Stephen." However, the album requires listeners to take their time and sit in the lyrics and production.  Doing so elevates the album, but it might tire non-Swifities who aren't aware of the context surrounding its release. Adding to the length are six tracks from the vault — songs Taylor wrote but were never released back in 2008. "All Over Me ft. Maren Morris," "Mr. Perfectly Fine" and "That's When” are my favorites, brimming with the naivete, hopefulness and poignance I've come to associate with the album. However, these standouts also serve to ask, "Why weren't they included in the first place?" which once again invites dissection and theorizing into the listening experience. 

As a decades-long fan, Fearless (Taylor's Version) is everything I've hoped for and more. The little production changes — most notably in the intro of "You Belong with Me" — and Swift's matured vocals give just enough to make the album feel new, all the while providing a more-than-worthy replacement of the original version of Fearless. It might be a while until Fearless (Taylor's Version) stands independently from the context of its existence, but the re-release isn't just an exact copy; it's an improvement.