Although the pandemic has been an extremely unmotivating time for most of us, it’s arguably been the most productive time of Taylor Swift’s career. It seems like Swift has been working non–stop, without a break, for almost the entirety of the past year following the surprise releases of sister albums folklore and evermore. Now, she’s re–recording her first 6 albums because she doesn’t own her original song masters.
The first album to be released from this project was Fearless (Taylor’s Version) on April 9th. This re–recording consists of 26 tracks: the 19 songs found on Fearless Platinum Edition, along with the single “Today Was a Fairytale” from the 2010 Valentine’s Day movie soundtrack and six never–heard–before songs. These songs are referred to as “From the Vault” tracks, because they were written at the same time as the rest of Fearless but were cut from the original album for a variety of reasons. In her statement about Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Swift stated that some of these tracks were cut because the album already had too many breakup songs, and she wanted to ensure it was short enough to fit on a physical CD.
However, Swift has said that those reasons seem “unnecessary” now and recalls that the “From the Vault” tracks were the ones it “killed [her] to leave behind” during the album’s initial recording. In order to ensure that her fans finally get the intended, complete Fearless experience in the new version of the album, Swift chose to record and include these songs. However, what I’ve enjoyed most about these tracks is that they provide so much insight into Swift’s songwriting process and personal growth.
Some of these tracks have lyrics that were either reused in later releases or parallel the lyrics in her more recent songs. It’s been so exciting to pick up on these similarities and see how Swift transformed certain lyrics to eventually fit into other songs. One of my personal favorite examples of this are the lyrics in “Mr. Perfectly Fine:” “Hello Mr. ‘Casually Cruel,’ Mr. ‘Everything revolves around you.’” Two albums after Fearless, Swift reused the phrase “casually cruel” in the bridge of her fan–favorite song “All Too Well.”
It’s been surprising to realize that parallel lyrics still appear in Swift’s work, even in her newest releases. For example, in the Vault track “Bye Bye Baby,” Swift begins the chorus with “Bye bye to everything I thought was on my side.” In the evermore track, “dorothea,” the chorus similarly begins with “It’s never too late to come back to my side.” While I love finding the parallels in themes and lyrics, what’s even more rewarding is seeing how Swift’s later–written releases show personal growth in how she writes about her life experiences—especially lost love.
The Vault track “You All Over Me” is named after the song’s chorus, which goes “No amount of freedom gets you clean, I’ve still got you all over me.” This track is ultimately about feeling like part of yourself will forever be tainted by an ex–love, even long after the break up. However, in her 2014 release, “Clean,” Swift revisits this theme with a new–found sense of freedom from the memories of a heartbreak. The song begins with lyrics that strongly parallel those of “You All Over Me,” with the first verse ending in the lines “You’re still all over me like a wine–stained dress I can’t wear anymore.” However, this is later followed by the chorus that says “By morning, gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean.”
Like many of us, I grew up listening to Taylor Swift, and I think it’s always been easy to internalize the messages from the music we listen to. It’s been so refreshing to see the ways that Swift has grown throughout the years, and the fact that her music has grown with her. I enjoy listening to the Vault tracks for what they are: songs written when Swift was 16–18 years old and still experiencing certain emotions and experiences for the first time. Although Swift wanted to release these tracks with the original Fearless release, I think they’re more powerful being released now, when she’s been able to further explore these themes from a more mature perspective.