On April 9, Taylor Swift released the highly anticipated Fearless (Taylor’s Version).
Fearless marks the first of a set of re-recorded albums that fans await with bated breath, and it is a glorious reunion of Swift and her country roots.
First, let us consider why Taylor Swift is re-recording her first six albums, because the context of Fearless’ re-release changes the listening experience. The issue is one of control.
When Swift’s contract with her previous label Big Machine Records expired, the masters of her albums fell into the hands of Scooter Braun, the manager of stars like Justin Bieber and Kanye West, who Swift has accused of repeatedly bullying her.
He sold her masters to another company for $300 million, meaning that any revenue from those original six albums will now go to that private company, not Swift.
Taking to social media, she slammed the sale and promised to re-record her original albums in the hopes of gaining control of the work again.
As a long-time Taylor Swift fan, the promise of a re-recording of every album was both exciting and terrifying. Exciting because I will never say “no, thank you” to new Swift content. Terrifying, especially for Fearless, because new versions of all the songs I grew up listening to held the possibility that all their magic would be removed.
What if the new version of Fifteen or You Belong with Me did not hold up to the original? I would be guiltily listening to a half-hearted version of a childhood favourite all in the name of supporting one of my favourite artists’ mission to own her work – it would be completely bittersweet.
When April 8 rolled around, Swift started releasing snippets of songs on every platform and every fear started to disappear. The recordings sounded faithful and hype was building in me.
Then April 9 came, and the 10-year-old in me returned.
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is a triumphant return to country for Swift. Her album has retained the country twang that is so recognisable in earlier works and the way her voice effortlessly slips into country mode is stunning.
Almost nothing has changed about the album. The melodies are the same. The lyrics are the same. The teenage love and heartbreak are still strong throughout.
The only difference is Taylor herself. Her vocals are fuller, richer, and notably different in tone, an improvement that comes naturally with age and experience. It is a demonstration of how Swift has grown, not only as a songwriter but as a vocalist too.
The harmonies are more apparent, especially in You Belong with Me, where the pre-chorus harmonies are beautiful. The production is similar to the original but feels so much cleaner to listen to.
Swift has managed to toe the line between making Fearless (Taylor’s Version) the same as its predecessor and something completely new, and that is the best part about the album.
The faithfulness to its original means that despite sounding like a sonically improved version of a song you grew up with, it has not lost an ounce of its original magic. The new vocals and production do not jarringly drag the songs out of their original time and place. I still feel like I’m 10 again when I’m screaming along to Forever and Always in the car.
The worst thing Swift could have done is change the odd melody here and there or alter the odd lyric because it would have been like trying to re-write what her younger self achieved. In its new form, the album is perfectly balanced between improving and retaining the elements that originally made it successful.
The album also includes six ‘From the Vault’ tracks that did not make it onto the original album. While they won’t be replacing any of the songs that made the original album as my favourites, they are further examples of just how good of a songwriter Taylor Swift has always been.
They are good songs to have added to Swift’s ever-growing discography and they do not detract from the album’s overall quality. However, I do not think they have been included on the re-release to become her new bestselling singles.
I think they are pure unadulterated fan service, almost a “thank you” to her fans for being so willing for Taylor to stand up for herself in this way.
Nothing signals this more than the third single of the album Mr Perfectly Fine. It is a country-pop song that navigates the complicated feelings after a break-up, but it is laden with indirect references to Joe Jonas, the person who broke her heart at the time. Even Game of Thrones actor and wife of Jonas, Sophie Turner, shared the song on her Instagram story stating: “It’s not NOT a bop.” In short, ‘The Vault’ songs only add to the nostalgic quality of the re-recording because, despite being previously unheard, they further define what the Fearless era was.
My highlight of the album is the re-recording of the song Change. This is where that particular context of the re-recordings becomes important in my opinion. The whole meaning of the song changes when taken in the context of Taylor regaining control of her songs, of her art. The final chorus of that song feels like a jubilant celebration of Fearless being Taylor’s again:
“It was the night things changed / Can you see it now?
When the walls that they put up to hold us back fell down
It’s a revolution / Throw your hands up
‘Cause we never gave in / And we’ll sing hallelujah.”
At the time, Swift said in interviews that she only managed to finish this song about underdogs winning after seeing her manager Scott Borchetta crying during her Horizon Award acceptance speech at the 2007 Country Music Association Awards.
I mean, come on! If those lyrics do not scream joy now that Swift has control of her music again, I do not know what does. Her iconic final “Hallelujah” in the re-recording was enough to give me goosebumps when I blasted the song in my car.
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is mostly a celebration both of how far Taylor Swift has come as an artist, but also of the work her younger self put in to get her to where she is now. New life has been gifted to an already iconic album. And, while some may see this re-release as a cash-grab or unnecessary, I do not think you can put a price on an artist regaining control of their own work.
By Robbie Nichols
Feature Image Credit: Republic Records