Almost two years after her fallout with Big Machine Records became public, Taylor Swift released Fearless (Taylor’s Version), the re–recorded version of her 12–year–old sophomore album Fearless. It’s the first of six albums that Swift will eventually re–record; she was allowed to begin the process in November, and she can start re–recording her sixth album reputation next year. It’s also the album that propelled Swift to worldwide success, solidifying her legacy as a country star.
Now that Swift has moved on from her roots to explore the worlds of pop and folk music, the million–dollar question is whether or not Swift can reproduce the nostalgia from so long ago. Although the history of re–recordings is full of failed attempts and backlash, Swift’s experience is a rare victory, sparking new conversations about what it means to own one’s work and paving the way for upcoming artists who are facing the same struggles as she is.
Re–recording songs is not unheard of in the music industry, but few musicians have done so due to legal issues. Prince and JoJo are cited as the main artists who have had to fight against power–hungry labels. When Prince began having more disputes with his label regarding the masters of his tracks, he eventually re–recorded seven remixes of his hit single “1999” as an act of defiance against Warner Bros. After Blackground Records removed her first two albums from streaming services, JoJo re–recorded and re–released them independently. Both of these re–recordings were poorly received by fans and critics, as they believed they lacked the same energy and emotions as the original. Sales of the original albums never stopped, and so the value of the re–recordings was never fully appreciated.
Swift’s situation is slightly different. Prince and JoJo re–recorded more than a decade after their peaks, but Swift is coming off one of her most productive years yet. In 2020 alone, she starred in the autobiographical documentary Miss Americana and released two critically and commercially successful albums, folklore and evermore. Additionally, support for Swift’s endeavor was already massive before Fearless (Taylor’s Version) was even announced. Following Swift’s initial post describing the controversy, media coverage highlighting the increasing restrictions Swift faced swayed many to her side. Because Swift was battling industry titans Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta, re–recording was still a risky move—but this risk paid off extraordinarily well. Fearless (Taylor’s Version) became Swift’s ninth No. 1 album and the first re–recorded album to go No. 1. So what exactly made Fearless (Taylor’s Version) so successful compared to past re–recordings?
Part of Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’s accomplishments can be attributed to Swift’s uncanny ability to recreate the whimsical nature of her past. This was all part of Swift’s plan because these new recordings could replace the old ones for licensing and other opportunities. When asked how she was able to capture the same magic she did 12 years ago, Swift said that she went “line by line” and figured out what her vocal inflections were, so that the new songs would stay true to the spirit of the old demos. To the casual listener, it may not even seem that any changes have been made to Fearless (Taylor’s Version) compared to the original.
While the emotions may stay the same, there are notable differences in instrumental and vocal clarity. Each staccato note, guitar pluck, and drum roll is more audible, blending even more seamlessly with Swift’s matured voice. Apart from the production, Swift also adds her own flourishes to reward the most attentive of superfans. On “Change (Taylor’s Version)” for instance, Swift sings the last “hallelujah” for an extra measure, highlighting her improved vocal abilities. She also takes more creative liberties on “Forever and Always (Piano Version) (Taylor’s Version),” improvising her runs and rhythms rather than reusing the vocals from the original song.
Besides re–recording all the tracks from the original platinum edition, Swift also added “Today Was a Fairytale (Taylor’s Version),” a song she wrote for the film Valentine’s Day, and six songs “from the vault,” which are unreleased tracks that she decided to rework. Rather than collaborating with her longtime country producers, Swift reached out to more recent collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner. This is where Swift allows herself to experiment with existing demos, modifying melodies and lyrics to reconcile her teenage thoughts with her adult self.
“Mr. Perfectly Fine (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault),” released two days before the album, showcases a relationship with an untrustworthy partner. Using a playful tone in the chorus, Swift recalls how she can be “Miss Misery” while her lover is still “Mr. ‘Perfectly Fine’” after breaking her heart. The track is thought to be about Joe Jonas, who Swift also references in “invisible string” on folklore. Swift acknowledges that he “broke [her] heart,” but now she “sends their babies presents.” While some of these tracks show their age, Swift is still able to connect them to her current life. Opening the vault is the perfect way to see Swift’s influences and emotional growth as an artist, especially as she revisits the stories of her past.
Standing out from the rest of the album due to its minimalistic production, “Don’t You (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” sounds like it could be on Swift’s more recent pop albums like Lover or 1989. However, the track is lyrically teenage Swift at her finest. As she dreams about an encounter with an ex, she wishes that she “could hate” him, but it’s just “somethin’ she can’t do.” Swift is appalled that he could move on to be so happy while she is still feeling the emotional distress of the relationship. The production of the track mimics the mystical nature of the lyrics and is a suitable backdrop to Swift’s begging tone on the chorus.
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is as much of a journey into a celebrity’s past as it is an essential statement against the industry that has always stood in the way of musicians. Following Swift’s tweet that she’s “been in the studio all day recording the next one,” fans have been speculating which re–recording is coming soon: Some say 1989, after a snippet of “Wildest Dreams (Taylor’s Version)” was used in a trailer for the upcoming film Spirit Untamed. Others believe Speak Now is the successor, if Swift follows the chronological order of her discography. No matter which album is released, Swift will undoubtedly continue the introspection she has started on Fearless (Taylor’s Version), reliving the experiences that have been so instrumental to her music.