When music mogul Scooter Braun purchased Big Machine Label Group in 2019, the label that owns Taylor Swift’s first six albums, Swift made headlines with her public outrage. According to the New York Times, she called the transaction a “worst-case scenario”, citing Braun’s close ties with Swift’s long-time adversary Kanye West. At this time, Swift publicly floated the idea of re-recording all of her previous work. On February 11, 2021, she followed through, announcing the rerelease of her 2008 album Fearless. Lead single Love Story dropped that night, and the full album was released on April 9. The new album includes 26 tracks, including six previously unreleased songs that were cut from the original album.
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) allows Swift to reclaim the album that propelled her to global fame. Though the instrumentals on each track were meticulously copied from the originals, the maturity of Swift’s voice shines through. The hints of teenage shrillness in the original vocals are replaced with the mellower tones of an artist who has settled into her sound and range. This development is most prominent on smash hits “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story”. By blending her vocals more effectively into the tracks, Swift allows the instrumentals to shine in ways reminiscent of her 2020 releases, folklore and evermore.
Listening to Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is an experience that straddles nostalgia and novelty. The twangy riff that leads off the title track “Fearless” immediately sends listeners back to 2008, but Swift’s entrance a few beats later is pleasantly surprising. “There’s somethin’ bout the way / The street looks when it’s just rained”, sings Swift in a faint country accent, slightly dampened from her original intonation. The difference is slight, but the result is a calmer and more introspective track.
Some tracks resonate differently now than they did in 2008, particularly after all that Swift has been through in the public eye. In the bridge of “Fifteen”, a song reminiscing about Swift’s freshman year of high school, Swift sings, “When all you wanted / Was to be wanted / Wish you could go back / And tell yourself what you know now.” In Swift’s 2020 Netflix documentary Miss Americana, she speaks extensively on how important public acceptance was to her for much of her career. After learning about Swift’s struggle with her public image, this lyric is tinged with a knowing sadness — if only current-day Swift could prepare her teenage self for the difficulties ahead.
Perhaps the most impressive piece of the album is the “From the Vault” section, where Swift has finally released the tracks she was forced to exclude from her original release. The upbeat breakup song “Mr. Perfectly Fine” has become a fan favorite with its sarcastic and clever lyrics, leaving “Swifties” baffled as to why it was excluded from the original album. The duet “That’s When” features Keith Urban, whose crooning harmonies wonderfully complement Swift’s strong fronting vocals.
Throughout her career, Swift has faced hardships of every kind. She has changed the narrative around female artists, and established herself as one of the best songwriters of her generation. However, she has repeatedly redefined herself in the way that female artists are asked to do. From country to pop to alternative, Swift has consistently shifted her sound in ways that are new and exciting, yet comfortable for listeners. With the release of Fearless (Taylor’s Version), she demolishes the final barrier. By charting at #1 on the country music charts with a 13-year-old record, Swift has proven once again that she cannot be controlled.
Not only has Swift finally taken ownership of her older music, but she has paved the way for other artists to do the same. If a more just music industry emerges in the upcoming years, we will know who to thank.