Fearless (Taylor’s Version) | A mature outlook on a coming-of-age record
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is a celebratory record about overcoming obstacles, both musically and metaphorically. The country album now celebrates a new release with the addition of six new tracks.
Originally released for the first time in November 2008, Fearless is the second studio album of then-country singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. The album turned 17-year-old Swift into a global phenomenon and received many accolades from fellow musicians, press and institutions. It went on to sell 12 million copies worldwide and to win Album of the Year at the 2010 Grammy Awards.
Jump 13 years, and a lot has happened in Swift’s life and career. She traded her cowboy boots for stadium tours, changing genres from country to pop in 2014 with the chart-topping 1989 album. In 2020, amidst the global Covid pandemic, she switched gears again and published two alternative albums, folklore and evermore. Yet she stays close to her roots, and even if her music seems to have moved beyond country, she cites such luminaries as Emmylou Harris, Bruce Springsteen and Carly Simon as inspirational.
With over 150 million followers on Instagram, nearly 90 million on Twitter, Taylor Swift has sold some 50 million albums and 150 million singles worldwide, and been named as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People three times. Her extraordinary popularity with her fan base, her philanthropy and activism has predictably led to her personal life receiving media scrutiny, but aside from references in songs she eschews disclosure. In 2015 she was the youngest person to have appeared on Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.
The need for re-recordings
What propelled Swift to go back into the studio and re-record the Fearless album again was the climax of a long battle the songwriter fought for artists to own the rights to their own work. When Swift signed with Republic Records in 2019 she left the master recordings of her previous work behind to Big Machine Records. Swift’s six studio albums made up for 80% of Big Machine Records revenue. She confirmed she tried to acquire the rights to her masters from her previous label, but could not.
In June 2019 Big Machine Records sold Taylor Swift’s masters to talent manager Scooter Braun, known in the industry for his work with Justin Bieber and Kanye West. Swift took the dispute to social media, starting a feud with Braun and Scott Borchetta, the owner of Big Machine Records, which is still ongoing.
In August 2019 Swift declared she would re-record her first six studio albums in order to own the rights to the new masters.
A second chance at adolescence
Love Story (Taylor’s Version), the first single off of the new Fearless album, came out on February 12th and had the biggest debut on Spotify in 2021 so far.
The artist gave the fans the unique chance to go back to the 2008 album, and discover how Swift’s mature outlook and artistic growth influenced the songs she wrote when she was a teenager.
“Fearless was an album full of magic and curiosity, the bliss and devastation of youth,” the artist declared.
The album still sounds very much like a country record, embellished by banjos and violins. The lyrical construction is straight out of a country-music textbook. Each song tells its own story, but the style is coherent enough to allow the ballads and upbeat tracks to co-exist. The arrangements remain almost identical, with the most recent version sounding slightly cleaner than the original.
A display of vocal and personal maturity
Swift’s vocals, though, are what makes this re-recording different. Her singing abilities have evolved and she is able to go back and sing the old songs adding depth to each one of them. The listener does not feel like Swift is mocking her teenage self, though there is a feeling of irony and sympathy throughout the record. This is especially true for her most popular songs, like You Belong With Me, a teenage anthem now sung from a grown woman’s perspective. Swift did not change any lyrics or melodies – she even laughs in the same exact moments – but her vocals manage to give the record a new complexity. The artist is going down memory lane, taking the listener along for a ride.
The artist chose Love Story – once again – as the first single off the record, just like she did in 2008. The original version is one of the most country-sounding tracks on the album: the melody keeps building throughout the song, with its climax (and happy ending) during the bridge. The song features countless acoustic guitar sounds and many background vocals, which have now been reduced in the new Taylor’s Version. Love Story has been stripped of some of its deeply country sound. The production has been slightly altered to make the song sound more contemporary. The same has been done to most tracks on the album, with the exception of the new tracks.
Opening up the vault
With the new release, the artist promised to add more tracks to the record: songs that almost made the album in 2008, but didn’t end up on it for various reasons. These 6 new tracks bring the listener right back to 2008, where Swift’s lyrics had that specific country-storytelling feel and every song had either a violin, fiddle or piano part. The new-released songs highlight how much Swift’s songwriting has evolved in the last decade. The artist is joined by other country performers on the new songs: young sensation Maren Morris for the ballad You All Over Me and country-superstar Keith Urban for That’s When.
Between Swift’s mature vocals and the newly-added tracks, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is a record that sounds new again, yet in an old way. The listener feels glad Swift didn’t pass up the chance to give an old record a breath of new life.