Like a restored photograph brightening from black and white into colour, 'Fearless (Taylor’s Version)' is the same, but better. Embroiled in a high-profile battle over the ownership of her own music, Taylor Swift shakes away the sad context of this re-recorded album, and in turn, shakes the cobwebs off her old hits simply through the power of sheer joy.
The anticipation around this re-recording and how she would do it was high, wondering whether she would totally change her early work to watch her new indie-infused 'folklore' sound as she kept her collaborators Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff close. But what she’s done not only makes sense, but makes 'Fearless (Taylor’s Version)' take a truly ground-breaking stance, going up against far bigger music industry demons than her own ex-label execs.
By making near carbon copies of her old tracks, Fearless (Taylor’s version) defies time in two ways; celebrating Taylor’s matured voice while bringing fans back to their teens with this celebration of her early career.
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And celebration is the perfect word. All the changes made to beloved tracks like ‘You Belong With Me’ and ‘Love Story’, simply make them shinier. Throughout the whole album, banjos are crisper, guitars are fuller, drums are heavier, and Taylor’s strong 31-year-old voice leads the music. Clearly taking care to not step over her 19-year-old self, all the changes feel totally natural, like they should’ve been that way to start with.
Take the violins on ‘Breathe’, while they were sweet on the original, on ‘Breathe (Taylor’s Version)’, they’re impactful and gripping. Maybe this is the impact of Taylor’s long career and development coming full circle to spruce up her old hits, or maybe we’re finally seeing the vision younger Taylor had all along, free from external opinions and control, as a lesson in why she should be in charge of her own work.
A stand out moment comes as ‘Tell Me Why’ starts. Leaning into the anger and bitterness of the track, you get the sense that Taylor channels all her defiance into this track, as her current situation overtakes the meaning of the lyrics. Singing ‘you could write a book on / how to ruin someone's perfect day’, you can almost hear Taylor’s clenched fist, a moment where her defiance and passion about this project seems to become crystal-clear as her old self provides the perfect words.
With her voice sounding far stronger than the original as it’s aged into her own unique blend of country, pop and indie, there’s something beautiful and important about hearing these songs sung again that really goes above opinions on the album. In an industry that’s so obsessed with never- ending youth, releasing a re-recorded album where the only major difference is the age of her voice, 'Fearless (Taylor’s Version)' is a powerful message about her place and longevity in this industry. Previously talking about female celebrities being “discarded in an elephant graveyard by the time they’re 35”, Taylor takes a stand against the pressure on female musicians to constantly be newer and younger, by pausing to step back into her past to not only reclaim her legacy, but take a moment with her fans to look around and see how far they’ve come.
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'Fearless (Taylor’s Version)' is undeniably for the long-standing fans. In fact, Taylor takes a risky step away from the new indie crowd fans she won over on Folklore and Evermore, returning to her original twee country self. Only a star like Taylor could have fans this captivated for the release of songs they’ve grown up listening to thousands of times, but with first kiss soundtracks like ‘Fearless’, and teenage guides like ‘Fifteen’, 'Fearless (Taylor’s Version)' offers a moment for older fans to feel nostalgic for the soundtrack of their youth and gives younger listeners the opportunity to be raised by these tracks as a whole new wave of Swift fans.
And it’s this purpose that breathes life into the album that could’ve ended up sounding like older Taylor Swift doing younger Taylor Swift karaoke. The songs feel fresh, Taylor’s voice sounds natural and relaxed as she’s been singing these songs forever, the heightened drama and sound-quality on the tracks gives the restored work better-than-the-original tones and textures. Simply, you can hear the drive. You can hear exactly what Taylor is thinking as she strives to re-make Fearless, but better, if she’s going to be forced to sacrifice the original record.
And then we get to the vault. Releasing six previously unheard songs that were penned as she was writing 'Fearless', Taylor takes on a unique challenge of playing with her 12-year-old drafts. Leaning into all her influences, the vault tracks range from pure pop on ‘Mr Perfectly Fine’, to more Folklore- esque minimalism on ‘We Were Happy’. With no original to re-create, these tracks are a perfect collaboration between her old and new self, building something bigger around the core of her old lyrical style as sweet country phrasing is bedded within a more complex musical background where her recent indie accolades come into play. While the re-recording of the original album may be too sickly for new fans, the vault provides a space for her recent sound, with ‘You All Over Me’ having big radio potential and ‘Bye Bye Baby’ rounding off the defiant album with an apt message; ‘Bye, bye, to everything I thought was on my side’.
Managing to find a purpose beyond a legal battle, 'Fearless (Taylor’s Version)' has become a moment of reflection and celebration for both Taylor and her fans, coming together to look back on youth from the other side 13 years later. Keeping the substance the same to not uproot these song’s place in people’s lives, Taylor simply cleans up the edges, brightens up the colours and ups the drama. Shrugging off the pressure to always move forward, Taylor re-applies her seemingly endless passion for making music to her old self, collaborating with her past in order to save it. And the result, bittersweet magic that has millions feel nostalgic.
Words: Lucy Harbron
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