Fearless (Taylor’s Version)
2021 • COUNTRY • REPUBLIC
BEST NEW MUSIC
In Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Swift recovers her musical legacy and delivers a much more faithful, sharp, and powerful reinterpretation of her classic 2008 album.
“Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.” That’s how Taylor Swift defined Scooter Braun’s purchase of her original masters in 2019, when Swift’s former record label Big Machine, whom she had been with since 2006, was sold to Braun’s companies. It was through her social media that she told that she had heard about the purchase news with the rest of the world and that, in addition to never having had a chance to buy her songs from her first six albums, she felt betrayed by having her past and future in the hands of people she wouldn’t trust. A year later, close to the release of her first studio album that was really hers, Lover, Swift told GMA that she would re-record all of her first six albums in order to regain its rights. “It’s something that I’m very excited about doing because my contract says that starting Nov. 2020, so next year, I can record albums one-five all over again,” she said and added later, “I think that artists deserve to own their work. I’m gonna be busy.”
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is Swift’s first re-release. It has thirteen songs from the normal version alongside the six songs from the Platinum version, the single from the movie Valentine’s Day, and six other songs that Swift never released, which were called “From the Vault.” It’s a massive record, totaling 26 songs and almost two hours in length. In it, Swift recreates line by line, note by note, and melody by melody from the original version of the album that was released almost 13 years ago. “In terms of production, I really wanted to stay very loyal to the initial melodies that I had thought of for these songs,” she told People. “We kept all the same parts that I initially dreamed up for these songs. But if there was any way that we could improve upon the sonic quality, we did,” she added. And Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is basically that, the same songs from more than a decade ago with a sharper and more powerful production, with more mature vocals alongside songs that were discarded because they were considered as excess but now close the work that Swift has always idealized and visualized years ago. “I’ve decided I want you to have the whole story, see the entire vivid picture,” she said on her Instagram.
Much of the material in Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is the same as before. Even with better production and more powerful vocals, the songs still give the same final experience to the listener. And, basically, this means that Taylor managed to fulfill one of her goals: deliver music that can assimilate and be as faithful as possible with the original versions, allowing her to use her most striking songs in films, tv shows, etc., and be able to make her own work go on. Within this package, we can mention the new versions of “Fearless,” which remains energizing, of the hopeful tale “Love Story,” which remains very romantic, of “Hey Stephen,” a cute teenage banger, and “Forever & Always,” a country-pop BOP. Of course, these tracks sound better than the original versions, but they also sound incredibly similar to it.
On the other hand, there are some songs here that have just become more potent, whether for production and vocals or simply for the context of Swift’s current life. In the first case, we can put the rereading of the hit “You Belong With Me,” which here sounds cleaner, with an improved instrumental organization and with more dynamic and ambitious vocals. Alongside, “The Way I Loved You (Taylor’s Version),” got some embellishments in the instruments that made it even more fun, and “Change (Taylor’s Version),” which in the original version sometimes sounded badly mixed and burst, has some improvements in mixing, dosing, and balance. In the second case, referring to the context, we can mention how “Fifteen,” a high school survival manual, sounds more powerful now with Swift more distant from her adolescence, talking about life at 15 and giving tips about it — which, at the time, already sounded very mature for someone 17 years old. But, the one that was most privileged by the time is “The Best Day,” a Swift tribute for her mother and family, emphasizing their importance to her. If you consider everything that the Swift family has been through in recent times, from health problems to world hatred, the track delivers something even more potent.
But, on the other hand, some songs lost a little of the atmosphere or special air that Swift’s innocence and lack of maturity gave or just continued in a stage of forgetfulness that they have always been. While the new version of “Breathe,” which also features Colbie Caillat, sounds, for some reason, kinda different from the original version, “Tell Me Why (Taylor’s Version)” and “You’re Not Sorry (Taylor’s Version)” are still kind of forgettable or fail to stand out so much within the record. Of course, all of these songs are still relatively good but for some reason, you can’t feel too excited to come back to hear them again.
Also, along with this new version of Fearless, Swift included the tracks that were released on the Platinum version of the original album, which was released a year later, in 2009. As usual, these tracks rarely make much of a difference on the album and end up being just another taste for fans and a way for record labels to earn money from them. But even so, we have some really fun songs. Taylor’s version of “Jump Then Fall,” remains very cute and sweet, as well as striking. On the other hand, the song written exclusively for Valentine’s Day, “Today Was a Fairytale,” remains cool but nothing very interesting that goes beyond a catchy song for a romantic comedy movie. Likewise, the re-readings of “Come In With The Rain,” “Superstar,” and “The Other Side of the Door,” despite some nice features, have nothing so relevant. Taylor’s piano version of “Forever & Always” is also a bit tedious because Swift does not seem to connect properly with the instrumental, really looking like something put on top of each other. But, the best of all these ends up being “Untouchable (Taylor’s Version),” one is a cover for a Luna Halo song. In this track, Swift features dreamy strings, drums, and synthesizers to create this very magical atmosphere that matches the chorus. On the hook, the best part, she sings, “In the middle of the night when I’m in this dream/It’s like a million little stars spelling out your name.”
Besides, Swift added tracks that she had written at the time of the release of the original album. Some of them were discarded because there were too sad or saturated. Now Taylor is back with them and the vast majority of them are surprising since they are better than some that entered into the final cut of the record in 2008. While “You All Over Me” — which was leaked in 2017 — is the weakest of this new wave, “We Were Happy” has classic vivid images that are painted through Swift’s powerful writing. Meanwhile, “That’s When” is a great duet between Swift and Keith Urban, with strong instrumentation and vocals, “Bye Bye Baby,” closes the record very well, generating that feeling of goodbye but at the same time creates the feeling of better things are yet to come. However, the best are “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” a catchy pop-country rock banger with clear influences from the late ‘00s, and “Don’t You,” which despite not talking to the rest of the record, is a beautiful song about bumping into your ex on the street and remembering the moments through a dreamy atmospheric instrumental and sweet lyrics and vocals.
Thirteen years separate the two versions of Fearless. In that time, Swift has matured and, just like in “White Horse,” more than anyone, she knows that life is not a fairy tale. This album fulfills the purpose of giving Swift the right to her songs. However, as long as the original version of Fearless is not hers, her best memories and feelings from the past will be on a tightrope. It is in these moments of nostalgia that you remember the video for “You Belong With Me” or “Mine,” when Swift seemed to believe in everyone’s kindness, and quickly goes to “Look What You Made Me Do,” where she shows herself as a zombie and makes fun of its worst versions exposed in the media. In both cases, however, she is fearless enough to play and to get stronger and stronger — and she’s going to.