Music megastar Taylor Swift has finally released her highly anticipated re-recording of her 2008 breakthrough album Fearless, the first of five re-recorded albums she plans to drop this year. Swift announced in 2019 that she would be re-recording her first six albums after their masters—the rights to license and profit from Swift’s original recordings, which remain available now—had been sold by her old label Big Machine Records to music entrepreneur and manager Scooter Braun. Despite not owning the 2008 masters of Fearless, Swift still owns her entire catalogue’s songwriting rights, allowing her to re-record her old music and create new masters under her control.
Swift is not the first artist to do so, but she may be the first to have made commercially viable re-recordings that significantly dull the value of the originals as fans flock to support her cause of regaining ownership of her art. Fearless (Taylor’s Version) debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 291 thousand equivalent album units (a hybrid metric of music consumption), double recent sales figures of brand new albums from pop peers such as Justin Bieber (154 thousand) and Ariana Grande (174 thousand).
Swift has also been ingeniously marketing the project using social media. The day before the album’s release on April 9, various social media platforms teased snippets of several well known songs’ re-recordings. Most notably, rising pop stars Olivia Rodrigo and Conan Gray, both of whom count Swift as their biggest musical inspiration, filmed a TikTok video together to “You Belong With Me.” The video garnered over 1 million likes and 3 million views. Swift’s work has clearly been paying off so far, as Fearless (Taylor’s Version) debuted with the biggest streaming day for any album on Spotify this year.
Swift opted to include six songs originally written for the Fearless record that had not made the final cut in 2008. The biggest standout of these six is “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” a refreshing throwback to the cleverly wordy songs that made Taylor Swift great in the first place. Other songs labeled “From the Vault”—such as “You All Over Me” and “We Were Happy”—do not pack the same emotional punch as the classic tracks. They do, however, show listeners how much Swift’s songwriting has improved over the years. Where most songs on her first few albums tend to fall back to the same few lyrical tropes (kissing in the rain, not being like other girls and always being done wrong by some careless boyfriend), her writing on newer albums is nuanced, imaginative and emotional.
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is at its best at the album’s most distinctly Swift moments. The cheesy high school nostalgia of songs like “Hey Stephen” and “Fifteen” have not gotten lost with Swift’s maturation because the strength of their songwriting is still relatable to every teenager with a crush, a best friend or an ex.
The album’s sound is somewhere between the breathily innocent country twang of the original Fearless and the neon pure pop of Swift’s other blockbuster album 1989. The arrangements are mostly identical and the lyrics remain unchanged, but Swift’s vocals are stronger and the mixes are miles better. Dedicated fans may notice a slight change in vocal inflection or a word change here and there (in “You Belong With Me,” “I’m in the room” became “I’m in my room”… the horror!), but casual listeners and future generations alike will still get the same Swiftian fix from Taylor’s Version.
Fan favorites like “Fifteen” and “White Horse” carry a new weight as she sings retrospectively about the coming-of-age process. Even the less exciting tracks 7-13 are more enjoyable in the re-release, largely because of Swift’s improved vocals and musically richer mixes. Though the 26-song, hour and 45 minute tracklist is a lot to get through, it’s hardly a burden considering how consistently great the album is.
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) has the potential to be another game changer both for Taylor Swift’s ever-expanding legacy as one of the greatest in her field and for the music industry as a whole. It’s no secret that the industry exploits its most talented artists, baiting them into contracts that do not benefit them in the long run. But an artist of Swift’s caliber actively working to dismantle these perfidious systems could help change the way recording contracts are designed. She has already sparked countless conversations about how the music industry treats artists. Hopefully, Swift’s Fearless decision to re-record her albums and reclaim control of her art will help instigate some much-needed change.
Julian Galkin ’22