Taylor Swift does it again.
Reinventing the music wheel and paving a new path is nothing new for pop-goddess Swift — in fact, it’s almost an expectation. Ever since the earth-shattering release of “folklore” this summer — granting Swift her record-breaking third Grammy for Album of the Year — Swift has been dazzling fans with a seemingly endless stream of Easter eggs, surprises and songs.
“Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” which premiered Friday, is simultaneously irresistibly comforting and nostalgically new. The 26-track album includes the 20 re-recorded tracks from the original 2008 album and six never-recorded songs “from the vault” — written for the album originally but cut from the final production.
The re-recording was both a symbolic and physical way to reclaim power over the music industry after years of struggling to own her music. Producer Scooter Braun, who manages Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato and Justin Bieber, among other stars, owned her six albums after buying record label Big Machine Label Group in 2019 — allowing him control over many of her recordings — and then sold them for $300 million.
Thirteen years later, Swift literally reclaimed ownership of this era through re-recording the first of several “Taylor’s Version” albums. And it seemed like the very power of her current stardom shone through in the songs themselves — with a new confident voice replacing the youthful hesitance.
“Fearless” was written by a teenaged Swift, premiering in the age of “Camp Rock” and “High School Musical 3: Senior Year.” For many current college students, it was their guitar-noted window into a fairytale view of high school and first relationships, our first taste of what it’d be like to grow up.
“Mr. Perfectly Fine” — a salty teen tale about watching someone move on when you’re not — functions as the cousin of “You Belong With Me” with a similar teen, upbeat vibe, with a streamable chorus perfect for a beach drive or a dance party. The catchy lyrics were an instant favorite for many — an irresistible repeat listen. Even Sophie Turner, wife to the supposed “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” posted on her story to say she loved it.
The lyrics even include 28 mentions of “Mr.,” which fans speculate alludes to Joe Jonas’ alleged 27-second phone call with Swift when he broke up with her in 2008. There are also parallels to other iconic Swift songs: “Mr. Casually Cruel” and the 2012 song “All Too Well”’s “casually cruel” lyric, to name one.
Her savagery and sarcasm seemed to come through in a brilliant strong way more in the break-up ballads album than the original too. “You’re Not Sorry (Taylor’s Version)” — a vengeful but emotional breakup song — comes off with more power, making for an even more cathartic listen to scream along to. But her maturity only adds to the sadness of the heart wrenching songs: “Forever & Always (Piano Version)” and “White Horse” are only enhanced in 2021.
“Bye Bye Baby (Taylor’s Version)” is a slightly more upbeat break-up song with a catchy rhythmic chorus and sad, strong lyrics, complete trademark Swift charm.
“That’s When (Taylor’s Version)” with Keith Urban — whom Swift called a great inspiration at the time she wrote the song — has an infectious chorus and a classic country-pop vibe. The collaboration wasn’t my favorite, but the symbolism of returning to an old idol to collaborate was moving in itself.
“Don’t You (Taylor’s Version)” sounded almost too mature for the album with its techno sounds in place of guitar strings and more somber melancholic lyrics, but perhaps acts as a bridge to the “Red” era.
Where the re-recordings shone most, however, was in the ballads about Swift herself. The lyrics of “Change (Taylor’s Version)” and the new strength in Swift’s voice was incredibly moving, and seemed to take on a new meaning in this context. The opening to the chorus — “Because these things will change / Can you feel it now?” — struck embodied Swift’s milestone in this re-release: She had completed the “revolution” after the “fight of our lives” and took back her music.
“Fifteen (Taylor’s Version),” an acoustic country ballad about her freshman year of high school, was made even more special by time. Swift’s 31-year-old self singing the lyrics her younger self wrote and released was a rare, retrospective rabbit hole. Her matured voice over her already-wise lyrics was poignant, as was the line “in your life you’ll do things greater than dating the boy on the football field” which, clearly, time has shown to be unequivocally true.
In this release, Swift gave us a rare opportunity: It was an album people could prepare for by relistening to 2008’s version. But, nevertheless, it struck a chord.
Not only did this album give Swifities some cherished new-old music from an era so defining to their youth, but, in some ways, redefined her classics. Swift’s new wisdom shone through as she reclaimed the teenage lyrics and created new favorites for loyal fans and new listeners alike.
For many fans, we grew up with Swift. An invitation to relisten in this re-recording was refreshing, meaningful and emotional — showing just how defining her first records really were.
I for one cannot wait for the next surprise in store.