I was nine years old when Taylor Swift first released “Fearless,” her sophomore album. At the time, I didn’t know much except that “Love Story,” one of the project’s singles, was an absolute bop. Why then, nearly thirteen years later, did Swift decide to once again release an album called “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” and why am I reviewing it? For that, we will need a bit of a history lesson.
Taylor Swift got her start on Big Machine Records, an independent record label founded in 2005. On Big Machine, she released every album from her debut, “Taylor Swift,” up until her sixth full-length album, “reputation,” released in 2017. While her contract at this point with Big Machine had expired and she was free to sign to another label, Swift did not have ownership of the masters for those original six records, meaning that Big Machine would retain control of those albums.
In June 2019, those masters, along with the rest of Big Machine Records, were acquired by a man named Scooter Braun. Swift alleges that, “for years,” she attempted to purchase her masters from Big Machine to no avail, while those claims are disputed by Scott Borchetta, the former president of the label. Needless to say, there is some level of controversy. In August 2019, though, Swift decided that rather than continue to try to buy the masters to her first six albums, she would simply re-record them, thus controlling the masters to the new records and devaluing the originals. The first of these re-recordings, “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” was released in April 2021, bringing us to the present. With that history lesson out of the way, let us look at the album itself.
“Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” is a 26-song behemoth of a release, featuring 19 songs from the original “Fearless” album from 2008, an extra single from 2010, and six previously unheard songs originally written for the 2008 record. The first 19 songs are… well… the first 19 songs from “Fearless,” but they feature a better sonic quality which could be attributed to modern recording, a more mature Swift, and just better instrumentation in general.
Looking at the aforementioned “Love Story,” the improved production and vocal quality are immediately apparent, with Swift sounding more in-control of her voice and her accompaniment being absolutely on point. Don’t get me wrong; this is still “Love Story,” and the song definitely remains faithful to the original 2008 single, but it is just that much better in 2021.
As this is a re-recording of “Fearless,” the first thirteen tracks match the ordering of the 2008 release, including Track 5: “White Horse.” For those unfamiliar with the legacy of Track 5, the fifth song in each Swift album, bar “1989,” has been the emotional high point of the album. The track discusses the time right before a romantic break up and realizing that things are about to end. It’s a good song, albeit not my favorite on the record nor my favorite Track 5.
Overall, the songs that come from the original album are all just as great as they were when they were originally released, which is to say that they were wonderful to listen to again. The interesting part are those last seven songs, and specifically, the last six. Those six, known as the “From The Vault” tracks, are songs that Swift wrote while making “Fearless” that didn’t make it onto the original LP. “Mr. Perfectly Fine (Taylor’s Version),” one of the “From The Vault” singles, features the country-pop stylings that you would expect from 2008-era Swift, discussing her personal life in contrast to her more modern songs, but manages to sound fresh all the same, showcasing Swift’s songwriting prowess even as a teenager. Remember, this was a song that didn’t even make it onto “Fearless” originally but still manages to fit right into today’s musical landscape.
The features on this album all fit quite well, including the freshly re-recorded vocals by Colbie Caillat for “Breathe (Taylor’s Version).” Besides that one track, the record features vocals from country-pop singer Maren Morris and country legend Keith Urban. Swift and Urban had known each other from when she was his opening act around the time “Fearless” was originally released, so things have come full circle in a way. Additionally, the “From The Vault” tracks feature production from Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff, who both worked on previous albums “folklore” and “evermore.”
I was curious when Swift originally announced “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” to see how she would differentiate this release from its 2008 original, and I think she has done a good job on that front. From the “new” music in the “From The Vault” songs to the improvements to the original tracks, she managed to bring a whole generation of fans thirteen years into the past one more time. There were a lot of ways an album re-release can go wrong, even if you have an army of “Swifties” ready to listen to anything you release, so to see that this album was done so well leaves me excited for the future. I cannot wait to hear the next re-release, whenever she decides to put that out.