Review: Taylor Swift reclaims her music ownership and enhances beloved songs in “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)”

The re-recorded album adds technical improvements and slight artistic changes but maintains the nostalgic beauty of the original songs.

By Elise Mulligan

It takes someone truly fearless to remake an entire album and give a figurative middle finger to a music manager, and that’s exactly what Taylor Swift did.

On April 9, Swift dropped the re-recorded album “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” that includes the original discography from the 2008 album along with six previously unreleased tracks “from the vault.” The new album accrued over 27 million streams on Spotify in its first day alone. It sits at almost two hours with a 26-song tracklist.

Swift’s album harnesses the appeal of the original songs with a tremendously enhanced sound quality for a listening experience that is enjoyable for newcomers and wonderfully nostalgic for hardcore Swifties. And who doesn’t love six bonus tracks from the “Fearless” era?

The re-recording drama

Swift made the decision to re-record her first six albums after her former record company, Big Machine Records, sold to an entity owned by Scooter Braun. The move transferred ownership of Swift’s masters (aka ownership of her music) to Braun, who Swift claimed bullied her in the past. The drama gets more complicated with Big Machine Records’s statement that Swift had “every chance in the world” to own her master recordings.

Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, there’s something to say for what Swift is doing in the music industry. She’s deciding to take agency of her own music in a creative manner that circumvents the legal restrictions, giving the artist ownership of her own art.

New versus old: how do they compare?

I’ll admit, I have my bias in being a devoted Swiftie since I got my first iPod at 8 years old. “Fearless” is an album near and dear to my heart — but I hate change more than anyone. As such, I was apprehensive of the re-recording ruining the untouched beauty of the original album.

Surprisingly enough, Swift does an incredible job keeping the songs as they were with only a dash of technical adjustments, maintaining the songs’ appeal but enhancing them the perfect amount. Longtime fans will be content to know that the lyrics, tempo, emotion and melodies are consistent with the originals.

TikTok coined the term “serotonin moments” to describe small voice fluctuations or instrumental riffs in Swift’s music that fans find significantly enjoyable. In “Taylor’s Version,” those moments stay, from the giggle in “Hey Stephen” to the angry, pounding “rains when you’re gone” emphasis at the end of “Forever & Always.”

That being said, it’s clear that each song is a brand-new version because the sound and production quality has skyrocketed since 2008. It’s as if you go from listening on a cheap Bluetooth speaker to a surround-sound system.

Throughout the album, the instrumentals blend much smoother with the vocals, sounding more like a band performing together instead of separately-recorded instruments. The album is more polished overall.

As expected, Swift’s voice has grown in maturity and power, creating more crisp lyrics and stronger vocal runs. The one moment where this works against Swift is in the song “Fifteen.” The lyrics are about Swift growing up and realizing how naive she was about love, but Swift’s 31-year-old voice lacks the youthful naivety of a teenager going through life. However, this isn’t something Swift could control and doesn’t hinder the re-recorded version too much.

Ultimately, when comparing which album’s versions of the songs are better, the medal goes to “Fearless (Taylor’s Version).” This isn’t to discredit the beauty of the original, but it’s a unique opportunity to get enhanced versions of something that millions of fans already love.

The standouts among the revamped songs include “You’re Not Sorry,” “The Way I Loved You” and most of all, “Forever & Always (Piano Version).” In the latter, compared to the 2008 version, the piano echoes in a delicate manner that accompanies Swift’s elegant vocals. Swift emotes even more heartbreak, sounding a lot more hurt and vulnerable, to really dig in the dagger of the lyrics. Not to mention the stunning vocal run on the words “where is this going” in the second verse (seriously, you have to hear it).

The hidden gems "from the vault"

At the end of the album, the six songs from the “Fearless” era that were never released are simply infuriating. That is, it’s infuriating that they were hidden until now. Swift continues to blow away listeners with raw yet poetic lyricism.

The show-stopping track is by far “Mr. Perfectly Fine.” It fits perfectly with the vibe of “Fearless,” and you can truly experience every emotion while listening. The tempo and instrumentals are upbeat, the vocals are energetic with a hint of bitterness and the lyrics radiate sadness: “It takes everything in me just to get up each day, but it’s wonderful to see that you’re okay.” Ouch.

In other words, if listeners are in the mood to dance, cry or scream in their car, this song works. While I may be biased with heartbreak recently on my mind, I think it’s one of the hardest-hitting messages with a glimmer of hopefulness.

Not all the vault songs fit the overall album, though. “You All Over Me” is more reminiscent of Swift’s latest albums “folklore” and “evermore,” but nonetheless enchanting on its own. “Don’t You” features an electronic beat that seems influenced by the album “Lover,” working well alongside the despondent lyrics, but once again doesn’t match the “Fearless” era too strongly. Nonetheless, I don’t foresee any of the vault songs being skipped on a playlist.

All things considered, Swift took a bold step to reclaim her music, and it appears to be paying off immensely. She expertly walks the tightrope of new and old elements and gives the 2008 album a makeover in natural shades. For longtime fans, “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” is a portal to relive the beloved album for the first time once again. It’s a brand new album, but you can already sing along since the lyrics have been ingrained in your mind for years.

For those fans, listening to the album will definitely be a love story.

Edited by Chloe Konrad | ckonrad@themaneater.com

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