At the age of eighteen, a country star named Taylor Swift felt like she had gained enough perspective to think about her young self with authority: “In your life you will do things bigger than hanging out with the boy on the football team / I didn’t know at fifteen, ”she sang on“ Fifteen, ”a ballad about her freshman year in high school. It was one of the most notable tracks from Swift’s second album, “Fearless,” which was released in 2008. The album, which followed on from the eponymous debut that made it an industry darling, was the first of many incremental evolutions that Swift has made. from a Nashville-based country singer-songwriter to a global pop superstar. “Fearless” is also where she began to develop the emotional and behavioral signatures that she carried through almost every era of her career and that defined her as a songwriter. On “Fearless,” Swift refined her lyrical specificity, using proper names and detailed renditions of conversations and experiences to create an indelible image of Taylor Swift, the savvy naive. She was a hopeless romantic trying to write her own fairy tale, but she also developed a serious thirst for revenge against anyone who dared to disappoint her.
Over the years, this taste for revenge has migrated from the personal and romantic realm to the professional. Last week, Swift released “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” a newly recorded version of her 2008 album, the first of six re-recorded albums she plans on in the coming years. It was not an approach born from an artistic impulse, but a desire to regain control of its catalog. Early in her career, Swift signed with a small independent label in Nashville called Big Machine Records, which was run by a record manager named Scott Borchetta. As her catalog grew more and more valuable over time, the always insightful Swift tried to buy the masters for her first six Big Machine albums. Borchetta refused, unless Swift joined Big Machine (she had quit and signed with Republic Records) and “won” her old masters, “one album at a time, one for each new album I turned,” Swift wrote. in a 2019 Tumblr post. Public spitting escalated when Borchetta sold Big Machine, including the Swift Masters, to Scooter Braun, the infamous music director associated with Justin Bieber and Kanye West. When the deal was made, Swift wrote to her fans online, scornfully once again, “All I could think of was the relentless and manipulative bullying I suffered at. [Braun’s] hands for years. . . Basically my musical legacy is about to end up in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.
But even casual followers of Swift’s career understand how unlikely she is to allow anyone – let alone a nemesis – to take control of her musical heritage. These re-recorded albums are his attempt to deflate the commercial and cultural value of the original recordings, while keeping their artistic sanctity intact – an act of Machiavellian strategy coated in flavors of empowerment and devotion to his fans. “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” is a skillful and demanding recreation of the original album, with every arrangement and lyrics kept in their original spirit. For these recordings, she invited Jack Antonoff and National Aaron Dessner, two of her favorite collaborators in recent years, to help her produce, but their trademark sounds and styles are barely present here. The only marked difference between “Taylor’s Version” and the original is in Swift’s voice, which has grown smoother, richer and deeper over the past decade. The maturity of Swift’s voice on “Taylor’s Version” makes her wisdom claims more compelling, even when she returns to the country twang of her early days. Yet “Taylor’s Version” makes it clear that these conscientious renderings were designed to make the raw material obsolete, not to supplement or reinvent it.
To encourage listeners to release the new album and play on the charts, where longer albums have a better likelihood of performing well, due to the number of streams, Swift re-recorded all of the tracks from the Deluxe Edition of ” Fearless ”, as well as six other tracks from that era that had never been released, making it a twenty-seven track album. The highlight of these vault tracks is’ Mr. Perfectly Fine, “a softly provocative pop-country breakup anthem that sounds like a forgotten Swift classic:” Mr. ‘Never told me why,’ Mr. ‘never got to see me cry,’ sings she said, “Mr. “Sincere apologies so he doesn’t look like the bad guy” / He goes about his day, forgets he even heard my name. “In 2021, those lyrics take on new meaning for a feverish fanbase keen to dissect every line and draw a speculative sense of each story. Now, in the context of his battle with Borchetta and Braun, the original male objects of these Despised narratives can be traded and replaced by its industry enemies. “Taylor’s Version” is a strategic stroke of genius that provides new fuel for its fanbase to re-engage with the ten-year-old psychodrama of its lyrics.
To demarcate from the original album, Swift again photographed the cover image of “Fearless”. The camera angle is lower in the new version; her windblown locks are darker and wilder. The image is sepia toned and captures Swift in a seemingly unvarnished moment of freedom. It’s just distinct enough that when listeners search for his music on streaming services, “Taylor’s Version” appears aesthetically linked to the more naturalistic visual ethos of his latest albums, “Folklore” and “Evermore,” both of 2020. And then, of course, there is this parenthesis: “Taylor version”, a designation that seems quite simple and obvious but has a host of pointed implications on both recordings. Rather than “2020 release” or “new release,” or a brand new name, this album, unlike “Fearless” from 2008, has an explicit owner. This is not the business asset of an anonymous male industrial entity, but that of Swift. This parenthesis draws an ethical line in the sand that makes the choice obvious to any listener browsing their music on streaming services and trying to decide which version to click. Swift is also astute enough to understand that the internet’s short memory algorithms and search engines will quickly promote “Taylor’s Version” – within twenty-four hours the record had been released and purchased enough to be on track to appear in top of the album charts. next week. In 2021, with Swift still at the peak of her career and continually directing her own narrative, that’s what counts as a Swiftian fairytale ending.