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‘Fearless’ era recaptured: Swift is ‘Untouchable’

| Monday, April 19, 2021

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

By now, I hope you have heard the news that Taylor Swift released her rerecorded version of album “Fearless” on Friday April 9. In yet another “power move,” she has capitalized on nostalgia while simultaneously claiming ownership of one of six albums that she plans to rerecord now that they have been sold by her former manager, Scooter Braun of Big Machine Records, to another company. 

For the most part, the rerecordings on “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” sound very similar— if not almost identical— to their 2008 versions. Upon first listen, I noticed that “You Belong with Me (Taylor’s Version)” kicks off with some subtle added sounds. Swift’s breathy delivery of the name “Romeo” in “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” recalls the sass and emotion characteristic of some other 2008 versions such as “Forever and Always,” “Tell Me Why” or “The Way I Loved You.”

The overall tone I picked up from listening to two versions of “Fearless” side by side (which I did courtesy of a “Fearless: Then and Now” playlist on Spotify) was one of reminiscence. On her new versions of these classics, Taylor’s light and airy voice conjures the image of her 31-year-old self looking back on her late teen years, layering newfound maturity and wisdom over the songs of her youth — the same songs that set her on the path to where she is today.

Song lyrics that take on new meaning in Swift’s new recordings range from “I didn’t know who I was supposed to be” in “Fifteen,” calling to mind how much she has had to grow up in the spotlight, to the whole chorus of “Change,” which rings even truer now that Swift has won this smaller battle in a larger war for rights to her music.

The true highlights of “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” though, are the album’s six songs from “The Vault.” These tracks were written around the same time as the album, but have never before put out into the world — until now. When listening, it is easy to connect some “Vault” songs to Taylor’s later work: “You All Over Me” featuring Maren Morris, for instance, plants the seed for 1989’s “Clean.” My favorite of these songs might be “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” even as petty and grudging as it may sound to us today, because Ms. Swift did not hold back in this one. In the words of Joe Jonas’ now-wife Sophie Turner, “it’s not NOT a bop.” The fresh anger of “Mr. Perfectly Fine” simmers down into retrospective sadness in “We Were Happy,” this sadness then tempered by the lighter, more accepting “That’s When” (featuring Keith Urban). I couldn’t exactly follow the narrative in “That’s When,” but I love the way it sounds with the pairing of two country voices. I could also do without “Bye Bye Baby.”

Just for some context, “Taylor’s Version” of “Fearless” means more to me — as someone who became a fan of hers after her “Speak Now” tour became my first ever concert — because I hadn’t listened to 2008’s “Fearless” in depth. I can’t wait to see how she does the next five albums, particularly “Red,” because that is when I truly started to listen to her albums beyond their radio singles.

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