Taylor Swift’s second album, Fearless, released in 2008, received critical acclaim and established Swift as one to watch. Now, almost 13 years later, Swift has become one of the most successful artists of the 21st century, and her re-recordings have stood the test of time – Fearless (Taylor’s Version) showcases Swift at her best, with her incredible lyricism and flawless vocals coming together to create a perfect gift, not just to her fans, but to her younger self.
Managing to capture the girlish charm of her teenage self, the record wonderfully encapsulates the emotions that come with being on the cusp of adulthood – it has to be said that there’s something comforting about listening to Swift so openly embrace her past.
Swift’s decision to re-record her earlier work holds significance, as she can finally own her music (her masters were sold without her consent to Scooter Braun, who then sold them to an investment fund). Her choice to start with Fearless, and not her debut, seems intentional, and her musings on tracks such as Fifteen, where she states that “This is life before you know who you’re gonna be/At fifteen” take on a new meaning: the fateful record deal with Big Machine that led to her rights being sold was signed when she was only 15.
With an army of fans ready to download, stream and promote her new music, and a clever marketing campaign enlisting up and coming pop stars (and self-proclaimed Swifties) Olivia Rodrigo and Conan Gray, it seems that Swift will be having the last laugh – and rightfully so.
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Taking a closer look at the album, it is clear that Swift has painstakingly crafted each track to resemble the original, and this is perhaps a wise decision. Some of her finest songwriting is showcased on Fearless, with her uncanny ability to capture teen angst through the use of storytelling and metaphor being highlighted on White Horse and Love Story. A personal favourite, The Way I Loved You, combines strong, assured vocals and sublime lyricism that allow Swift to perform at her absolute best. Arguably, it is Swift’s breath-taking ability to write such relatable yet uniquely personal poetry that has enabled her to create such a timeless record.
Production-wise, the album has a crisper, more coherent sound (but this is to be expected). Perhaps the best example of production on the album (out of the original tracks) is You Belong With Me, with the guitar melody sounding much more carefully placed and clear-cut than the original. Throughout the album, the instrumentals are assertive and bolder than before – they have grown with Swift, and her confidence shines through. Her thoughtful nature is also evident on the record – the use of original producer Christopher Rowe for You Belong With Me and the enlistment of vocalist Colbie Caillat on Breathe illustrate Swift’s trademark attention to detail.
Despite all this, it is arguably Swift’s decision to release six previously unheard tracks “From the Vault” that have helped to transform the album into one of her greatest works. On You All Over Me, featuring Maren Morris, production from Aaron Dessner places the familiarity of Fearless into a soundscape reminiscent of Folklore, and this theme is echoed throughout the “From the Vault” tracks – We Were Happy feels like a long lost relative of Happiness from her second quarantine project, Evermore.
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On Mr Perfectly Fine, we see perhaps the beginning of Swift’s inspiration for the Red era, with the line “casually cruel” repeated on one of her most loved singles, All Too Well. Mr Perfectly Fine also throws in some fun easter eggs for listeners, with avid fans pointing out that Swift repeats the word “Mr” 27 times – the length in seconds of the phone call made by the alleged subject of the song, Joe Jonas, when he broke up with her.
Swift’s collaboration with Antonoff on the final tracks of the album is a welcome addition, with the producer injecting his signature style into Don’t You with production strongly resembling 1989, and That’s When featuring Keith Urban, which beautifully fuses a lively guitar melody with Swift’s soft vocals. The closing track, Bye Bye Baby, is laced with glorious ad-libs and soaring drum beats, and lyricism that brings to mind her debut album. The song is a love letter to Swift’s teenage self and an immaculate end to the record.
With Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Swift has finally achieved perfection. The culmination of a lifetime in the industry, Fearless has allowed Taylor to reclaim what is hers, and gift fans both new and old a timeless body of work that will no doubt become the soundtrack to their lives. With Swift stating she plans to re-record all of her work that was sold without her consent, it will be exciting to see how she puts a fresh spin on future albums – if they’re half as good as Fearless, then they are certainly worth waiting for.