Column: Fearless (Taylor’s Version) marks emotional growth for Taylor Swift and her listeners

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Andy Colwell

“Taylor Swift Concert 010” by pennstatenews is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Annetta Stogniew, news correspondent

In November 2008, 19-year-old Taylor Swift ended her breakthrough album, Fearless, with the song “Change.” In a conversation with Country Aircheck that same year, Swift said she wrote the song “about being on a small record label, being a 16-year-old girl and having a lot of odds stacked up against all of us.” 

The song was a tribute to Big Machine Label Group, or BMLG, a then-small Nashville record label that helped launch Swift’s career into superstardom. On April 9, nearly 13 years later, Swift released a re-recorded version, or “Taylor’s Version,” of the same album. 

This time around, though, the song has taken on a very different meaning. 

In July 2019, BMLG CEO Scott Borchetta sold the label to Swift’s longtime nemesis, Scooter Braun. As a result of the deal, Braun briefly owned the official recordings, or masters, to Swift’s first six albums, until he sold them in November of last year. However, Braun still stands to profit off of streams or licenses of Swift’s early music.

Braun managed artists like Justin Bieber and Kanye West during their public conflicts with Swift. Swift has accused all three men of allegedly bullying her on social media. In a Tumblr post responding to the deal, Swift called Braun’s acquisition of BMLG her “worst case scenario.” 

“Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it,” she wrote in the Tumblr post.

Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is the first of five albums Swift plans to re-record from her time at BMLG. Swift will own the masters to the remakes and will profit from their use herself. The re-recordings are intended to replace the originals, giving Swift full control of her musical legacy.

Swift, now 31, sings the words of her teenage self, and a lot has changed. The same is likely true for Swift’s diehard fans and anyone who has been casually jamming to “You Belong With Me” since 2008. 

For many young fans in 2008, Fearless was an introduction to heartbreak that glorified teenage angst. These fans who longed to finally be “Fifteen” and experience their own share of love stories have since grown up. Listeners can now reflect on their past emotions alongside Swift in Fearless (Taylor’s Version) or create new memories to associate with each track. 

Should one find themselves in desperate need to belt “Forever & Always” in light of a recent breakup, however, the new versions of the songs are nearly musically identical to the originals.

“… I did go in line by line and listen to every single vocal and think, you know, what are my inflections here. If I can improve upon it, I did. But I really did want this to be very true to what I initially thought of and what I had initially written,” Swift told People. The musical similarity of the new recordings, along with some minor touch-ups, should encourage fans to choose Taylor’s Version over the original Fearless. 

Fearless (Taylor’s Version) also has some added bonuses that will likely lure in listeners. Along with the 13 original tracks and six bonus tracks included in Fearless Platinum Edition, the re-recorded album includes six unreleased tracks, which Swift deems are “from the vault.”

The new tracks were produced with Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff, both of whom worked with Swift on her two most recent albums, Folklore and Evermore. The sister albums mark a new genre transition to folk-pop in Swift’s multi-genre career.

Without a precedent to mimic and with Dessner and Antonoff’s collaboration, the releases “from the vault” combine the country of Fearless with the folk of Folklore and Evermore. This diversity of genre on Fearless (Taylor’s Version) leaves room for fans both new and old to find favorites on the album.

The unreleased tracks appeal to those around for the original Fearless as well. “Mr. Perfectly Fine” revives the album’s primary subject matter the saga between Swift and singer Joe Jonas.

There was a point in Swift’s career when she was almost as well-known for her celebrity conflicts as for her music. This era probably peaked around Swift’s most recent clash with Braun’s client Kanye West. 

Swift’s announcement of her plans to re-release her first five albums may have seemed like a return to this era in spite and vengeance. It’s clear now that Swift is here for the music, not the drama.

This level of maturity is important for now-grown-up fans to emulate. Coming out of the pandemic, we could all benefit from cutting our losses and reclaiming our futures, as Swift has done in the release of Fearless (Taylor’s Version).

Swift concluded the re-made album with an unreleased track, “Bye Bye Baby.” The song mirrors “Change” as a final thought for her first record label. 

Swift sings, “Bye bye to everything I thought was on my side/ Bye bye baby … ‘Cause you took me home but you just couldn’t keep me.” The song was written in 2008 and probably is not about BMLG. But in true Swift nature, it seems fitting to save the spot on the album where she once thanked her label to say goodbye.

Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is musically astounding. But the album also provides an outlet for nostalgia, emotional growth and closure — strong themes for many people during quarantine. In search of closure from the past year, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is the perfect soundtrack for Summer 2021.