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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’ is a success despite unsavory reasoning behind its release

Why the singer re-recorded her album and why we’re so glad she did

When artist Taylor Swift posted a message on her Tumblr regarding CEO of Big Machine Records Scott Borchetta refusing to sell her the masters to her music without conditions, many of her fans’ hearts sank. They were left in a moral dilemma where they didn’t want Borchetta or Scooter Braun, the owner of Big Machine (better known as a record executive and music manager), to gain any money from her life’s work, but they loved her music and wanted to continue to listen to it. So Swift, being the savvy business woman she is, decided to re-record her masters once enough time had passed, making it legal to do so. 

But before we get into dissecting “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” let’s learn a little Swift history. When Swift first started working with Borchetta (her then manager) back in 2005, she was 15. When she finally got out of the contract, she was in her late 20s. Swift wanted to buy back her masters, but instead of giving her a price, Borchetta gave her the alternate deal of being able to ‘earn’ back each album with every new album that she created under Big Machine Records. After being locked in with a recording company for 13 years that owned her music, Swift refused. But the true drama didn’t unfold until Swift discovered who was buying Big Machine Records: Scooter Braun, a man who has had previous drama with Swift. Swift then wrote that post on Tumblr, proclaiming that this situation was her “worst case scenario,” but as much as fans attacked and begged, Borchetta wasn’t budging and Swift never bought back her masters. 

Fast forward to November of 2020, Shamrock Holdings, a private equity firm, bought her masters from Braun. In an aim to be fully transparent with the fans, Swift released a statement on Twitter in addition to the letter she sent to the company. The company let Swift know of the deal after it was done, but because Braun would still profit from her music, she refused to work with them. This is where the re-recordings come in. While there were doubters who thought her re-recordings were pointless, she proved them wrong and set a record as the first artist to release nine albums that each garnered at least 500,000 sales in a week. 

The “Fearless” album definitely isn’t my favorite of Swift’s discography. I will admit that it’s because I’m not a fan of country music. So while listening to “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” I had to take a step back and remove my country-hating bias in order to assess the album well. While this album does have more of a country pop focus than pure country, I still can’t count it as one of my favorites. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few songs on the album that I’ve always loved, including “The Way I Loved You” and “Forever and Always,” but those songs didn’t outweigh the country tone of the album. 

The “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” album sounds the same to a casual fan, but those that have listened to the original album on repeat, knowing every lyric and who each song is about, notice subtle changes in her tone and lyrics. For the most part, the songs sound identical, which is a mind boggling concept considering that if she had no copies of her original tracks, she probably would have had to sit down and listen to her old album numerous times to get them to sound exactly the same. One apparent difference is that her voice does sound more mature, but that was to be expected 12 and half years after the original release. When “Fearless” was released, Swift was 18 and just beginning her career—now, at 31, with many years and concerts under her belt, her voice is bound to sound a bit different. Where listeners could once hear the effort it took to sing certain notes, fans can listen to the effortless tone in Swift’s songs.

What I was most excited about with the re-recordings were the previously unreleased songs she labels “From The Vault.” I was never the type to look for unreleased songs on YouTube, so all of her “From The Vault” songs were ones that I had never heard before, and I was looking to see what songs didn’t make the cut the first time around. One of her first new songs that was released as a single was “Mr. Perfectly Fine (From The Vault),” and I am in love with it. There’s something about a 31-year-old Swift singing the playful (yet heartbreaking) lyrics that a young teenage Swift wrote when a breakup was ripping her to shreds. For reference, with this album a good number the songs are about the musician Joe Jonas, who is now good friends with Swift—she even sent his baby a blanket. This is what’s great about having the re-recordings—so many of the songs are whispers of what Swift once felt, and fans can rest knowing she’s in a much more peaceful place now.

Swift brought six new songs from the vault on Taylor’s Version, and fans are eagerly learning every lyric. One of those songs is “That’s When (From The Vault)” featuring artist Keith Urban, which is climbing its way into my heart. It’s a playful song that I can’t imagine Swift writing now, when I’m so used to her storytelling. I love hearing what could have been on this album so long ago; it feels like we are getting to know more of Swift when she was young and how she felt. 

In addition to the new songs on her album, she also added in some twists on her original setlist that came as a welcomed surprise. Her new rendition of “Forever and Always” as a piano version made me appreciate the song so much more. I was so used to hearing the song with its happy, dance-y sound that I didn’t get to appreciate it as a song about the devastating pain that is teenage heartache. 

It’s also so nice to be able to absorb these songs as if it were the first time you were hearing them. When the album first came out, I was nine, and didn’t know how to feel lyrics for what they were. I just sang along to “You Belong With Me” because it was catchy. These new songs, and realizing what was always there that I just didn’t pick up on, only reminds me how much her writing has grown over the years. While her songs were always catchy and I was always a fan, the elegance that her newer albums hold with their imagery and storylines is astounding. Whether it’s with “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” or “Folklore,” I’m here for the new Taylor. 

Written by: Itzelth Gamboa — arts@theaggie.org


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