After losing ownership of the masters of six of her nine albums in 2019, Taylor Swift took a big step towards recovering full creative control of her music, with the re-release of her second studio album, Fearless, taking fans back in a musical time machine to 2008. Fearless (Taylor’s version) was released on April 9, 2021 to both fan praise and critical acclaim.
Why did she lose ownership of her albums? We have to travel back to 2019 to find out. Billboard published a video on their Instagram account that explains it — the royalties from Swift’s first six albums were not fully received by the singer due to her contract with Big Machine Records.
Not just that, but also every time a song is used in a commercial way, it passes through a legal process which includes the artist and the label signing a contract. For example, when “Welcome To New York,” a track from 1989, was used in the movie The Secret Life of Pets, both Taylor and Big Machine Records approved of the use and made a deal with Illumination Studios, the film’s production company. If one of those parties was not in favor of it, the song could not be used.
In 2018, Swift left Big Machine for Universal Music imprint Republic Records, and in 2019, Big Machine Records was sold to Scooter Braun, a person Swift publicly said she has a problem with. She claimed on a post she made on Tumblr that, for years, she was bullied and manipulated by him — remembering one the most difficult moments of her career when his client Kanye West exposed a wax figure of her naked body in the music video for his song “Famous.” Taylor also alleged she was never given the chance to buy back her own masters.
The problem now is that Swift can only use her songs in commercial ways if Braun authorizes it. For example, in her Netflix documentary released in 2019, Miss Americana, there are no songs from previous albums, because Braun did not agree to their usage.
In order to solve the problem, Swift decided to re-record her first six albums: Taylor Swift (2006), Fearless (2008), Speak Now (2010), Red (2012), 1989 (2014) and Reputation (2017). Fortunately, her new contract with Universal gives her 100% ownership over her other three albums: Lover (2019), folklore (2020) and evermore (2020). She is legally allowed to do this as explained in an article published by The Washington Post. The copyrights for song compositions are separate from the copyrights for recordings. As Taylor wrote all of her songs, she can rerecord them however she wants and they will function as covers — and give her back full creative control of her early work.
Why she is starting the re-recording with her second studio album puzzles many, but there are several reasons. This year is the thirteenth anniversary of Fearless and Swift’s lucky number is 13. Fearless was her first popular release and it won Best Country Album and Album of the Year at the 2010 Grammy Awards.
One of the album’s songs won Grammys too: “White Horse,” a song about a tragic break-up and the realization that your life is not a fairy tale, was named Best Country Song and Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Also, some of Taylor’s most popular songs are on this album, including “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story.” The first peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for three Grammy awards: Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Song of the Year and Record of the Year. It’s a song about loving a boy and not being loved back when you know they belong with you, even if they are dating another girl. The song’s music video also won a VMA back in 2009, spurring Kanye West to go on stage and claim Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” had “one of the best music videos of all time.” The second, which retells the story of Romeo and Juliet, but with a happy ending, was the lead single of both the original and the new version of the album — which is symbolic as it starts with the line, “We were both young when I first saw you.” This line has come to represent the relationship between Swift and her fans, dubbed “Swifties,” since she debuted at 16 years old and released Fearless two years later. “This was the musical era in which so many inside jokes were created between us, so many hugs exchanged and hands touched, so many unbreakable bonds formed,” Swift wrote in the prologue of the album, shared via Instagram.
One of the most interesting parts of the re-recording is that it allows both the artist and her fans to travel back in time. Swift wrote and recorded the songs when she was a teenager, and many of her fans who listened and fell in love with them were also teenagers at the time. “It was a real honor to get to be a teenager alongside you,” she wrote in the prologue. The lyrics reflect this.
“Fifteen,” for example, describes the life of an ordinary 15-year-old girl in her freshman year of high school and her many firsts — her first day of classes, her first date, her first kiss and her first breakup. She talks about a redheaded girl named Abigail who is the best friend of the girl in the lyrics. What some people don’t know is that Abigail really exists; she was a friend of Swift’s in high school. The lyric video shows pictures of them together as teenagers and as adults.
“Today Was A Fairytale,” which was released as a separate single in 2010, is now included on the album. The idea is almost the opposite of “White Horse,” as it narrates a magical day spent with a boy. Not all the tracks are about loving boys, though. “The Best Day” illustrates the relationship between Swift and her mother from when she was a five-year-old girl to the day she wrote the song.
Another fascinating aspect of the re-recording is that it allows people who were not fans of Swift’s work at the time to now live through this iconic era. It’s the case of Julia Lau, a sociology major at Stony Brook University.
“I think the most special thing about listening to Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is that I feel as if I am experiencing it for the first time,” she said. “When the album came out in 2008, I was six or seven and Taylor wasn’t really on my radar. So with this re-release, I went through the anticipation and excitement of it all, which is really special.”
More than appreciated by fans, Fearless (Taylor’s version) is also receiving positive ratings from critics. Variety’s review highlighted how Swift was able to perfectly recreate “Fearless,” playing her 18-year-old self at the age of 31, saying that if there was a Best Actress category at the Grammy Awards, she certainly would win it.
“The new album just sounds like a terrific remastering of the old — the same notes, and you’d swear the same performances, but sounding brighter and punchier just on a surface level,” the review said.
For her part, Lau agrees.
“The original album felt like a teenager singing about her raw emotional feelings, whereas this new one feels like an older soul that has been through so much and is looking back on the past with nostalgia,” she said.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “the most significant change is in Swift’s singing voice, a once-brittle instrument that of course has gotten deeper, huskier and more flexible since the late ’00s.”
The album includes collaborations with Colbie Caillat, Maren Morris and Keith Urban. The last two appear on “from the vault” songs Swift included with the album. Morris appears on “You All Over Me,” while Urban is featured on “That’s When.” Combined with the 13 songs from the standard version, six from the platinum version and “Today Was A Fairytale,” these songs come together for a 26-track album with a total run time of 1 hour and 46 minutes.
“My favorite songs are ‘Forever and Always (Piano Version)’ and ‘Untouchable,’” Lau said. “With the songs from the vault, I really enjoyed ‘Mr. Perfectly Fine.’”
The last one, “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” is being deeply appreciated by fans and many speculate it was written for Joe Jonas — with whom Swift had a romantic relationship at the time. Their breakup became famous after Swift said it happened during a 27-second phone call. Several other songs on the album, like “Forever and Always,” were also allegedly written for him, so it could perfectly be the case with this one as well.
One thing Swifties are not used to is music deserts. The longest period Swift spent without releasing a fully original album was the three years between 1989 and Reputation. By contrast, the smallest gap between albums was the six months between folklore and evermore. Fearless (Taylor’s Version) has just come out, but many are already asking: when is the next re-recording coming, and which album will it be? It’s difficult to answer when it will be released, but there is a consistent theory that the next re-recorded album will be 1989.
It follows the pattern of Fearless since it was also awarded “Album of the Year” at the Grammys and also contains two of her greatest hits: “Blank Space” and “Shake It Off.” The songs on the album also have great commercial potential for Swift. The expectations of fans only increased after a snippet from “Wildest Dreams” was released in the trailer of “Spirit: Untamed,”which came out in March 2021. Taylor herself reposted the trailer on her Instagram story at the time — which means at least one song from the album has already been re-recorded.
Whether 1989 (Taylor’s Version) is coming soon or not, what really matters is that the new version of Fearless is here to please not only the fanbase, but everyone else. Its 26 songs allow for a kind of musical time travel and make it possible for people to live this era once more, or for the very first time. Even at 31, Swift was able to channel her 18-year-old self, recreating an album to dance and cry to with the same intensity.