As if three studio albums, one Netflix documentary and a Disney+ studio session weren’t enough artistic accomplishments for the past year and a half, Taylor Swift graced fans with a rerecording of her 2008 “Fearless” album on April 9. “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” contains 20 re-recorded tracks and 6 new songs “From The Vault,” such as pre-released singles “You All Over Me” and “Mr. Perfectly Fine.” Listeners across the United States have been reliving their first years as Swifties since the album’s release, causing “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” to leap to the first spot on the Billboard 200 Chart.
The “Taylor’s Version” clause is far from coincidental: it serves as a symbol for Swift to reclaim her beloved album as her own. In 2019, record executive Scooter Braun purchased Swift’s production company, Big Machine Label Group LLC without allowing her to purchase her albums back. As a result, Swift lost the rights to much of her earlier work, including “Fearless.” By rerecording “Fearless, ” Swift encourages both fans and companies alike to use her own version of the album rather than that which was taken away from her and reinforces the importance of artists everywhere exercising autonomy over their work. Listening to “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” doesn’t just allow fans to relive Swift’s iconic Fearless era, but also encourages us to restore and celebrate female autonomy within the recording industry.
Similarly to Swift, many Emory students have come into their authentic selves in the years between the original “Fearless” and its rerecording. I spoke with a few Emory students to explore how their perception of Swift’s music — and the world around them — has altered since the first time that they heard “Fearless.”
Each student had personal memories and associations attached to Swift’s music in their childhoods, especially with her well-known tracks. One of Katy Mayfield’s (22C) first memories of Taylor Swift was listening to “Fifteen” at a “Speak Now” concert. “Fifteen” allowed Mayfield to imagine the age of 15 as a time that was both “heartbreaking and breathtaking” and full of “adventure.” China Dennington (22C) first remembers listening to “Fifteen” when she was around that age. Even though she found differences between her teenage life and Swift’s lyrics, Dennington notes that Swift captured a relatable feeling of “giddiness and idealism of youth.”
While Arts & Entertainment Editor Saru Garg (22C) also recollects listening to “Fifteen,” her most poignant early memories of “Fearless” are with the track “Love Story.” Garg describes that her first brush with Swift’s music at 9 years old was earth-shattering: “We were at my grandparents house, and [my cousin] had this little blue iPod shuffle and she played ‘Love Story’ for me and changed my life.” Katalia Alexander (22B) likewise remembers how much she enjoyed “Love Story” the first time that she listened to it at recess with her friends in third grade. “We were 8 year old girls, there was a song about a princess and a love story, and we were like ‘Wow, this is so fun!’” Alexander recalls. Like Mayfield, Alexander attended a Swift concert when she was young, adding that she has a picture of her friend and her “in Fearless tour t-shirts” sporting “very big grins.”
After their initial experience with “Fearless,” fans watched as Swift progressed from country to pop to her indie genre in “folklore” and “evermore.” Just as they grew older and changed their perspectives on the world, they watched Swift change her artistic voice to become the truest version of herself. Alexander particularly marveled at Swift’s ability to adapt to new genres with an equal amount of skill and talent. Despite her changes across each era, Swift weaves authenticity through her music, almost like an invisible string. Not only have fans supported the switch in sound, but they’ve also watched her grow from the grief of her past relationships. To Garg, Swift is “inspiring” because she is rerecording “Fearless” “in a healthy, happy relationship [and] doesn’t have to write about her own heartbreak anymore.” Her life may not be the “fairytale” that she describes in “White Horse,” but she certainly approaches her rerecording with a wiseness and confidence that she did not have at eighteen.
While listening to “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” may feel like revisiting an old friend, listeners can also approach Swift’s rerecording with novel perspectives on her life that we did not have when we were younger. Instead of viewing “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” as “extremely straight and heteronormative” as she did thirteen years ago, Mayfield now states that listening to “Fearless” through a queer lens can “increase appreciation of the music.” While Mayfield’s friend group strongly holds the theory that Swift is not heterosexual, she states that altering our heternormative perception of “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” can allow listeners to find meaning and resonance in their queer relationships regardless of Swift’s sexuality. Moreover, queer readings of “Fearless” represent new voices in the music “landscape that is just now starting to really bring queer art to the fore and into the mainstream.” Swift’s rerecording of her music, therefore, permits for her album to resonate with a wide variety of listeners that it may not have the first time around.
Beyond a few extra beats, “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” sounds very similar to its original. Perhaps the true change lies not in Swift, but in her listeners. As elementary-school children, Emory students had a very different idea of what life — and love — looked like than they do in college. Alexander recalls that her friends did not relate to a lot of the “break-up, sad stuff” on “Fearless” because, at 8 years old, they “had no concept of heartbreak.” Dennington, likewise, states that listening to “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” as a 20 year old illuminates that “real-life relationships are messy and complicated and not just fairytale.” Even though China still appreciates and owns the “idealism” of “Fearless,” she is able to approach the rerecording with an increased “understanding [of] what healthy relationships are.” Garg also describes that while “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” maintains a “romantic” and “nostalgic” feel, it also adds an “empowering” element that it did not have in its original recordings. “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” gives us an opportunity to view Swift’s work through a new, richer lens than we did when we were younger whilst simultaneously rekindling the sense of wide-eyed wonder that we once experienced.
“Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” enables listeners to celebrate both Swift’s history and our past perceptions of the world during what has already been a challenging year. More than that, Swift’s new rerecording acts as a mirror to fans, encapsulating how we have all developed and grown to become a little more fearless.