Taylor Swift’s second album, Fearless, catapulted her to fame, and firmly established Swift as a flourishing musician and songwriter in November 2008. Now, almost 13 years later (of course the number 13 factors in somehow), she has launched the re-recorded Fearless (Taylor’s Version), adding a mellifluous upgrade to an already remarkable album. Sure, it works as a throwback, but it’s mainly a showcase of Swift’s mature, confident vocals, with a sharper sense of musicianship and instrumentation this time around. At a whopping 26 tracks—including six previously unreleased songs and a “Love Story” remix—the songs maintain the lovelorn essence of 2008 while syncing up tonally in a striking way with her two 2020 releases, folklore and evermore. It essentially makes Fearless (Taylor’s Version) the perfect retrospective follow-up for Swift.
Those unexpected albums from last year are full of rich, complex details and stories (“the last great american dynasty,” “no body, no crime”) balanced out by tales of nuanced, aching loves (“the 1,” “august,” “happiness”). The latter bore imprints of Swift’s specific style of depicting romances that remained incomplete or left you wanting more, but throughout folklore and evermore, she presented them through a lens of acceptance and emotional growth. It’s a distinction from Fearless, which she wrote at the cusp of adulthood, in which the love story literally takes the form of a fairytale or then succumbs to devastating heartbreak—or at least it appears devastating when you’re just 15. Fearless was an encapsulation of the growing pains of teenage love. Listening to a 31-year-old Swift belting those same songs in hindsight and within the context of her professional trajectory (and personal life, to quite a degree) is a whole other experience.
She lets her journey over the last decade blend into recording the songs again, almost inviting listeners to ruminate on their own adolescent or past relationships with her. None of the tracks differ in lyrics, as seen in the early drop of “Love Story (Taylor’s Version).” The subtler changes are observed in more pronounced beats, or in some of her punctuated deliveries of certain lines. In songs like “You Belong With Me (Taylor’s Version),” for example, the brief pause after “She doesn’t get your humor like I do” gently lifts up its impact. These small changes actually enrich the “reminiscence” vibe of this album, which contains some of her earliest hits from before she pivoted to full-on pop music with 1989 in 2014. It’s also captured in the new “from the vault” songs, two of which she released prior to the album’s launch: “You All Over Me” featuring Maren Morris, and “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” which is apparently about Joe Jonas (though Jonas’ wife Sophie Turner has given her seal of approval to it on Instagram). The drama is left behind in 2008—it’s just the music and lyrics that get the spotlight now.
The other four “from the vault” tracks fit in well with the album, too. On the slower “We Were Happy,” Swift sings: “We used to watch the sun go down/On the boats in the water/That’s sorta how I feel right now/And goodbye’s so much harder.” It’s an evocative song, much like “Don’t You,” about a woman still pining for her former love. The lyrics here, “Don’t you smile at me and ask me how I’ve been/Don’t you say you’ve missed me if you don’t want me again/You don’t know how much I feel I love you still,” are buoyed by lively rhythms. Swift’s collaboration with Keith Urban on “That’s When,” where they both jam about past lovers reuniting, also hits all the right soothing notes. Like the rest of Fearless (Taylor’s Version), these new songs incorporate similar moods and concepts—especially rain, a motif running throughout the album, including the last track here, called “Bye, Bye Baby.”
Swift still has five more albums to relaunch following the very public legal battle over the ownership of her back catalog. She could have dropped any of the others first, but the choice to follow up her three most recent albums (which she owns) with Fearless (Taylor’s Version) bodes well, as it’s a fun look back at the old Taylor, who was already providing bops and chart-toppers just a few short years into her recording career. It also lends an appreciation for how she has since taken control of her narrative with albums like Reputation and Lover while expanding on her songwriting abilities in folklore and evermore. Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is definitely going to invoke memories of what made Swift a household name in the first place, and should take fans back to a certain time in their life, probably when they first discovered what it means to—borrowing a phrase from the titular song—dive in “head first, fearless.”