“You’re not sorry… Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta”
Taylor Swift’s sophomore album “Fearless” is the epitome of ‘firsts’ in many ways. While the album tackles a first kiss, first date, first love, and first heartbreak, the now iconic album had earned Swift many career firsts as well. It garnered her first concert tour, first top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with the lead single “Love Story”, her first Grammy, and her first AOTY Grammy. “Fearless” took Swift from an up and coming country singer to mainstream teen country-pop star with all eyes on her — that has yet to fade away over a decade later. Among the various highs and lows of her extremely successful career, the recent betrayal of her masters being sold against her has led to another first for “Fearless” — becoming her first re-recorded album.
Back in 2019, after Swift had signed to Republic Records after spending over a decade apart of the country label Big Machine Records, the master rights of her music were sold by the CEO of Big Machine Records named Scott Borchetta to the infamous manager of many celebs, Scooter Braun. Then, unfortunately, Braun sold her masters to a private equity called Shamrock Holdings in late 2020. This means that every piece of music Swift released under that record label (her whole discography before Lover, 2019) by principal, is no longer hers. To make it clear what Swift lost in this deal, the term “masters” refers to the final recording of a song that is released, the one that exists digitally, physically, and possibly used in visual media (ads, live broadcasts, tv, movies). Whoever owns the rights to the masters is the one who not only owns any kind of stream or purchase the masters involves, they also distribute the licenses to be used — and every bit of money earned from these masters goes straight to them.
For a long time, Swift has used her privilege as arguably the biggest pop star to exist, to fight for musical artists’ rights. From her note to Apple Music in 2015 to her tumblr post when the first news of her masters being sold broke out, she emphasizes how the people in power constantly take advantage of the naiveness of artists with a dream. The masters situation hit her especially hard personally, since Borchetta was the one who discovered and signed her back as a teen and became almost family over the years, now betrayed her by selling her livelihood to one of her worst enemies, Braun, who most notably was Kanye West’s manager back in 2016.
Not wanting to deal with the complications of trying to purchase her masters back, thankfully according to her contract, she was legally allowed to start the re-recording of her albums in November 2020. Now, on April 9th, 2021, her journey towards ownership begins with the release of “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)”.
While a re-recording of a 13 year old album that you could listen to right now seems like it wouldn’t have much in it for an average consumer, Swift does not disappoint. While she does have to make the re-recordings as close as possible to the originals (so the originals lose their value and the re-recordings replace it entirely), there is still room for improvement. Even just from the single “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)”, there is a clear quality improvement from the original. Compared to the original, the mixing of Taylor’s Version is noticeably better compared to the original as the original is very loud; The guitar in the instrumental especially stands out with the loud instrumental along with the vocals mixed to be even louder, which can be kind of grueling in comparison to the revamped version with more emphasis on the strings and a well balanced mixed between vocals and instrumentals that don’t overpower each other. Not to mention, naturally, Swift has improved her vocal technique over the years and most importantly has matured her voice wonderfully as a 30 year old, compared to her late teen years. The vocals on the track are much smoother, yet she still keeps every special vocal inflection and detail (such as a personal favorite part — the hiccup-like “oh”). Swift has also decided to include 6 new “From the Vault” tracks on “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)”, which are unreleased songs she wrote around the time period of making the original album.
To celebrate the re-recording of such an iconic album, I’d like to go through what I believe are the highlights of this album you should pay attention to. As far as the hits go, as mentioned before is “Love Story” and the other career defining hit “You Belong With Me”, which are classic country-pop bangers that everyone subconsciously knows all the lyrics to. Now, singles “Fifteen” and “White Horse” are timeless emotional songs that will hit especially hard when a 31 year old Taylor Swift is singing these.
“Fifteen” is a song from the perspective of 19 year old Taylor reflecting back on her life and thoughts at 15 years old. Though she was not too much older than her 15 year old self at the time of writing it, even then she knew that firsts are magical, like meeting a new friend and a first date, but every meticulous detail and naivety of “…dating the boy on the football team” and when “Somebody tells you they love you / You’re gonna believe them” will not be worries for long, as she concludes with “I’ve found time can heal most anything / And you just might find who you’re supposed to be” to comfort other fifteen year olds girls. A 31 year old Swift adds more to the perspective with the wisdom of knowing this advice still reigns true all these years later.
“White Horse” is another song that has aged beautifully, as this song expresses the exact emotions of having all the fantasies you grew up with of what love is, shattered for the first time. The lyrics in the chorus perfectly captures reality hitting, as she sings, “This ain’t Hollywood, this is a small town / I was a dreamer before you went and let me down / Now it’s too late for you and your white horse / To come around”. The last chorus changes into Swift realizing her worth and knowing someone better is out there for her, stating “I’m gonna find someone someday / Who might actually treat me well / This is a big world, that was a small town / There in my rear-view mirror disappearing now”. After all the tough relationships Swift has sung about through many albums, it’s a nice ending to the song 13 years later to know that she found that someone, now having been in a loving relationship for about 5 years now.
As for the deep cuts that a lot of people might be listening to for the first time, the highlights include a mix of upbeat pop-rock inspired bangers and calming melodies. The back to back tracks “The Way I Loved You” and “Forever & Always” are upbeat songs rooted in passion, in opposite ways. “The Way I Loved You” does have lyrics that have not aged the best, as it’s about being unsatisfied in a healthy relationship in favor of missing a toxic love that includes “…screaming and fighting / And kissing in the rain / And it’s 2am and I’m cursing your name / You’re so in love that you act insane”. Regardless of the fact, Swift’s improved vocals will elevate this already soaring and infectious chorus that you cannot help screaming along to. Meanwhile, “Forever and Always” sums up the ultimate anger and frustration stage of a teenage break up. This fits in well with the fact that this song is definitely the most pop-rock inspired track on the album, making it the ideal song to dramatically perform in your bedroom. Nothing reads quite like a dramatic teenager like the lines, “And I stare at the phone, he still hasn’t called / And then you feel so low you can feel nothing at all / And you flashback to when he said forever and always”. However great this song is though, you can tell Swift struggled vocally with this particular song when it came out, so her new vocals will make this track even stronger. I also can’t leave out my excitement for the current Swift to sing these lines about her ex: “Did I say something way too honest, made you run and hide / Like a scared little boy”.
Moving onto the most soothing deep cuts, “Breathe” ft. Colbie Caillat towards the end of the album and “Untouchable” and “Come In With The Rain” on the extended Platinum Edition are gems. The topic of “Breathe” is one that Swift does not write enough about, which is friendships, and in this particular case, a friendship break up. This soft acoustic track encompasses the sadness that comes in the realization that they have to go on without someone they had a falling out with. It particularly emphasizes that there was no bad blood that caused it, but just people naturally drifting apart, which doesn’t make things easier. The only fault is that Caillat’s feature doesn’t add more than background vocals, but it does add a nice touch of warmth to the song. “Untouchable” is actually a cover of rock band Luna Halo’s song, however Swift managed to make it a completely different sound while also changing a few of the original lyrics. The song is a gorgeous stripped down purely acoustic song with Swift confessing how desperately and hopelessly in love she is with someone, using her perspective as a teenage girl with innocence in comparison to the original. Lastly, “Come In With The Rain” is a beautiful country mid-tempo ballad that is fittingly perfect for listening to on a rainy night. The song balances between sad and hopeful, as the narrator frequently states “But I don’t wanna go there anymore” and “But I don’t wanna have to go that far” as she acknowledges the other person isn’t putting in as much effort as her, but still wants that person hoping that’ll change. With the chorus of — “I’ll leave my window open / ’Cause I’m too tired tonight to call your name / Just know I’m right here hoping / That you’ll come in with the rain”, it sets the perfect scene in your head of a girl with sadness and hope playing her guitar and singing to an open rainy window at night, hoping that somehow that person will hear her message.
Taylor Swift has been serving fans and the general public plenty of content this past year, and after all she and everybody else have been through, she continues to give. After receiving the highest unanimous critical praise of her career yet and commercial success with her two latest albums “folklore” and “evermore”, many people have given Swift’s full albums a fair chance for once. With the re-recordings of albums that she can say she owns, it’s the perfect chance for people to get even lower on their high horse to give all of Swift’s discography a chance (as she has been talented her whole career and not just with two albums in a more “serious” genre but I digress). A new wave of possibly old, current, and new generations discovering the full prowess of Taylor Swift is a joy that any man in power can never take away.