The legacy of Taylor Swift’s Fearless 

13 years ago, Taylor's second album set her on the path to superstardom. As she begins rerecording it, we take a look at its significance.

by George Griffiths
18 February 2021, 11:50am

Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” — the lead single from her sophomore album Fearless and one of the best selling records of all time — opens with the lines: “We were both young when I first saw you / I close my eyes and the flashback starts”. For many of her fans these days, this isn’t simply about a Romeo and Juliet-esque romantic narrative; it’s also a reference to the relationship between themselves and Taylor.

Every one of the music icon’s album has a specific story and media narrative attached to it. After all, that’s kind of her thing. But Fearless — with perhaps the exception of 1989 — feels like the one that proved to be truly transformative for her career. Almost overnight, the back-to-back chart success of “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me” saw her reincarnated from country ingénue to Grammy-winning pop-crossover wunderkind.  

Which makes Taylor’s decision to use Fearless as the template for the much-discussed re-recording of her first six albums — following the controversial purchasing of her original masters in 2019 by music manager Scooter Braun (who has since sold his rights to the catalogue for a reported $300 million to a private equity firm) — all the more important. She could have started right back at the beginning with her self-titled debut, but she didn’t. And there’s a reason for that. As much as some fans may love the supposed naivety of Taylor Swift, Fearless was her first big-hitter LP, and it gave Taylor her first Top 10 singles in both the US and UK. Basically, skipping the debut and heading straight to Fearless shows us that Taylor is not messing around.

Make no mistake about it, Fearless made Taylor Swift a superstar. Picture it: the year is 2008, you’ve just come home from school, slipped on your Ugg boots and are pressed play on your pink iPod nano. That album was the soundtrack to a very specific part of many people’s adolescence, when everything was seen through rose-coloured glasses and nothing seemed impossible. For some, Fearless made them believe in love.

But 13 years on from its release (Taylor’s lucky number, it’s almost like she planned it), the re-recording of Fearless offers up an interesting proposition — mainly, that the doe-eyed innocence that peppered most of the original album is gone. We now view the stories of Fearless — where the future is bright and love conquers all — through a new, mature lens. You gather this even from the image Taylor has used as the album’s new cover. In the still, Taylor mimics the hair-toss pose from the original album. Now, though, she appears to be wearing the shirt previously seen on the actor playing her Romeo in the video for “Love Story”. She is her own prince charming. There’s an authenticity to the shot too — it’s not as made-up as the original, which also tracks with the cottagecore vibe Taylor introduced in Folklore and Evermore. The artwork reminds us that time has passed and the memories of these songs have faded into sepia tones. While they might not have grown with us, we can certainly use them as a barometer for how much we have grown ourselves.

On “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)”, the first release from Fearless 2.0, and the first taste we’ve actually had of her re-recording odyssey, nothing’s really changed on the surface. The backing track sounds much the same, save for a touch more drums and less fiddle. And while this is certainly no modern-day re-interpretation — Taylor herself has confirmed that she worked with the original team behind the album — it’s the little changes you find yourself focusing on. How different Taylor’s voice sounds, for one: deeper, more lived-in this time around. Less breathy and more in control.

Given the appeal for old fans remains the powerful nostalgia attached to the original album, the sentiments will hopefully carry across the rest of Fearless’ tracklisting. But what about new fans? Fearless 2.0 will no doubt be their very own introduction into some of Taylor’s strongest early-career material, with the important caveat that this is — with the full tracklisting and six additional songs from ‘the vault’ — the definitive version. It also helps that by supporting “(Taylor’s Version)”, you’re supporting Taylor herself. 

Time will not have dulled the themes that shine through Fearless, but it may make us reevaluate the way we see a good amount of its content. Take, for example, “Fifteen”, a cautionary tale about losing your virginity to the wrong guy (preach it, sister), or the title track, where Taylor jumps into love “head first, fearless”. The original intention of these songs was to be relatable, supportive even. In the liner notes for the album itself, she wrote: “You have to believe in love stories and prince charmings and happily ever after. That's why I write these songs. Because I think love is Fearless.” 

Now that Taylor and her original fanbase have grown up, however, this conceit of Fearless as an ode to love becomes slightly warped. The songs become windows into the past, memories of old mistakes, reminders of just how far we’ve come. They’re reminders, too, of the fact that Taylor is still here with us, still learning what it means to love and be loved, with perhaps less of her initial naivety. 

In fact, the song that will probably age better with a “(Taylor’s Version)” tacked onto the end is “White Horse”, a country ballad in which Taylor first began using her pen to deconstruct and subvert stereotypical fairytale-like notions about what love is when a relationship goes sour. At the time, you may well have been crying along to it over the boy that deleted you from his MySpace top friends; now, we can see it in the context of Taylor’s greater canon — as a fascinating precursor to later material like “Blank Space” and “I Knew You Were Trouble”. 

Because really, Fearless’ biggest legacy is that it set Taylor Swift on the path to becoming the world’s biggest popstar. It was a necessary precursor for albums like Red and 1989, which went on to shape the genre of pop music in their image. Fearless was made at a time when Taylor clearly wanted to become a record-breaking mainstream musician, and in 2021 (on 9 April, if we all read her clues right) she will revisit it with the hindsight of having achieved that goal over and over. 

If Folklore and Evermore gave Taylor autonomy beyond the precision-timed release schedule of a global pop behemoth, the re-recordings signal she intends to utilise this freedom. Fearless (Taylor’s Version) will not just help Taylor cement herself as a very specific figurehead in the movement for artists to take control of their own music, but it will also help everyone truly appreciate the story of a legend.

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