The latest Taylor Swift narrative makes a liar out of her hit song “Look What You Made Me Do,” in which Swift proclaimed “the old Taylor … she’s dead.” It turns out the old Taylor is very much alive, to the merriment of her fans now taken by late-2000s nostalgia. Following a public battle with music manager Scooter Braun, the singer-songwriter released a new version of the old album that skyrocketed her career: “Fearless (Taylor’s Version).”
The album follows a contentious and public controversy surrounding the child star-turned-adult musical icon. Because of a 13-year record deal young Swift signed in 2005, Big Machine Records owned the masters of Swift’s first six albums. But that contract became a millstone for Swift when Braun, who famously manages Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, acquired the record label in 2019. That meant Braun, whom Swift accused of being an “incessant, manipulative bully,” owned the rights to all the music she had created until that point.
While the feud has been well documented, it appears likely that two things are true: (1) Apparently lacking good legal representation, Swift entered an unfavorable deal at a young age that deprived her of rights to her own music that most reasonable people would agree she should have some level of control over, but (2) while Swift might not like what Braun did, a contract is a contract.
“Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it,” Swift lamented at the time, publicly smearing Braun as a “bully” who was “the definition of toxic male privilege in our industry.”
Braun says he did nothing wrong, but if there’s one thing we know straight from Swift’s red lips, it’s that she “keeps maps” of her buried hatchets. After realizing that playing victim to “toxic male privilege” would not lead to any productive results, Swift put on her big-girl shoes and used her voice to sing rather than to whine. The singer-songwriter found a loophole in her contract that allowed her to rerecord all six albums Braun was holding hostage, minimizing the profit Braun and his colleagues could make from her work and reclaiming her old hits.
Enter “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” which the artist released last week and is taking longtime Swifties back to a bygone era of 15-year-old crushes and dancing in rain-soaked parking lots. In addition to re-recording her earlier songs and to the delight of her fans who thought “old Taylor” was long gone, Swift released six new tracks that were written during the “Fearless” era, but left on the cutting room floor.
While much of the “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” rerecorded album sounds similar to its original, except with more mature vocals and superior audio mixing, the six new songs labeled “From the Vault” are a welcomed surprise to those of us still mourning pre-pop Taylor. (You know, the precocious girl who wrote about her love life rather than gay rights 10 years too late.)
The songs are like a Taylor time capsule, perfectly preserved snapshots of young love from a prior epoch. These perfect blends of sentimentality, innocence, and romance are a trip down memory lane, back to simpler times when fans, who are now busy rearing their children and saddled by career responsibilities, blasted “Fearless” on repeat while driving to school. But instead of being old, they’re new.
“Bye-bye, to everything I thought was on my side,” Swift sings in “Bye Bye Baby,” with lyrics that take on new meaning in her post-Big Machine Records chapter. The track imbues all the magic of the original “Fearless” album, conjuring images of gloomy rainy nights, hopeless teenage flings, and long drives:
It wasn’t just like a movie
The rain didn’t soak through my clothes
Down to my skin
I’m driving away, and I
I guess you could say
This is the last time I’ll drive this way again
In “That’s When” featuring Keith Urban, she reminds us of the magic she makes while teaming up with country music artists, as opposed to her more recent kids bop-esque collaboration with Brendon Urie. In “Don’t You,” Taylor once again perfectly captures the colors of a heartbreak as only she can, telling her ex, “Don’t you smile at me, ask me how I’ve been. Don’t you say you’ve missed me if you don’t want me again.”
One track, “We’re So Happy,” reminds us of the simplicity of young love. In it, Swift swoons about walking along the streets, holding someone’s hand, looking at the porch lights, and talking about future plans, as much of her wide-eyed early music did. But in the song’s bridge, she puts to words the complicated relationship many of us fans have with the new, woke Taylor: “Oh, I hate those voices telling me I’m not in love anymore,” she says, as if she were reading the lyrics straight from the thoughts in our minds.
While it’s unlikely we’ll ever get the “old Taylor” back for good, thanks to “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” fans now have something brand new, straight from the Taylor we once adored. We also got to see a Swift lyrical prophecy come true: After a long, drawn-out public battle, Swift proved that writing her own ending was undoubtedly far “Better Than Revenge.”
Kelsey Bolar is a contributor to The Federalist and a senior policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum. Kylee Zempel is an assistant editor at The Federalist.