Taylor Swift’s music is remarkably self-reproductive. Following the surprise drop of folklore were seven “chapters,” mini mixtapes of hand-picked tracks from the album and its successor. After evermore, there came the release of five additional versions of lead track “willow.” There’s also an acoustic version of “Back to December,” a pop version of “Teardrops on My Guitar,” a cabin-in-candlelight version of “cardigan,” a piano version of “Forever & Always,” and so on.
Swift is now undertaking a far grander project in reproduction, one that was first previewed in a dating site ad featuring Ryan Reynolds and officially kicked off last week with the release of “Love Story (Taylor’s Version),” a rerecording of Swift’s 2008 megahit.
The project isn’t purely an artistic pursuit—it’s Swift’s effort to reclaim ownership of her first six albums, the master recordings of which remain the official property of Big Machine Records. In 2019, Big Machine was acquired by Scooter Braun, whom Swift has called an “incessant, manipulative bully.”
During the height of the master-recordings controversy, Kelly Clarkson suggested that Swift rerecord her songs. Other artists have done this before, including pop singer JoJo in a similar effort to break free from her troublesome former label, Blackground Records. Last November, Braun sold the master rights to Swift’s music, though still not to her, and since then she has been free to rerecord those albums for release—which is exactly what she’s doing, starting with the now-complete rendition of Fearless (2008), which is expected to drop this April and will include six additional songs from that era that hadn’t previously been released.
“Love Story” has always been a masterpiece, a shining emblem of Taylor Swift’s essence on what’s arguably her best album. Swift’s music, especially early in her career, spins real life into a fairy tale, and then jerks it painfully and earnestly back. She deftly oscillates between the brilliance of romantic optimism and the passion of young heartbreak. When I think of “Love Story,” I remember dancing feverishly at a middle school dance, and I feel a dizzying, profound joy. I recall flashes of its iconic sepia-toned music video, which pans from a teenage Swift, making eyes with her crush on the school quad, to a Shakespearean unfolding of their love—knights, castles, dancing, and all.
The rerecorded “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” holds true to the original, despite the dozen years that separate the two versions. It’s in the same key and same tempo, and the instrumentals are hardly distinct, although more sensitive listeners may notice details like an added layer of percussion during the intro and slightly heavier drums on the second verse.
More noticeably, though, Swift’s voice is no longer as high nor stringlike as it was at 18, and her faint country accent is now nowhere to be heard. Her younger vocals were thinner and more stripped down, their loose and penetrating tone creating the feeling that the young Swift might be speaking directly to you, pleading or whispering or laughing or crying. They offered a breathiness that was arrestingly tied in with her diaristic lyrics, and with her wavering hums on the playful interludes of “Hey Stephen.”
“[O]f the ones I’ve recorded, I think it’s been the most fun doing ‘Love Story,’” Swift said of the new rendition. “'[W]hen I hear my older music and my older young teenage voice, it makes me feel like I’m a different singer now.” Indeed, her vocals have since matured and given way to a broader range, making possible both the low verses and high choruses on songs like “willow,” and collaborations with musicians like Bon Iver and the National. There’s an added gravity when Swift sings the climactic bridge of this new “Love Story,” a greater sense of vocal control as the key changes and the song approaches its end. Still, she manages to recapture the intonations, rhythms, and vocal clarity of the original song with stark precision.
It will be fascinating to hear the new Fearless in its entirety, from poppy, high-reaching tunes like “Forever and Always” and “You Belong with Me” to slower, more intimate and epistolary pieces like “Tell Me Why,” “You’re Not Sorry,” and “White Horse.” In the meantime, there are a few ways to whet your appetite beyond last week’s single; Fearless Platinum Edition, essentially the deluxe version of the original record, contains a few bonus songs from 2008, such as “Come in with the Rain,” a steadily heart-wrenching gem. On SoundCloud and Spotify, there’s also the Disco Lines remix of “Love Story,” if you’re looking for a punchier beat to dance to.
On the gold-toned cover of the new “Love Story,” Swift swishes her long hair, as she did as a teen years ago—but now in the other direction. After the more earnest and slowed down Lover, folklore, and evermore, it feels almost fated for Swift to return full circle, to untie her evermore braids and be freshly fearless on her own terms.
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