I was only eight years old when Taylor Swift first released Fearless. At the time, Swift and her songs about heartbreak were too mature for my childhood self who still adamantly believed that boys had cooties. As some of my childhood heroes outgrew their roles — Miley Cyrus hanging up Hannah Montana and the devastating breakup of the Jonas Brothers — I found myself gravitating toward Swift and her lovable country sweetheart persona. Even though I didn’t know what love was or what it was like to have my heart broken, I clung to Swift and vicariously lived my perception of high school through her music. Fourteen years later, Swift’s re-release of Fearless has taken on an entirely new meaning, now that I’ve lived through many of the triumphant and tragic love stories that were completely unrelatable for me as a kid.
Listening to the re-release of “Fifteen” has shown me how much I’ve grown since the album’s first version. The song was one of my favorites at 8 years old, allowing me to imagine what it would be like to date “the boy on the football team.” Now at 21, I know what it’s like to fall in love with the captain of a sports team and have my heart broken. As an adult, I wish I could tell my younger self that yes, the magic in “Fifteen” is real, but the line “Wish you could go back / And tell yourself what you know now” is the backbone of this story. While my younger self clung to the excitement of love and the anticipation of school dances and dating in high school, as an adult I cling to the hard truth that young love is fleeting. I see now that, as you age, you discover that it’s more important to develop yourself than to rest all of your hope in one person.
While songs like “Fifteen” remind me of how much older I am and how much life I’ve lived since the first release of Fearless, other tracks like “You Belong With Me” are still timeless classics that transport me back to my childhood. Since the re-release of Fearless, my sister and I have spent many car rides blasting the album, belting the lyrics we’ve known by heart for over a decade. It’s when I’m singing “You Belong with Me” with my sister or hearing “The Way I Loved You” at the store that I experience a strange familiarity to when we were kids singing tracks from Fearless on our karaoke machine, pretending we knew what Swift meant when she says that love is “a roller coaster kind of rush.”
Perhaps this is one of the strangest phenomena of Swift’s re-recordings: their suspension of time. My first time listening to the re-recordings felt a lot like the first time I listened to the original album, and even though I knew what songs to expect, there was still a familiar sense of excitement and wonder as each track faded into the next. In fact, the way Swift mimics nearly all elements of the original recordings preserves a sacred time of my life. In many ways, the album is a space to reflect and recognize where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.
While many of the conversations surrounding Fearless are centered on the question of artists’ rights and fairness in the music industry, there’s much more at play here than Swift reclaiming the rights to her work. Like her fans, I’m sure Swift experienced the same sort of nostalgia as she recreated the music that defined her as a teenager; this album has undoubtedly taken on an entirely new meaning for her as an artist. What started as a follow-up to her highly acclaimed self-titled debut album, Fearless has become a symbol of rebellion, a form of defiance against the powerful men gatekeeping ownership and money from the artists who pour their lives into their music.
Fearless is no longer the product of a teenager chasing her music dreams; it’s become a platform to inspire and encourage other artists who’ve suffered from stiff record contracts and unforeseen acquisitions. Through this transition, we can clearly see how Swift’s priorities as an artist have shifted dramatically over the years. With the release of Lover, she uses her music to support the LGBTQ+ community and to address misogyny in the entertainment industry. Most recently, her new documentary “Miss Americana” reveals Swift’s spirited efforts to get young people registered to vote, and she’s used her platform to elevate the voices of new artists trying to make it in music. She even included unreleased tracks “from the vault” in the re-recorded album, finding a place for songs once deemed unworthy for the original album as they take on a new meaning in her artistry.
Swift has vowed to re-record all six of her masters affected by Big Machine Label Group’s acquisition, and fans are already forming theories for what her next re-recording will be. Yes, her re-recordings are a source of hope and inspiration for creatives who’ve lost ownership of their work, but these re-releases are also an opportunity for Swift to reflect on her career and use her past to reshape how she uses her platform in the future. Likewise, witnessing this transformation as a fan also opens the opportunity to look retrospectively at my own life and see how much I’ve grown and changed over the past 14 years, all while remembering what the album meant to me when it was first released. It could be said that Swift’s re-recordings are magic, as they’ve created a space to remember who we were in the past, reflect on where we are in the present and look ahead at the positive changes that can come out of this huge undertaking.
Daily Arts Writer Kaitlyn Fox can be reached at email@example.com.