The first of Taylor Swift’s re-records is finally here, meaning the small window of peace between now and when she surprises us with the next one begins now. She’s kicked off her grand scheme to regain control of the masters to her first six albums from music exec Scooter Braun with her 2008 sophomore album — her first to win the Grammy for Album of the Year (but definitely not her last). I was 17 when Fearless came out the first time, about the same age as Taylor when she released it then; listening to it now as a fresh 30-year-old (and Swift now 31) feels like a homecoming. You could not pay me to relive that age … but you can definitely give me Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and let me visit it for an hour and 46 minutes.
This is a hefty album. At 26 tracks — 13×2, for those of you who speak Taylor Swift code — it is seven songs longer than even the Fearless Platinum Edition in order to, in Taylor’s words, give us the “full story, see the entire vivid picture and let you into the vivid dreamscape that is my fearless album.” The full story is a wild one, with the emotional highs and lows we’ve come to expect from Taylor Swift albums, only longer and now with 100 percent more Joe Jonas! So let’s grab our non-skinny jeans, our double-layered cami tops (why did we do that?), our undiagnosed anxiety disorders, and drag ourselves head first, fearlessly, into Fearless (Taylor’s Version).
When Taylor originally released Fearless, part of the liner notes read: “Fearless is getting back up and fighting for what you want over and over again … even though every time you’ve tried before, you’ve lost. It’s fearless to have faith that someday things will change.” The sentiment hits differently now that she has released her first re-recorded album, a yearslong battle to own her work. The opening track has always been a favorite from Fearless; 13 years later, it’ll still make you want to put on your second-best dress and dance around in a storm.
Taylor loves to leave crumbs for her fans to decode, and the tradition started with her debut album’s hidden messages in the liner notes. She would capitalize random letters to spell out secret messages giving insight into feelings, clues to who the songs might be about, or other Easter eggs. Each song on Fearless had one (note: the songs from the vault on the new version do not); the title track’s was “I LOVED YOU BEFORE I MET YOU.” What’s funny is she has said she was single when she wrote the song, and it is about her ideal first date.
It might’ve been weird to hear 31-year-old Taylor Swift singing about being 15 and what that means, but, on the contrary, there’s something satisfyingly kickass hearing her deliver this line now: “But in your life you’ll do things greater than dating the boy on the football team. But I didn’t know it at 15.” Because she sure as hell did! Suck it, that guy.
Liner notes message: “I CRIED WHILE RECORDING THIS” and you have to wonder if she did the second time, too.
This is the song everyone knows even if they don’t listen to Taylor. Of course, there are other songs that have become synonymous with Taylor Swift, but this was the first one. Hell, my little sister (who was 10 at the time) asked me to take her to the movies to see Letters to Juliet in 2010 because this song was in the trailer. That is “Love Story”’s influence. So it makes sense why it was also the first song she released from the re-record, and possibly why she chose to start with this album. What is Taylor without “Love Story”? A very prolific songwriter with lots of achievements … but still.
Liner notes message: “SOMEDAY I’LL FIND THIS” which makes me feel like that emoji with the eyes welling up with tears because she has! Back in the day, Taylor said this song was about a guy that never became an official boyfriend because her parents and friends didn’t like him. Ouch to that guy; wonder what he’s up to now.
The biggest question of “Hey Stephen (Taylor’s Version)” is: Who the hell is Stephen? Yes, the original raised this question as well, but we’re not talking about that version. Who is Stephen, both then and now? Famous to perhaps Swifties only, the Stephen in question is Stephen Barker Liles from some band called Love and Theft, who toured with Tay in 2008. According to Wikipedia, he’s married and has two kids now, so good for him. Anyway, the updated giggle in this song will live rent-free in my head until I perish.
Liner notes message: “LOVE AND THEFT,” not her most subtle clue. She had a crush on Stephen while they were touring together but she never told him. Well, at least not until the album was released and sold millions of copies. And will probably do it twice.
It’s wild listening to these breakup songs Taylor wrote as a teenager knowing where she’s at in her romantic life now. The fifth song on Taylor’s albums are notorious for being vulnerable, devastating, and chock full of feels; “White Horse” is no different. It isn’t her best track five, but it remains one of the most memorable songs on both Fearless and Fearless (Taylor’s Version) simply because of how sad it is — it’s especially poignant hearing her sing I’m gonna find someone someday, who might actually treat me well” from the perspective of an adult whose in her seemingly happiest and healthiest relationship yet.
Liner notes message: “ALL I EVER WANTED WAS THE TRUTH.” Taylor has said that this song is more about the worst part of a break-up: “The initial moment of ‘wow, it’s over’.” So if this isn’t about any one person in particular, that message makes it seem like she has dated more than one liar.
I apologize to Taylor, but because of a Tumblr post I saw years ago all I can think about when I hear this song is “She wears short shorts, I wear long longs. She’s cheer cheerer and I’m on the sit sits.” My brain is well and truly broken. That said, “You Belong With Me” is an undisputed bop and time hasn’t changed that. (Taylor’s Version) is fun because it sounds more like it does when she plays it live.
Liner notes message: “LOVE IS BLIND SO YOU COULDN’T SEE ME” was the secret message in the liner notes and I’m genuinely shocked it wasn’t turned into a lyric in a later song. (Though I suppose it still could; looking at you, Speak Now “From the Vault” tracks.) In a past interview, Tay said the song was inspired by a phone call that her guy friend had with his girlfriend, and that sparked the fictional storyline (which she would get really into on 2020’s folklore and evermore) so it’s likely that this message is from that fictional girl’s perspective as well.
I’m sure there are “Breathe” and now “Breathe (Taylor’s Version)” stans out there but I am not one of them. It’s not a bad song, but it’s on the slower side and isn’t the best showcase of her songwriting. What does do it for me, though, is the reference to 2 a.m. as it relates to the Taylor Swift book of songwriting tropes; across her albums, she repeats imagery of the hour of 2 a.m (“Mary’s Song (Oh, My, My, My)” on Taylor Swift, “Last Kiss”, “Enchanted” and “Mine” on Speak Now, “I Wish You Would” on 1989 Just to name a few), distinguishing it as her favorite time of night. Why? I have no fucking clue. I haven’t intentionally been awake at 2 a.m. on purpose in like five years, but Taylor apparently does it all the time. Maybe it’s when she does her best song writing? Who’s to say or judge.
Liner notes message: “I’M SORRY I’M SORRY I’M SORRY.” In a making-of video for the song, Taylor said it was actually about losing a friend, not the end of a romantic relationship. It is largely speculated to be about Taylor’s former fiddle player Emily Poe, who left the band before the Fearless era. I wonder if she accepted Taylor’s apology.
In “Tell Me Why” Taylor sings “I took a chance, I took a shot. And you might think I’m bulletproof, but I’m not.” When she wrote that lyric as a teenager, I doubt she knew that in just three albums’ time she would change the narrative entirely in her favor; she would go on to sing in 1989’s “I Know Places,” “They take their shots but we’re bulletproof.” You did it bb, you got that armor!
Liner notes message: “GUESS I WAS FOOLED BY YOUR SMILE.” Now who isn’t this message about. Take a look at any of the people Taylor has dated: They all have great smiles. This song is also about someone Taylor never officially dated because he was apparently kind of a dick. In an explanation of the song she said, “He would say things that would make me go, “Did you just say that?” It bothered me so much because he would say one thing and do another, do one thing and say another.” Boy, bye.
The liner notes message for this song was “SHE CAN HAVE YOU.” Talk. About. Drama. Do you think she still has him? Who is she? Who is he? These are the questions I am still asking over a decade later. She has never said who this song is about, but she did say it was someone who she thought was “Prince Charming” but clearly was not. The secret message makes me think it could be about Joe Jonas dumping her for Camilla Belle, as other tracks on the album are, but only T knows the truth.
2 a.m. rears its head again! Did Taylor really have that many fights at 2 a.m.? In the rain? She also loves rain imagery, in case you’re new here. (Which is fine! Welcome!) This song definitely feels different sung in her 30s because I can guarantee that Taylor does not miss the drama of this relationship. Sounds exhausting. We don’t know who the guy she misses is, but based on a past quote from Lucas Till (the love interest in the “You Belong With Me” music video whom Taylor briefly dated), he could be the underwhelming nice guy: “We dated for a little bit. But, there was no friction because we were too nice.”
Liner notes message: “WE CAN’T GO BACK.” She did date Joe Jonas before she dated Lucas, so we can leave this up for interpretation. But signs are pointing to a certain middle Jonas.
Has anyone checked on Joe Jonas? Is he okay? This is one of the only times Taylor has confirmed who a song is about. Back on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2008 she talked about how she recorded this one last minute and it just barely made the cut. And thank God it did. It likely bumped “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” one of the new version’s songs from the vault, off the final track listing but now we live in a timeline where we get both. So there are some happy endings for some people. Hopefully, Joe Jonas can find some peace after Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) drops. But then again, Taylor did ask on last year’s folklore, “Would it be enough if I could never give you peace?”
Liner notes message: “IF YOU PLAY THESE GAMES WE’RE BOTH GOING TO LOSE” which is a mic drop if you ask me.
This song has always been a sweet nod to Andrea Swift, Taylor’s mom. However, in 2021, it feels utterly heartbreaking, especially following Lover’s “Soon You’ll Get Better.” Taylor and her mother have always been close, and Taylor originally wrote this song for her mom as a Christmas present. In 2015, Taylor revealed her mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and then in 2019, that she was fighting cancer again. So yeah, if you want a good cry, listen to this and “Soon You’ll Get Better” back to back. That’ll really get you going.
Liner notes message: “GOD BLESS ANDREA SWIFT” and all I have to say to that is: Yes.
This song was played during highlights of the 2008 Olympics, which I vaguely remember but also don’t really. Maybe they can use “Change (Taylor’s Version)” for the 2020/2021 Olympics. Taylor Swift album releases are my sport of choice, I don’t really have time for others. Sorry.
Liner notes message: “YOU MADE THINGS CHANGE FOR ME.” Taylor has said before that this was about the uphill battle she faced being the only artist on a very small label. So the “you” in that message was most likely Big Machine Records’s Scott Borchetta. But um … due to the reasons why she re-recorded this album in the first place, Swifties are taking back that narrative saying that now, with this new era of her owning her masters for these re-records, is when things have changed.
As an album tracklist purist, it always bothered me that when the Fearless Platinum Edition was released, the bonus tracks were put at the beginning of the album instead of the end! What?! Anyway, I am glad Taylor saw reason with Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and put them at the end where they belong. “Jump Then Fall” just isn’t an opening track! “Superstar” is not a track 5! Justice has finally been served.
Liner notes message: “LAST SUMMER WAS MAGICAL”. She did date Joe the summer before the album came out so *eyes emoji*
Many people don’t know that this song is about Al Capone. True story. Oh wait, no, sorry. My sources are telling me I got it confused with the 1987 film The Untouchables. Probably because in my head this song is called “Little Taste of Heaven” not “Untouchable.” Oh, also I just found out in the year of our Lorde 2021 that this song is a cover of a band called Luna Halo. You truly do learn something new every day.
Liner notes message: “WE ALWAYS WANT WHAT WE CAN’T REACH” which is a little too on the nose, even for you, Tay.
This is the song for people who loved the original “Forever & Always” but feel like crying in their bedrooms instead of driving around with the windows down.
Liner notes message: “STILL MISS WHO I THOUGHT HE WAS”. But I think it’s safe to say she doesn’t miss that relationship 13 years later.
As someone who is perpetually tired, I always appreciated the line “I’ll leave my window open, ‘cause I’m too tired tonight to call your name.” That is my kind of courting — little effort.
Liner notes message: “WON’T ADMIT THAT I WISH YOU’D COME BACK.” I don’t know who this is about, but if it is raining that much, Taylor should close her window.
As I said above, justice has finally been served. “Superstar” is track 18, where it belongs, and not track five. It took 13 years but Taylor finally fixed this grave mistake. (Yes, I have been holding a grudge for this long. Yes, I learned that from listening to Taylor Swift.) This song is about someone who is way more famous than Taylor whom she wants to notice her. Because of an early demo that name checks the state of Arkansas, people think it could be about Joe Nichols, a country singer that Taylor performed with back in the early days.
Liner notes message: “I’LL NEVER TELL.” So there is our answer about that!
I feel like this Taylor and the Taylor who wrote “All You Had To Do Was Stay” should sit down and have a chat because it seems like if they just swapped boys they would be good to go.
Liner notes message: “WHAT I WAS REALLY THINKING WHEN I SLAMMED THE DOOR.” I hope this brought closure to Joe. Sorry, I mean closure to … whomever this song is about.
This song was not originally on Fearless but instead appeared on the soundtrack to the film Valentine’s Day, which starred Taylor opposite Taylor Lautner. Whom she later dated. And then confirmed she wrote “Back To December” on Speak Now about him. So, I want to take this space to get something off my chest: Taylor Lautner is the one who presented Taylor Swift with the VMA that Kanye interrupted her during. Now, that incident happened August 26, 2009. Taylor and Taylor allegedly dated from August to December 2009. Which begs the question: Were they dating at the time?! Taylor Lautner, why did you not stick up for your girlfriend?! I think about this a lot.
This is the first song from the vault that we received leading up to the release of Fearless (Taylor’s Version). I would like to particularly draw attention to the line “No amount of freedom makes you clean, I still got you all over me.” Although this song never made it onto the album, she definitely kept that imagery in her back pocket for six years and revisited it in 2014 for 1989’s “Clean.” Exhibit A: “You’re still all over me, like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore.” Exhibit B: “Gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean.” Also this song is definitely about Joe Jonas. See: the lyrics “The best and worst day of June is the one when I met you,” referenced clearly on both Speak Now’s “Last Kiss” and the secret message its liner notes: “FOREVER AND ALWAYS.” Your honor, I rest my case.
“It’s wonderful to see that you’re okay.” Okay, but once again, is Joe okay? I imagine by, like, 2012 he thought he was out of the woods but here we are in 2021 and Taylor is still dragging him. This song is Sophie Turner–approved, though, so there can’t be too much bad blood? This track is also another example of things she kept in her back pocket for later use: “Goodbye Mr. ‘Casually cruel’.” Does that sound familiar? Possibly from arguably one of Taylor’s best songs, “All Too Well”? It’s a bummer that she has dated two people that she would describe as casually cruel, but hey, we got some great songs out of it. But wait. If this had made it on the album, would Taylor have kept “so casually cruel in the name of being honest” in “All Too Well”? That is something I don’t want to think about.
I can see why this was cut from the original version of Fearless and not added on the platinum edition. It’s slow, but doesn’t pack as much of a punch as some of the other ballads on the album. Taylor sings wistfully about a relationship that she is no longer in, but still deeply feeling the pain from (my guess it is the same guy she wrote “Tim McGraw” about, which is speculated to be a high school boyfriend: Drew or Brandon). You can just imagine 16-17 year old Swift sitting in her room writing this with some teardrops on her guitar. Keith Urban’s harmonies are pleasant, though. Which brings me to…
A true full circle moment as Taylor opened for Keith Urban back in 2009. I appreciate how twangy and country Jack Antonoff, the go-to producer of her later eras, kept this song. It feels equal parts Fearless and Fearless (Taylor’s Version), the center of the venn diagram of the two Taylors.
Another Antonoff-produced track but this one has deep 1989 vibes. It makes you wonder what her original vision for this track was, because if this was it, she was foreshadowing her switch to pop much earlier than she let on. Maybe that was why it was cut? Anyway, I am manifesting into existence a Lizzo cameo on Taylor’s next tour where they sing “Juice” together and then Lizzo plays the flute part on this song.
The name of this track reminds me of Bye Bye Birdie, which is a completely different vibe from this song. That might explain why she didn’t put it on the original album; she was worried people would think it was a tribute to the ’60s musical. I was in Bye Bye Birdie twice as a kid, and personally, I like this song better thanks especially thanks to these lyrics: “The rain didn’t soak through my clothes, down to my skin. I’m driving away.” One, because that first part is a quintessential Swift line and also because she is always singing about dudes driving recklessly! That crash in “Out of the Woods”; the guy driving without headlights at 2 a.m. (heh) in “Style” I thought “I Think He Knows” on Lover was when she finally got some sense and started driving the damn car herself but apparently she had the sense a lot earlier … she just didn’t tell us until now.