The wait is over and Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is now out in the wild. What seemed like a dream for many of her fans, me included, is now a reality. I have written extensively about the social / commercial power behind Swift re-recording these albums and reclaiming her voice. It not just gives her the money she deserves, but is a larger symbolic move in an age where women’s voices are gaining prominence within larger society. Having said that, the most interesting idea behind this record is having Swift record tracks she wrote in 2008 with her 2021 perspective. At times you may have an artist tour an old record years, or sometimes decades, later, but it is very rare to have an album entirely re-recorded. This gives us a unique look at how an artist has evolved over time.
Taylor Swift has had a busy 12 months. She recorded two of her best original albums in folklore and Evermore, did a Disney+ special on recording folklore and still found time to re-record Fearless. Along with all the original tracks from the 2008 release, there are six unreleased songs “from the vault.” These are the most fascinating in that they were all written in 2008, but no one has heard them until now. What does it sound like to hear a 2021 Taylor Swift on a brand new 2008 track?
The short answer is amazing, but the longer answer is more interesting. Fearless has always had a Bruce Springsteen Born to Run vibe with its stories about love lost, country America and straddling the line between country and rock. Out of all of the unreleased tracks, the one that connected with me the most is Bye Bye Baby.
Musically, this song fits right in with the rest of the record with its country twang mixed with pop sensibilities. There is a lilting piano and drums that gives it a modern pop sound and echos some of her work on folklore. However, the slide and acoustic guitar is not far behind to remind us that Taylor Swift was once the biggest thing in country music. She underscores this with really belting it out with some country twang in the chorus. Gone is having her voice back in the mix and you are now able to bathe in all of its glory. Musically and vocally this song stands on its own and fits well within the rest of the record; however, it is lyrically that things get interesting.
Swift’s lyrics on Bye Bye Baby fit in with other tracks like Fearless and Love Story in that Swift is exploring the conflicting emotions involved in relationships. However, hearing Swift sing it in 2021, I see more agency and remorse where she says “bye bye” to the relationship as she drives away. I get a similar vibe to the stellar duet she did with Matt Berninger, Coney Island, where Swift sings about a relationship that has eroded away, but she looks back in regret at what might have been. As she drives away in Bye Bye Baby she sings: “Bye bye to everything I thought was on my side / Bye bye baby / I want you back but it’s come down to nothing.” You get the feeling that the woman in this song is the same woman sitting on a bench reminiscing about love lost in Coney Island. Moreover, her Bruce Springsteen level lyrics and storytelling kick in with the line: “The picture frame is empty / On the dresser, vacant just like me.” Just an intense image.
I feel that there is more nuance in this song than would have been played in 2008. You can hear longing in her voice mixed with defiance as she yells “Bye Bye Baby” during the chorus. This is not a simple story of black and white, but one of Swift wishing the relationship worked out, even though she decided to leave. You get the feeling that she grieves what could have been, but is confident in waving goodbye to the relationship. Even though the lyrics lend themselves to that reading, I think the past 13 years have given Swift the experiences and records necessary to play that nuance in her vocal performance.
All in all, Bye Bye Baby is an excellent addition to the record and illustrates how Swift’s 2021 performance can breathe new life and layered meanings to these 2008 tracks. It is wonderful to see this record come together and I am very excited to see Red given the same treatment. Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is a must buy for any Taylor Swift fan. You get to support Taylor in her journey to reclaim her voice and her art, while also getting to hear an artist reinterpret her prior work.
Listen to Bye Bye Baby