Illustration by Zelalem Waritu

Taylor Swift: Past and Present

Having followed her journey over the past 13 years, I revel in Taylor Swift’s minuscule re-recording changes in her music, new vault songs and her storytelling growth. She shaped who I am as a musician.

Apr 18, 2021

The year is 2008 and I am eight years old. Taylor Swift’s Fearless is playing in the background. I just got my first guitar and am beyond excited to become just like my favorite songwriter. Having had her first big performance at 11 years old and having been the youngest artist signed to Sony Music Publishing at the age of 13, it was no wonder that Swift has served as a role model for many young, aspiring musicians. To me, however, she was not only impressive because of her achievements — her music has always felt, and still feels, like home to me.
During the pandemic, Swift released two new albums, Folklore in July 2020 and Evermore in December 2020, as well as a re-recording of her 2008 release, Fearless (Taylor’s Version). But why did the artist choose to re-release her first six albums? In 2005, she was signed with Big Machine Records, just a year prior to the release of her self-titled debut album. When her contract expired in 2018, she shifted to Republic Records under Universal Music Group, but the rights to her first six albums remained with Big Machine. Following this move, Swift’s masters were purchased by record executive Scooter Braun, who disallowed her from performing any of her old music on television, claiming that it would be considered re-recording before she is allowed to. Braun then re-sold the records to another company for an estimated 300 million USD. When announcing that she would be re-recording her older albums, Swift stated in a tweet:“I just want to be able to perform MY OWN music.”
With the re-recordings coming out in 2021 and, presumably, 2022, Taylor can accomplish several goals. First of all, she takes ownership of her music again and collects royalties from songs she wrote and performed. Beyond the financial aspects, though, the re-recordings introduce new fans to her older works. The music which was relatable to older fans when we were 13 and 14 years old becomes relatable to the early teens of today. In a way, it is the discography that keeps on giving.
The successful artist also manages to remind her longtime fans of the music that made them fall in love with her for the first time. Fans like me, who have been enchanted with her for over 13 years, whose childhood was divided into stages based on what album she was releasing at the time, revel in analyzing the re-recordings for miniscule lyric changes and tiny alterations in intonation. We relive the time when the albums first came out.
Additionally, we get to discover the vault songs — songs written during the album’s era but previously unreleased, six of which were featured on Fearless (Taylor’s Version). These pieces were deemed unsuitable for the album the first time around, usually because they were too similar to another song from the record. Listening to 31 year old Swift sing things she wrote when she was 17 or 18 is such a special feeling — it is both revelatory and personal in a way that, after all these years, she feels comfortable letting her fans into the deep corners of her young mind. Adolescent breakup songs from more than 10 years ago, such as Mr. Perfectly Fine, make me smile, considering that she is now in a happy, long term relationship, and yet the passion in her voice is as strong as ever.
One of the most touching parts of Taylor’s songwriting, to me, is the fact that it is so descriptive and narrative. She is a poet and a storyteller, and has only gotten better since the early years of her career. She paints stunning images with her words and creates worlds with each album she releases. This is particularly evident on Folklore and Evermore, in which songs are connected by intricate storylines and characters. With lines like “now you hang from my lips like the Gardens of Babylon” and “my calamitous love and insurmountable grief,” Swift’s writing is more mature now than ever. However, no matter how far she strays from the 16 year old, cowboy boot clad country singer, each song she releases has that unique Taylor je ne sais quoi.
Having followed her entire career and having grown up listening to her music, I am proud of what she has achieved, as well as the resilience she has demonstrated in times of professional and personal struggles. I can say freely that she has shaped who I am as a musician and, although my dream of performing with her will most likely never come true, I will always hold her in a special, warm place in my heart and my music.
Morgane Motlik is the Philosophy columnist. Email her at
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