It’s easy to construe Taylor Swift’s latest project, of rerecording her first six albums to regain ownership of the songs’ masters, as self-centered. In messages to fans about the rerecordings, Swift has particularly focused on how the process has impacted her. “It has already proven to be both exciting and creatively fulfilling,” she wrote in November, shortly after her masters were sold again. Swift echoed those sentiments in a note announcing Fearless (Taylor’s Version), writing about how she could now “fully appreciate” her Grammy-winning 2008 sophomore album “in its whimsical, effervescent, chaotic entirety.” But look at it another way, and Fearless (Taylor’s Version) — especially taken with the five more rerecorded albums to come — is a monumental act of fan service. Rather than asking fans to buy into a new stylistic era (which, for the record, she had no trouble with last year), Swift is now giving people the hits all over again, even starting with one of her most beloved albums.
The most exciting part? Swift giving Fearless the full classic-reissue treatment, with six never-before-released songs from that era. First offering “You All Over Me,” with backing vocals from fellow country-pop star Maren Morris, arrived as a moving, muted ballad not too far from Swift’s recent work on folklore and evermore. (Swift did, after all, continue working with those projects’ right-hand producers Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff on all six vault tracks.) Then, days before Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Swift released a much more noticeable blast from the past in vault track “Mr. Perfectly Fine.” It’s the sort of classic Swiftian breakup song we haven’t heard in years — and coming ahead of the fully rerecorded Fearless, a perfect reminder of the Taylor Swift the world first fell in love with.
The jokes about Swift only writing breakup songs weren’t only reductive to her, they were reductive to the songs themselves, which could be angry, mournful, speculative, even playful. “Mr. Perfectly Fine” is one of Swift’s cheekier takes, turning a lyrical formula that could be cheesy in someone else’s hands into a pretty catchy pop song. She’d write other clever breakup anthems, like “The Story of Us” on Speak Now, and mine her breakup with Joe Jonas (the alleged Mr. Perfectly Fine) elsewhere on Fearless’s punkish “Forever & Always” and Speak Now’s more reflective “Last Kiss.” So it’s easy to see why “Mr. Perfectly Fine” stayed in the vault — but it’s just as easy to imagine it being yet another hit in 2008, eliciting fervent sing-alongs on Swift’s tours. Swift’s early doubters should feel especially silly now that they know that the outtakes from her second album, first written before she turned 20, can stand up to the songs that did make the final cut.
Unless you’re a purist, you probably have a Swift era you’re not partial to; maybe you thought 1989 was vapid, reputation was heavy-handed, or folklore was a snooze. But assuming you’re a Swift fan, or were the album’s target age at the height of its original fame, you probably remember the excitement of her early years, of listening to stellar country-pop about the rush of being young, sad, frustrated, excited, and in love. If you don’t, a song like “Mr. Perfectly Fine” can pull you right back in. In 2021, it’s hard not to see Taylor Swift as the shape-shifting pop star who dominated the past decade, even listening to her rerecordings of Fearless hits. But Swift’s vault tracks, more than anything else on the album, still crackle with that “magic and curiosity” she described in Fearless.