So, Taylor Swift re-recording her first 5 albums is no big deal, right? WRONG.
For a start, this has only happened a few times in music history. In 2017 Japanese artist Naime Amuro re-recorded 39 singles for a compilation album, JoJo re-released her first two albums due to a similar dispute to Taylors, Deaf Leppard re-recored bits of their Greatest Hits thanks to a label dispute, and finally, in 1960 The Everly Brothers re-recorded their early catalogue when switching labels.
Throughout this, there is little precedent for an artist re-recording their whole back catalogue, so technically, Taylor is the first artist in history to attempt to re-release their whole discography.
This is an incredible opportunity for music historians, and fans alike, to compare the production techniques and vocal development from across the fifteen years of Taylor’s music career.
Back in February Taylor released the first re-recording, ‘Love Story’, off of the album Fearless. On first listen they sound pretty similar. In fact, you may be thinking, why are we freaking out about this? Well, we often ask ourselves that too, but let’s take a closer look at the differences in both versions of ‘Love Story’ and why they make the upcoming releases so exciting.
The first thing to note is that Taylor’s voice has (obviously) improved. On the whole, this is a positive thing, of course, but in reality, does this really affect the re-recording of ‘Love Story’?
The charm of ‘Love Story’ is entirely based in Taylor’s vocal performance. The original vocals have a quaking and vulnerable quality that portrays desperation and yearning. Any weakness in her voice is masked by the full instrumental until the bridge, where you would naturally want a vulnerable moment. This means that as the instrumental becomes more sparse, those listening experience the really satisfactory moment of a slowly building “Romeo, save me / I’ve been feeling so alone” that starts off weak but has room to grow. In the newer version, Taylor’s voice doesn’t quite match the same vulnerability as before, giving the build-up less room to grow, which makes it less dramatic… Well, personally for me anyway.
Other than this unsolvable vocal aspect, what is different? Production-wise, there are more layers of backing vocals that start earlier in the song and are more comfortable in the mix, helping give the song a more rounded and filled out sound. The acoustic guitar has been brought forward in the mix and the drums are less country-rustic and are now rounded, reminiscent of more recent productions. It wouldn’t be impossible to assume that the new drums have been stacked with synth drums to give the drums more “presence”, something that was a lot less common for country artists in 2006.
Whether any of this has any effect on how you enjoy the song is purely personal, of course, but over here at RIOT the possibility of seeing what 2021 Taylor can do with these classic tracks had us thinking…
What Taylor re-recordings are we most looking forward to and what pitfalls could Taylor and her team fall into while rerecording?
Where else to start except where Taylor herself decided to begin her re-recording journey? After hearing the new ‘Love Story’ we can assume that ‘You Belong With Me’ is going to be treated similarly, which, honestly, is going to be a vast improvement. That song needs serious help with its flat hi-hat tone and cheesy production… Both things only 2008 can provide.
What track are we worried about? ‘Hey Stephen’
What could go wrong: A soft country-twinged song that relies on young Taylor’s soft wispy voice and sparse instrumental could become lost in now Taylor’s developed pop sensibilities.
What could go right: Including a similar drum tone and mixing to the new ‘Love Story’ and Folklore could elevate the song to a whole new level.
Speak Now is very much a child of its time with its melodramatic 2000s rock inspiration and… interesting… lyrics. We think that the new version of ‘Haunted’ is going to be a guaranteed banger of a re-recording- especially after seeing Taylors improved flair for the dramatic and new attention to building soundscapes.
Speak Now has an “oh damn it’s 2009, where boyfriends are property, and when a guy moves on it’s because the new girlfriend stole him from you, and also all women are competition” mindset. We are excited to see what Taylor does with it.
What track are we worried about? (well a few, but specifically…) Better Than Revenge
What could go wrong: The re-recording of this song is as close as we will ever get to a 2020 Misery Business, which even Paramore has put to bed. ‘Better Than Revenge’’s energy is incredible and nostalgic, as long as we ignore the “she deserved it” and the “she’s better known for things that she does on the mattress”… *half time drum breakdown*
How is Taylor going to approach this weird 2009 time capsule? We are excited to find out, but are also, understandably, worried. There’s very few ways that everyone will genuinely feel happy about this.
What could go right: We… can’t tell whether we want the songs to stay how they are or if changing them would be better…
Red, released in 2012, seems to be the strongest production capsule of the 2010s. This album is rife with defining sounds of the 2010s- the vocal chopping in ‘Red’, the dubstep reminiscent break of ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’, the stacked saw synths in ‘22’… and is that a Ukulele in ‘Stay Stay Stay’?
So the real questions are: is she going to recreate the production directly and are we going to potentially see an updated duet of ‘Everything Has Changed’ with Ed Sheran?
What track are we worried about? I Knew You Were Trouble
What could go wrong: This song is the most 2012 song that 2012 could muster up. We are gifted with the guitar tone that was also used by Kesha, Marina and The Diamonds, Jessie J, Katy Perry, Flo Rida and just about every musician in 2012 that thought they were pushing the boat out for having a bit-crushed guitar in their songs. That’s without mentioning the bass drop into a dubstep reminiscent breakdown and super dense compression which was a weird obsession and production-must for pop artists in 2012.
What could go right: The song fits well in its time capsule, where the year before Taylor Swift could essentially be credited with bringing Niki Minaj into the popular consciousness by rapping Super Bass at an interview. Her inspiration for ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ makes sense when you know Starships was released in February 2012 and ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ was released that following October. Are we going to get a version of ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ inspired by the currently trendy new disco-pop revival songs by Doja Cat, Dua Lipa or Lady Gaga? There is real potential.
1989 is the place where the production starts to blend into current techniques and gets harder to differentiate. Songs like ‘Shake It Off’ and ‘New Romantics’ would certainly be different under today’s standards, but most of the tracks seem like they could’ve been released much closer to 2020 than they actually were. Is it bold to say some of the songs like ‘Style’ and ‘Wildest Dreams’ cannot be improved upon?
What track are we worried about? Bad Blood
What could go wrong: This song is already extremely cleanly produced, and after Reputation’s release we know what happens when you attempt to intricately overproduce everything (not great things). The original song already feels like its main purpose was to work as the base of a rap song, like it’s waiting for something more… So hopefully, Taylor realises what’s lacking and can provide it successfully.
What could go right: New Rap feature???
Self Titled Album
This album is going to be the weirdest to hear recreated as Taylor no longer sings with a strong country twang. Will she bring it back or will she sing about pickup trucks without the yeehaw in her voice? Nothing is guaranteed with this album’s recreation. Nothing is sacred.
What track are we worried about? Picture To Burn
What could go wrong: This song’s charm is in Taylor being 16 and only really knowing about writing youthful country songs. What if we never get the line “There’s nothing stopping me from going out with all of your best friends” in its original parlance? We genuinely cannot imagine Taylor recreating this album, it seems like she is two different people.
What could go right: Yeehaw Taylor is back 🤠
It’s hard to guess exactly how Taylor is going to recreate these albums, and if we are honest, there is a chance some of “Taylor’s version”s are going to be complete disasters. The fate of this project rests in small but important choices, whether or not these will be note by note recreations of her past works, or if old tracks will be injected with Taylors modern day pop sensibilities.
Either way, we’re excited to see what surprises come as Taylor takes us back through her musical history…