When Taylor Swift first recorded “Love Story” in 2008, I was too busy getting sucked into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the first Iron Man film to much notice. Thanks to a nasty dispute over the rights to the master recordings of her first six albums, Swift’s now re-recording and releasing them – starting with Fearless, the album on which “Love Story” first appeared way back when. Ownership of master recordings has been a perennial source of friction between artists and record labels since time immemorial, with Swift’s struggle rivaled only by Prince’s decades-long battle for control over his own music. Listening to her new version of “Love Story,” however, it’s clear that Swift’s re-recording campaign does much more than strike a blow for her own rights as an artist – it’s an artistic statement in its own right.
Swift has always been in a dialogue with her past self and work, especially on her past three albums: Lover, folklore, and evermore. On each of these records, she regularly reflects on herself and the sentiments expressed in her previous music. In an unmistakable reference to the title track from 2012’s Red, for instance, Swift acknowledges on Lover’s “Daylight” that she “once believed love would be (burning red).” Older and wiser, she now knows better: love isn’t red or black and white, “it’s golden.” It’s certainly no coincidence that the album artwork for her re-recording of Fearless has a gold tint.
That’s also apparent on folklore, with the entire album at times sounding a like an extended meditation on the universal themes she’s explored throughout her career. It’s equally evident on evermore, with Swift giving her past self advice on “long story short.” But she saves her sharpest lyrics for the bonus track “right where you left me,” where she portrays that her heartbroken and frozen-in-time protagonist as “still 23/inside her fantasy/how it was supposed to be.” Taken together with evermore’s second bonus track, “it’s time to go,” Swift all but invites us to take note of how her own ideas about love, romance, and fundamental human relationships have grown and matured since she was that age herself.
So it ought to be no surprise that Swift’s remake of “Love Story” possesses the same spirit of self-reflection that permeates her recent work. As she herself noted on social media, she’s now revisiting songs she wrote when she was between sixteen and eighteen years old and still held out hope that the “fairytale ending she’d been shown in the movies might be true. Like other songs that change meaning with time and experience – Pearl Jam’s “Alive” is a particularly poignant example – “Love Story” takes on a new meaning when Swift records it today.
It’s not simply that the music itself has a crisper and clearer sound, or that Swift’s vocals express a greater depth and range of emotion. “Love Story” changes meaning from a teenager’s romantic fantasy to an adult’s reminiscence about the origins of a lasting relationship, a couple’s founding myth. More than that, though, it’s become a song about the intimacy Swift’s forged with her fans over the course of her career. That’s blatantly obvious in her lyric video for the remake, which contains video and photos of Swift’s meetings with her fans in 2008 when “so many unbreakable bonds” were formed. In the process, she’s imbued the song’s stand-out lyric “we were both young when I first saw you” with a new and far more profound significance.
That’s a sentiment echoed in the bridge of evermore’s title track as well, but Swift makes it crystal clear with her remake of “Love Story.” It’s an artistic achievement that’s all the more impressive because it could not have been fully anticipated ahead of time – one that could only have come about through a potent combination of serendipity and Swift’s own talent.