Taylor Swift‘s long-promised project of re-recording her first seven albums — in an effort to reclaim control of her back catalog — kicked off in earnest earlier this month with the release of “Love Story (Taylor’s Version),” the first taste of the upcoming Fearless (Taylor’s Version), a full-length second take at her 2008 breakout LP. The new “Love Story” hews fairly closely to the original version, with only subtle differences in performance and arrangement — though ones that still suggest the 13-year gulf that exists between the two recordings.
Fan response to the re-recording of Swift’s first signature hit has been, well, swift: The song sold 10,000 copies on its first day of release, and debuts at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Digital Song Sales listing with its 25,000 in total sales last week. With additional help from 13.7 million in U.S. first-week streams (all figures according to MRC data), the song debuts at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart, and No. 11 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 — low by new Taylor Swift single standards, perhaps, but remarkably high for a re-recording of any kind by anyone.
What kind of returns can we expect for the rest of Taylor Swift’s re-recording project? And who else might we like to see take another crack at one of their classic albums? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. A No. 11 debut for “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” — short of the top 10 and the original’s No. 4 peak, but still very impressive for a new version of an old hit. On a scale from 1-10, if you’re Taylor Swift, how happy are you with that showing?
Jason Lipshutz: I’d be at a 8. A new version of a song that’s been out for over a decade, that sounds nearly identical to the original version, just debuted at No. 11 on the Hot 100! Even with Taylor Swift’s superstardom and general curiosity around her re-recording endeavor in mind, this debut is pretty remarkable on paper, and not the type of older-song resurgence that is typical within the upper reaches of the chart. Knock two points off for the top 10 near-miss — maybe that will come with “You Belong With Me (Taylor’s Version).”
Mia Nazareno: I’d be off the charts at an 11! Thirteen years after the original “Love Story” was released, I’d be stoked to know that the track is still resonating with her fans – many of whom are in a totally different life phase from when Fearless came out in 2008. Beyond the numbers and strong chart debut, no one forgets the first time they heard the dreamy guitar intro leading to: “We were both young when I first saw you.” If I were Taylor, I’d feel proud of the emotional ties forged with her fans from back then is still very much there.
Andrew Unterberger: If I were her hearing this a month ago, I’d say I’d be at least a 9 — there was no way to predict how invested fans would be in supporting a re-recording that didn’t offer a ton of difference from the original, and clearly the returns there are almost unprecedentedly positive. But if I heard this a couple days into the week, after the first-day response was so overwhelming and some chart-watchers were predicting as high as a top 5 Hot 100 debut, I might feel more like a 7 that it petered out one spot shy of the top 10. So I’ll split the difference and say 8.
Denise Warner: Pretty happy — I’ll go with a 7. She was up against super fan Olivia Rodrigo, who continues to dominate, The Weeknd, who just performed on the biggest stage of the year, Ariana Grande, Cardi B and more. There’s no shame in “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” hitting No. 11 with all of that strong competition. Plus the No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart is a nice cherry on top.
Christine Werthman: No. 1 or nothing, baby! Just kidding. I would be pretty stoked about that placement. It’s a new recording, but it’s deliberately not a fresh take on the original, so the fact that it managed to climb that high is a big win. Let’s call it an 8.
2. Do you think we can expect similar chart returns for any other potential advance track releases from Fearless (Taylor’s Version)? Or was this due to a one-time curiosity, unlikely to be repeated?
Jason Lipshutz: The re-recorded version of “You Belong With Me” could soar higher if it debuts during the right chart week — after all, it was the bigger hit from Fearless (peaking at No. 2 on the Hot 100, whereas “Love Story” made it to No. 4), was a clearer mainstream breakthrough for Swift at the time, and seems to have endured more prosperously within popular culture over the past decade. Yet the real answer to this question concerns the six previously unreleased tracks that Swift will unveil with her re-recorded Fearless: if at least one is released ahead of the album to entice longtime fans desperate for more tunes from her 2008 era, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) could snag a top 10 hit.
Mia Nazareno: I think it’ll be repeated over and over again. “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” was a teaser — to pique her fans’ interest and bring them back to 2008, a much better year. It sets the mood for the other tracks to follow. Everyone has their own favorite song off of Fearless, and I think a few them will overtake “Love Story (Taylor’s Version).” What will be interesting is finding out which songs have aged particularly well and may even chart better than its original.
Andrew Unterberger: I bet more will chart, but I’d be pretty surprised if another Fearless (Taylor’s Version) cut matched the No. 11 debut of “Love Story.” I’m betting a lot of folks gave it a spin out of curiosity to hear just how different she was planning on making her re-recordings, and now that the answer is clearly “not very,” there’ll be fewer casual fans tuning into the next one. But I didn’t think even the first one would get nearly so high, so I could definitely be wrong about this, too.
Denise Warner: Her fans will rally behind the never-before-released songs from the album — and if she follows the multiple-remix and music video playbook she used with “Cardigan” and “Willow,” she could have another new No. 1 on her hands.
Christine Werthman: I think that all her new recordings will chart. Her fans are loyal enough to tune in and casual listeners are interested in playing the “spot the difference” game. But I am skeptical that any of the other new recordings will travel this high, aside from “You Belong With Me.” That original peaked at No. 2, highest of the Fearless singles, so I suspect that the re-recorded version could get into the top 10.
3. Now that we know that Swift mostly plans on re-recording these songs fairly faithfully to their original versions, are there any Taylor’s Versions from Fearless that you think could still end up being particularly revelatory?
Jason Lipshutz: “You Belong With Me” is the obvious choice — still one of Swift’s 10 best songs, and so much of its momentum comes from its vocal nuances. Yet I’ve also been wondering about the rework of the Colbie Caillat collaboration “Breathe,” and trying to imagine how that will sound with both artists now squarely in their thirties, singing from a wiser perspective. I guess we’ll see soon enough!
Mia Nazareno: “YOU BELONG WITH ME”!!! It is my personal favorite Taylor Swift song, and the track that started it all for 15-year-old me. But since its original debut, “You Belong With Me” has taken on a different narrative in pop culture, involving the 2009 VMAs and a certain rap eccentric. Re-releasing her version of the song could be a way for her to take it back from the drama. After all, isn’t this all about ownership?
Andrew Unterberger: “Fifteen” seems like the one most ripe for reinvention — even in terms of the tiny subconscious differences in vocal performance that seem like they’ll be inevitable from Swift singing the adolescent tale for the first time as a 30-something. I’ll also be very much looking forward to the new “Hey Stephen,” a personal favorite deep cut that always sounded like it was written and recorded in such a specific point of an early crush; it’ll be fascinating to hear her try to recapture that feeling.
Denise Warner: In my mind, the obvious answer is “You Belong With Me.” Even without changing the lyrics, I imagine Taylor’s savvy enough to imbue a sense of “friend zone” entitlement to her narrator that is lacking in the original. However, “Fifteen” might even been more fascinating — at 18, Taylor was singing about a recent period of her life. At 31, things look a little different.
Christine Werthman: I’ll put this in writing now: “Fifteen” is going to outperform the original, which peaked at No. 23. Listening to Taylor sing that song now as a 30-something? Chills. I’ve got chills! I know I’ll be tuning in repeatedly to see if I can spot any reflective sighs or knowing smiles as Taylor looks back on that specific teenage tale.
4. What other album by a pop star of the last 15 years would you be the most interested in hearing a re-recorded version of?
Jason Lipshutz: Grimes has become such a brilliant producer over the past decade that I’ve long been curious how she would rework some of her pre-Visions material if given the chance — after all, there are songs on 2010’s Geidi Primes and Halfaxa that contain the type of melodic beauty that hinted at her future breakthrough. Those projects contain plenty of lo-fi charm, but if Grimes re-recorded them now (or eventually), they’d be must-listens for me.
Mia Nazareno: What I wouldn’t give to relive Lorde’s 2017 set Melodrama — the soundtrack to my early 20’s. It would be cool to listen to a stripped down, stay-at-home-sounding-rendition of “Supercut,” “Homemade Dynamite,” or any of the other gems on her sophomore album. But at this point, I’ll take anything from the New Zealand-bred pop star. Come baaaack.
Andrew Unterberger: I’d love to hear Kesha taking a shot at reclaiming her Animal/Cannibal era. She can never totally shed Dr. Luke from those songs, since of course he co-wrote the majority of them, but she can at least shed some of the memories she has from his involvement in their specific recordings — and probably work in some fun 2020s Kesha-style reinventions of the electro-pop classics from her dollar sign days in the process.
Denise Warner: Sorry, still going with Taylor here, just because I can’t wait to hear the new Red. Give me a faithful re-recording AND give me a Folklore-esque version.
Christine Werthman: Does Kanye West count as a pop star? If yes, I’d like to hear him do 808s & Heartbreak now, following his divorce. Lord knows the man could use some musical catharsis again. If not, then Beyonce on B’Day, perhaps with an extended extended mix of “Get Me Bodied.” Also a 2021 “Freakum Dress” would be so timely: “I think I’m ready/ Been locked up in the house way too long.” Right?!
5. A year from now, you’re in the supermarket, and “Love Story” comes on. Be honest: What percentage chance do you give yourself of being able to identify if it’s the 2008 original version or the new “Taylor’s Version”?
Jason Lipshutz: Zero! Supermarkets are not the forum for subtle production shifts, at least for me. There’s too much going on to sniff out the refreshed instrumentation! Maybe I’d have better luck at a post office, or coffee shop, or doctor’s waiting room? Time will tell in which everyday scenarios I’ll be able to stand up and declare, “Taylor’s Version!”
Mia Nazareno: Depending on how chaotic it is at the supermarket (fingers crossed there won’t be another pandemic-induced grocery craze next year!), I think I could identify the version with an 80% success rate. Taylor’s voice has changed slightly from 2008. In the 2021 version, she sounds confident and so sure of herself. Her 2021 version sounds a lot like growth – like she doesn’t need Romeo after all – and that’s what we like to hear.
Andrew Unterberger: Maybe 40%? Depends how clearly I can make out the levels of the fiddle in the chorus, or if I stick around long enough to hear how long she holds the final note.
Denise Warner: Zero percent. The only way I can tell now is if I’m looking at my phone while each version plays one right after the other. I highly doubt I’d be able to tell out in the wild.
Christine Werthman: Zero percent chance. No shame.