On the surface, the new version of “Love Story” that Taylor Swift released today to introduce her re-recorded catalog project shows few obvious differences from the original 2008 hit. The two songs share the same 3:55 length and nearly identical arrangements, from the opening banjo plucks to the tasteful fiddles before the bridge. She hasn’t changed a word of the lyrics. So why does “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” feel like such a revelation?
Start with the opening lines: “We were both young when I first saw you/I close my eyes, and the flashback starts.” Right there is the first indication that Swift is up to something more interesting than simply securing a better share of the royalties for her old hits. When she wrote those words in the mid-2000s, she was a teenager herself, using an imagined future perspective to give a little more depth to the romantic story she was crafting. “Love Story” is about the kind of extravagant feelings you have when every interaction with your crush is life-or-death in a way that can only be expressed by referencing the Shakespeare play you were just discussing in your high school English class. On the original song, she gets that across with a vocal performance full of pure, youthful yearning. She’s a young person dreaming about what it would feel like to look back on the heart-pounding hugeness of now, and you can hear it in every rising inflection.
We all know what happened next: “Love Story” became Swift’s first true crossover smash, propelling her to the highest level of stardom before her 20th birthday. Now, at 31, she’s been one of the defining pop songwriters of her generation for more than a decade. Her vocal technique has matured, too, giving her subtler shades to work with, and they emerge clearly on repeat listens to “Love Story (Taylor’s Version).” Here, as on superbly sung Folklore ballads like “Seven” and “Betty,” she sounds a little softer, a little throatier, giving a little less full-steam showstopper energy in every bar. Like those, this has become a song about looking back on a past self in a mood of wistful tenderness, and she sings it that way.
When she sets the past-tense scene in that opening verse, you can hear a hint of what it’s like to call back a bittersweet memory from a long time ago and think, “Little did I know…” When she sings, later, “This love is difficult, but it’s real,” she has more lived experience of what a line like that might mean. Instead of a bright, shining act of writerly projection, like it was in 2008, this “Love Story” is full of rich, complex emotional flavor, performed by someone who’s learned how the love stories in your head can differ from the ones you really go through. It’s a savvy business move, a way for one of the world’s biggest stars to strike back after her old master recordings were sold off against her will to private equity sharks. But it’s also an artist in full command of what makes those catalog rights worth fighting for.
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