Still a Love Story, Only More23 April 2021
In the backseat of my family’s old sedan, the air was warm in spite of the blasting air conditioning. I leaned against the window, scanning the houses we passed by. The weekend was so close that I could’ve grasped it between my fingers. At eight years old, a lot of things looked brand new. At eight years old, anything seemed possible. I sank back into my seat. The heat stayed strong and the radio vibrated against the dashboard. Everything was amplified.
A voice, soft and light, sang:
“We were both young when I first saw you.”
A few chord changes, words exchanged, a banjo echoed and the single beat of a drum built up into something more. I slipped into the rhythm and there was no going back. I felt myself sinking deeper into my seat and suddenly, I couldn’t care less about the heat. I was fully submerged in the sound.
“Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone.”
We all know how this story goes. We’ve all heard it at least once, somehow, somewhere. We know who they are, these star-crossed lovers. And the tragic ending? Taylor Swift reimagined it in a whole different light, a second chance.
“You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess. It’s a love story. Baby, just say yes.”
Through Swift’s voice, I found myself in the midst of a ball, looking for a familiar face in the crowd. I admired the lights, the crowd, the details. I walked through the garden that the second verse painted, holding onto a secret. I saw a princess waiting for her prince. One scene after another, I was moving through time. At an age where Disney movies were everything to me, this song was magical.
I raced my brother to the front door when we got home. On the bookshelf, I picked up a dictionary. This became a routine of mine every time Swift released a song, a scavenger hunt guided by her lyrics.
Almost 13 years later, I sit cross-legged on my bed in a different city, with my fingers wrapped around my phone the way the car’s speakers wrapped around me as a kid. Love Story (Taylor’s Version) has just been released that afternoon. I can still feel the heat of my family car. I can still remember everything. I put my earphones on and listen.
“We were both young when I first saw you.”
And there it is, that warmth and comfort from so long ago. Swift is right. We were both young when we first saw each other. It had been years and years of growing together and separately all at once, but our intimacy has remained throughout. I suppose that’s what matters most to her fans, or to anyone who’s stuck with her work since Love Story’s initial release back in 2008. The re-recorded version hits close to home. Maybe the re-recorded one is home, for some.
Swift kept the majority of the song exactly the same, though the production has shifted ever so slightly. The iconic violin strings still reach a climax right before the bridge (you know, those famous few seconds that make you want to run through a field in a ballgown) and not a single lyric has been changed, but somehow, the melody feels more intimate. The atmosphere is more defined—where the original was more like a sunny day at the park, the re-recording is a dimly lit cafe tucked into the corner of a bustling city. And while I’ve always thought the initial Love Story felt personal, this re-recorded version reaches a new level. It could easily blend in with folklore or evermore, Swift’s latest releases that still has me keeping a dictionary on my nightstand.
“My faith in you was fading when I met you on the outskirts of town.”
Billboard’s Richard S. remarks that the 2021 version of Love Story feels “…relaxed, at peace…”. This is present in Swift’s voice throughout. A more mature, calm tone portrays the story of two people meeting at (perhaps) the wrong time, yet still getting their happy ending. An alternate conclusion to Shakespeare’s tale that we’ve all gotten to know so well. It caught me the first time I heard it on the radio, and it still catches me now.
Swift embodies every single line and fits her experiences of the last 13 years in between the lyrics. She shares the raw truth of growing up and all its complexities, along with having “…learned how the love stories in your head can differ from the ones you really go through,” as Simon Vozick-Levinson writes for Rolling Stone. She now understands what it’s like to have faith in someone, and for that faith to slowly fade. The garden feels more sacred; everything feels just that much closer.
I can still see that balcony when I close my eyes, almost the same way I did thirteen years ago. Almost. Like Swift, I know myself a bit better now. I hold onto things differently. I’m older, and hopefully, wiser too. I’ve sat on different balconies in different cities watching different sunsets, and so when Swift sings about the summer air, I can actually feel it lingering a little longer on my skin. Waiting for something to unfold—I now have experiences of my own and I’ve slipped them between these lyrics.
“This love is difficult, but it’s real.”
Like Romeo and Juliet, we’re pulled by fate. And fate takes us deep into the twists and turns of growing up, whether we ask it to or not. Perhaps that’s why she included them in the first place. Even the slightest change still counts as a change—that’s what separates Swift’s 2021 version from the original. That’s why it matters even more. It isn’t a reinvention, rather the act of stopping by to chat with an old friend after a long time has passed.