Taylor Swift has an preternatural ability to write infectiously catchy songs; the type where every lyric buries itself deep within your brain until you have no choice but to triumphantly shout out each word of it whenever it comes on. It’s one of the few threads that runs through all her work – from 2008’s ‘Love Story’ to 2017’s ‘Getaway Car’, all the way to 2020’s ‘No Body, No Crime’. ‘Fearless’ is filled with these sort of tracks and this quality, combined with the sheer nostalgia value of each track creates something undeniably joyous about listening to all these tracks for the first time in years; re-living in real time with Taylor the innocence, simplicity and turbulence of youth. The title – and opening – track encapsulates this perfectly. While the imagery created on ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’ was rich, dense and multi-dimensional, there’s something charmingly simple about the lyricism on ‘Fearless’ (“There’s something ’bout the way / The street looks when it’s just rained”). The chorus captures those irreplaceable feelings that follow first love; the sheer ecstasy of it and the accompanying sense of invincibility (“‘Cause I don’t know how it gets better than this / You take my hand and drag me head first, fearless”).
At a time where music critics, and society at large, were quick to dismiss anything that was consumed primarily by teenage girls, ‘Fearless’ (both the album and the song itself) stands as a defiant, unapologetic embrace of the experiences of being a woman on the brink of transitioning out of her teenager years; never trying to seem overly-mature or above-it-all. ‘Fifteen’ captures the naivety of youth (“Cause when you’re fifteen and somebody tells you they love you / You’re gonna believe them”) while ‘Tell Me Why’ captures the unrivalled ability teenagers have to hold a grudge (“Yes I remember what you said last night”).
‘Fearless’ (be it the original or ‘Taylor’s Version’) is unmistakably of-it’s-time; even the newfound rich production and improved vocals can’t hide that. Much of ‘Fearless’ relies on similes, metaphors and references – damsels in distress, Romeo and Juliet – that have since been discarded into the dumpster of fatally overused clichés. ‘You Belong With Me’ still has all the replay value it did over a decade ago, but there’s no question that such a song would never be written and released today; it’s overarching I’m-not-like-the-other-girls theme has long since fallen out of fashion.
For much of the 2010s, Swift was misogynistically dismissed by many for the frequency with which she sang of breakups. The male dominated world of music critics disregarded her as a melodramatic young woman carelessly entering and exiting one-too-many relationships. It’s hard to say exactly when that view of her cemented itself in the public consciousness, but it’s fair to say ‘Fearless’ was where the seeds of that perception were planted (Q Magazine snidely remarked of the album “grown-ups will prefer her to keep quiet”). Such is the price to pay for sticking up two fingers at a music industry that dismisses the seriousness of young women and girls by creating a 13-track concept album that almost singerly revolves around falling in and out of love in youth.
The new-and-improved ‘Fearless’, it should be remarked, is significantly longer than the original. It’s to-be-expected at this point, that Swift’s albums will air on the longer side: the standard versions of all her last three albums – ‘Evermore’, ‘Folklore’ and ‘Lover’ – have clocked in it a little over an hour in length. Even still, Taylor’s Version of ‘Fearless’ is exceptionally long; taking the original 13-tracks from Fearless, adding all the 6 tracks from the Platinum edition and an additional 6 tracks “from the vault”, the album stands at nearly two hours in length.
The addition of an extra *13* (!) tracks to ‘Fearless’ produces mixed results; many of the extra tracks from the original Platinum addition of the album fail to live up to the greatness of the original. Meanwhile, it can be hard to know what to make of the ‘vault’ tracks; ‘Mr Perfectly Fine’ is undeniably great, but the Dessner/Antonoff production across the six tracks makes them sound less like ‘Fearless’ additions than ‘Folklore’ outtakes.
Nevertheless, while not all of the tracks feel necessary per say, none feel completely out-of-place either. The 6 Platinum tracks and the 6 ‘vault’ tracks all faithfully carry on the over-arching theme of young love that dominates ‘Fearless’. Even the only track to meaningfully depart from that theme – ‘The Best Day’; a sentimental ode to Swift’s parents – doesn’t feel out-of-place, so much as it adds needed context to the teenage Taylor portrayed across the track listing.
Taken singularly, it’s easy to dismiss the themes of each song on ‘Fearless’ as run-of-the-mill love and heartache anthems, but taken in it’s entirety ‘Fearless’ is actually an exceptionally well executed concept record; tracing the journey from falling into love and the heady highs of love to the bitterness of break-ups and the reluctant resignations that eventually replaces it. ‘Fifteen’ is a surprisingly astute portrayal of the naivety of young love (“Back then, I swore I was gonna marry him someday”) and of the superficiality of it all (“he’s got a car”, Swift exclaims in the second verse). ‘White Horse’ zones in on the incredulity that follows a break-up (“I honestly believed in you”), while ‘Tell Me Why’ is a gloriously scornful break-up anthem (“You could write a book on how to ruin someone’s perfect day”). ‘Forever & Always’ finds it’s narrator realising in real times that not everything is as straightforward as it seems (“Thought I knew for a minute / But I don’t anymore”) and, the album’s final two tracks – ‘Don’t You’ and ‘Bye Bye Baby’ – each sung in seemingly good faith, capture a weary, fragile sense of resignation to a relationship’s end. In each, Swift sheds any lingering anger and sings in disconcerting good faith and honesty of the lingering love left behind (“I really wish I could hate you”, “I thought you were going to keep me”). ‘Fearless’s thematic strength and cohesive nature is just another reminder that Swift has long deserved to be taken more seriously as an artist.
Best Tracks: Fearless, Fifteen, Love Story, Tell Me Why, Forever & Always, Mr Perfectly Fine, Don’t You
Worst Tracks: Change