More about: Taylor Swift
I was probably 11 the first time I found myself crumpled on the floor to a Taylor Swift song. A boy had asked me out as a joke and dumped me, laughing, moments later. I went home and sang along to 'White Horse' like my heart had been torn to shreds. On the sacred birthday, I played 'Fifteen' on repeat, stepping into first relationships and my late teens like I knew some secret passed down from my guide. I knew it would hurt, I knew it would be beautiful; Taylor taught me that.
At 22, I scream 'Forever and Always' in the shower when the tone of texts started to change, pressing play on 'Hey Stephen' when I find myself catching feelings. None of these scenes are unique: you’ll be hard-pressed to find a 20-something girl that hasn’t found themselves there too. Fearless sound-tracked the blossoming youth of a whole generation of fans. I’d like to see someone try to find me a single person that hasn’t yelled the bridge of 'You Belong With Me' at least once in their life.
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With the announcement and release of Fearless (Taylor’s Version), the 2021 re-recording of her 2008 album - sending fans into spiral - the significance of the album can’t be overlooked. While her recent releases Folklore and Evermore saw Taylor’s appeal widen into the indie audience, this announcement zoomed back in on her loyal fans that have been with her since the beginning as Twitter flooded with shared stories of moments the record soundtracked. With the announcement of the re-release of 'Love Story', suddenly we were all reminiscing of first loves that felt like forever, and all the ways Taylor helped us romanticise our growing up.
Taylor herself probably put it best, writing in her announcement that Fearless is about "the bliss and devastation of youth", something original fans see now as we step out of the other side with Taylor.
These were songs that soundtracked first crushes, first kisses and heartbreaks that now sit as a comfort blanket when we need to feel safe and soft again, reminiscent of those first tastes of love and freedom from your bedroom at your parents’ house. For so many, these songs are tangled up with childhood memory. This is the case with long-term fan Hope Naisbitt’s, who tells me a tale of her and her sister importing the album from the US: "I feel like we waited weeks for it to arrive and when it finally did we both sat in her room and listened to it the whole way through together", or in the adolescence of Kelsey Barnes, who has memories of skipping school on her 16th birthday to go and buy the CD.
As a precursor to records like Lorde’s Melodrama, and another album in the lineage of people like Joni Mitchell and Carole King, Fearless writes raw experience into neat ballads, fuelled by the intensity of feeling that in the end becomes universal. Packed full of songs about first breakups, friendship fall outs and unrequited love, the narration of Taylor’s youth feels plucked straight out of a teenager’s journal, retaining a timeless relatability. Talking about her favourite track on the album 'The Best Day', fan Kat Smith puts it perfectly: "Taylor has this amazing gift of writing something so personal to her that somehow resonates with so many other people - we all had tough days at school, we all come home crying sometimes... even if she's crying about herself and her mum, I can see myself in that song and I'm sure many others can too."
But now school is over, our childhood bedrooms packed up and our last Taylor Swift birthday milestone passed and gone, the Fearless re-recording feels especially important to original fans who remember the release of the record. Seeing a 31-year-old Taylor return to her youth along with us is such a uniquely magical thing, like an invite to return to this relic of that nice hopeful naivety and look back on it with all the power of retrospection. Reflecting on the difference between Fearless’ frantic heartbroken emotion in-comparison to Folklore’s images of buying gifts for that same ex’s babies: a whole generation of fans have moved through that growth with her. "I would say that's likely why I've been around as a fan for so long" Kelsey told me, "it was like growing up with someone who could see you for who you are and was dealing with similar things." Now all standing together in adulthood, the feeling is one of collective nostalgia as "we felt that turbulence in real time" as Kat put it.
I think there’s also something so powerful in the choice to return to Fearless after the success of Folklore and Evermore. Obviously fuelled by reclaiming control over the songs stolen by Scooter Braun, returning to her country records feels bold at a time when her new association with indie legends like Bon Iver and The National has made her ‘acceptable’ to the gatekeeping masses that have been so adamant on locking her out of ‘good music’ and filing her under girly trash for years. Re-centring on original fans and bringing back Fearless’ stories of early womanhood ties Taylor’s reclamation of her music into our own. With young women constantly being shunned - our emotions put down and the songs that represent us being regarded as ditzy pop with no substance - the visible onslaught of excitement to return to these tracks feels like another moment of fans being right there in-step with Taylor. Reclaiming our mushy feelings and big emotions as something powerful and not pathetic, as Taylor reclaims these songs as her own; it seems like we’re together fighting all kinds of misogyny that held us back, internal and external.
Re-listening to Fearless today with a more critical ear...it’s a masterpiece. Seeing the dawning of Taylor’s trailblazing blend of country and pop through catchy beats and powerful climaxes, and with tender musings on love, family and youth that are told so perfectly, it’s no wonder Taylor shot to global fame before she’d even done her first headline tour. Still the most-awarded album in the history of country music, it was Fearless that won Taylor the Grammy for Album of the Year as the youngest person to gain the accolade - until Billie Eilish last year. It was also Fearless that got Taylor onto the stage that Kayne tried to shoo her off, starting the sequence of ups and downs that fans have followed like the trials and tribulations in our own lives. Returning to this celebrated album with 'Love Story', it’s a bittersweet moment to see Taylor re-release a song she wrote solo on her bedroom floor in 20 minutes, and having to do it out of a necessary bid to own the stories and work of her youth.
But they’re our stories to. It’s not presumptuous to say that Fearless (Taylor’s Version) will be huge and successful, as thousands of fans will replace their original version in their library. And for younger fans, that might be simply an act of dedication to Taylor. But for long-running fans, the switch to these new versions almost feels like a ceremonious acceptance of adulthood, graduating from these songs of our youth alongside Taylor into these re-recordings that will be infused with all the maturity and knowledge of growing up. Pressing play on the new version of Love Story, we’re singing along the same as we were 13 years ago.
Fearless (Taylor's Version) arrives 9 April.
More about: Taylor Swift