Table of Contents
Living With Her Family
The mantle of the Swift’s living room was crammed with bulky glass awards, and posters of Taylor lined the hallways; a large sitting room was devoted to racks of clothes that she had worn during performances or in public, with a sign affixed that read, “Please go through: Keep or give to Goodwill.” Austin had moved into a room on the garage level, but Taylor still lived in her childhood bedroom. It was a small room, decorated almost exclusively in pink and purple. Any sign of her life as a superstar had been scrubbed, with the exception of a postcard from Reba McEntire. Living in Nashville, Taylor said, offered its own protective layer. “Keith and Nicole live there. Tim and Faith live there. We can all go to the grocery store in our sweatpants because the paparazzi have no idea Nashville exists.”
You don’t have to look further than the numbers associated with Fearless for proof of its domination. The most-awarded album in country music history and Taylor’s first real pop crossover effort, it debuted at No. 1 and became the best-selling album of 2009, making Taylor, who was 18 when Fearless was released, the youngest artist in history to have that distinction. At 20, she also became the youngest-ever artist to win a Grammy for “Album of the Year”, when Fearless won the night’s top prize, along with three other trophies, at the 2010 Grammy Awards. Of its five singles, two became crossover hits, “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me,” which sold millions of copies each and firmly established her in the pop world. Before Fearless, Taylor had never headlined a tour — just months after its release, she was selling out arenas (and a stadium) on her “Fearless Tour”.
The Girl Next Door
In the media, along with the Jonas Brothers and a gaggle of young Disney stars like her pals Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato, she was part of a backlash against the “scandalous” TMZ culture of earlier in the 2000s decade. Taylor admitted in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2009 that she was fascinated by girls like Paris Hilton when she was younger but said that she never thought the gossip about these women was true. “You should never judge a person until you know the full story.” Her then label president told a magazine at the time, “Taylor’s the perfect person for this media moment. She really is the girl next door. She hasn’t been drunk at a party, hasn’t been in any crazy photographs. In this moment of total madness in the culture, Taylor’s fans know they can count on her. I think parents just go, ‘Oh, thank God my kids love Taylor Swift.’”
Taylor took her position as a role model seriously. One of her biggest fears involved “me making a bunch of bad decisions and embarking on a painful, slow, devastating tailspin.” She’d discovered VH1’s Behind the Music and E! True Hollywood Story as a child and remained a diligent student of the genre. “Like, if I go to a bar, even if I’m not drinking, who’s to say that a source isn’t going to say that I was doing something I shouldn’t have been doing? So, it’s not only about your own moral compass, but the moral compasses of other people that you don’t know. I overthink everything. I overanalyze everything.”
Self-preservation was one of Taylor’s favorite phrases, and she used it in reference to both her professional and personal lives. From the beginning, she wanted to have a long career, not get tossed away like most teen stars. She was certain she would never let herself get caught up in any shenanigans. “When you lose someone’s trust, it’s lost, and there are a lot of people out there who are counting on me right now.” TV talk show hosts loved Taylor because she possessed such a rare collection of traits. With her cover girl beauty and effervescent personality, she was great on camera, and she brought with her a suitcase full of songs that weren’t ashamed to voice the perspective of a living, breathing and sometimes heartbroken teenager. Regarding her songwriting, she said:
Capturing the Teenage Life
Fearless is not just an album for teenage girls, nor is it limited to being about the experiences of one. It is not, by any means, a juvenile work. As a whole, the album represented a major advance in Taylor’s confidence and acumen as a songwriter and evinced complete faith in her conversational vocal style, one that positioned her as the celebrity teen that other girls would most like to hang out with and the one most boys would want to ask to the prom.
That was still something with which Taylor struggled. For most of her time in high school, she and her best friend Abigail thought of themselves as ugly ducklings. “We kind of came to the conclusion in ninth grade that we were never going to be popular, so we should just stick together and have fun and not take ourselves too seriously. That’s why I had so much fun in high school, because I didn’t focus too much on the fact that I wasn’t really in the clique.” Many of her songs on her first two albums are not about her own personal experiences with love — about half were inspired by her friends’ relationships:
The Fearless Tour
Becoming a Brand
It was one more expression of her powerful Everygirl connection with her audience, which she’d strengthened with practically a daily presence on her MySpace page: “Blogging has been really fun because I like to let people into my life as much as possible. Obviously. I think it’s important for the people who keep you going and support you and have your back out there in the world to know that you’re thinking of them all the time. I get tired. A lot. But I would so much rather be hopping from a plane to a tour bus to go on a stage to doing an interview to doing a talk show to doing this performance to doing that performance to doing an awards show. So when I start to get really physically worn down, I just mentally go back to the place when I would have to get up really early for a test in high school, and I’m like, ‘Hey, this is pretty cool.’”
MTV VMA Incident
Most Awarded Country Album
In 2019, Rolling Stone wrote: “In retrospect, it’s pretty incredible that an institution as stodgy as the then-Recording Academy were able to see 20-year-old Taylor for who she already was: one of the most important singer-songwriters of her generation. Following her pop crossover, Fearless tends to get overlooked a little in terms of the great leap forward it represented at the time. But it brought country into the bedrooms of teen girls who might’ve rocked out to Avril Lavigne and Michelle Branch earlier in the decade, and showcased not only the pop chops that would get bigger but the storytelling instincts that would get better — in the same smash hit songs, no less.”
The Definition of Fearless
The Fearless era will always play a special role in Taylor’s story. It was the album that made her a star, and that captured her at the point at which she most believed in magic. The joy of Fearless is how its spirit will live on — in her 2021 re-recording Fearless (Taylor’s Version), in her greatest-hits repertoire and her live shows, certainly, but also in her recordings to come, whenever she needs to channel the joys and pains of youth.
The album and its success also foreshadowed what was to come: Though Taylor had been embraced by the country greats, many tracks on Fearless could be characterized as soft rock or pop. Nonetheless, “she’s not going to be chasing pop music. Pop music is chasing her,” her label wrote in a statement. Next on the agenda: Writing and launching a new album in October 2010. Moving out. And when time allowed, Taylor would hang out with Abigail.