Home » Albums » Fearless

Fearless

November 11, 2008

This article is about the album. For its title track, see Fearless (song). For the 2021 re-recording, see Fearless (Taylor’s Version).
Fearless is Taylor’s second studio album. It was released on November 11, 2008, by Big Machine Records. Inspired by Taylor’s feelings as a teenager, the lyrics explore themes of romance, heartache, and fairytales. The album’s title refers to the overarching theme of all of its songs, as they altogether depict Taylor’s courage to embrace the challenges of life and love. Fearless is considered her breakthrough record and is the most awarded country album in music history.
Taylor had debuted with an excellent self-titled album two years earlier, but it was with the release of Fearless that she crystallized the Country Princess persona that would propel her to globe-conquering superstardom during the first phase of her career. As a whole, this album also represented a major advance in her 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.
Table of Contents

Background and Recording

Taylor was a high school sophomore when her self-titled debut, Taylor Swift, was released in October 2006, and before long, she had exchanged public school for home schooling so she could keep up with her busy schedule. She scored new artist honors from the Country Music Assn. and the Academy of Country Music and watched wide-eyed when her name was called among the nominees for the “Best New Artist” Grammy Award. But ultimately she had spent most of 2007 on the road as the opening act for country stars like George Strait, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill. Her relentless new touring activity left her alone for long periods of time. After spending several years in Nashville co-writing sessions, she suddenly found herself seizing the chance to create on her own:

«I’ve written a lot of songs by myself lately, especially since I’ve been alone so much on the road. I do love writing on the road — I usually write at the concert venue. I’ll find a quiet place in some room at the venue, like the locker room. I’ve written like eight songs for the second album by myself. If you’re in Arkansas, who’s there to write with?»

Taylor came up with the direction for her second studio album after writing “Fearless“, a song about an imaginary “best first date”, while touring with Brad Paisley in mid-2007. Continuing on the romantic themes of her first album, she then chose to write songs about her personal feelings and observations of the world around her from the perspectives of a teenage girl, instead of the luxurious lifestyle brought by her newfound fame, to ensure her listeners could relate to her songs:

«I really try to write more about what I feel and guys and love because that's what fascinates me more than anything else – love and what it does to us and how we treat people and how they treat us. So pretty much every song on the album has a face that I associate with it.»

Having grouped over 75 songs, recording with Nathan Chapman, who produced all but one song on Taylor Swift, commenced soon after Taylor completed touring with George Strait. At that point, she was simply trying to build off her trailblazing debut. “There was definitely an unwritten stress,” said studio engineer Chad Carlson. “We knew we could make a monster record, but we put a lot of pressure in ourselves.” In the process, Taylor made her record producing debut. She emphasized the authenticity of the songs’ emotional sentiments over technical rigidity: “I think it’s the writer in me that’s a little more obsessed with the meaning of the song than the vocal technique.” Thereon, her and Chapman recorded and cut an abundance of songs to keep the best material on the album. Thirteen tracks were intended; Taylor attributes it to be her lucky number.

Taylor continued working on Fearless throughout 2007 and 2008 in short spurts during time off between touring. By January 2008, she had recorded approximately half of the songs that would appear on the final cut of Fearless. The remainder of the songs came in the last two recording sessions: one held in March 2008, the other held sometime in the summer of 2008. Apart from newly penned songs, Taylor recorded a few that she had written for her debut album, believing there were stories that deserved to be put out:

«I've been very selfish about my songs. I had this dream of this project [Taylor Swift] coming out for so many years now that I just stockpiled. I'm so happy that I did because now we have a second album full of songs and a third album full of songs, and I don't have to lift a finger.»

Ultimately though, Taylor kept writing, and it was her rapidly progressing, increasingly personal songwriting that made Fearless feel pivotal. All in all, recording took place within eight months and finished in October 2008, when Taylor completed the track “Forever & Always” just before Fearless was mastered and published. The album that eventually came out of this process — including “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me,” her first two Top 10 crossover pop hits — would introduce Taylor to the pop mainstream.

Lyrics and Themes

Fearless is full of charming songs about love and heartbreak. At 18, Taylor was extraordinarily good at regarding teenage life with a kind of wistful, sepia-toned nostalgia. She wrote about her own experiences, names intact, giving her songs an almost radical intimacy, especially in a pop world known for impersonal brush-offs. “I have become much more comfortable writing about myself,” she said. But she also noted that most songs were dramatized observations of her real-life:

«I've gone through breakups and the core emotions behind them, but it doesn't take much to get that sort of emotion out in a song, luckily for me.»

Fearless feels like what being a teenage girl feels like. It has the sparkling hope of a young woman thrilled to finally be stepping into adulthood, impatient to live out the romances she has grown up on, all while chiding her crushes for not noticing her. It captures the age when you are looking forward to a future outside of school and away from your small hometown. All throughout the album, Taylor maps the interior world of a girl waiting for her real life to begin, so she can get off the bleachers and discover who she’s supposed to be:

«I think as a songwriter you need to have a completely wild imagination about what could be and what might have been. Some of your most heartbreaking material is what could have been, and some of your most romantic material is what could be.»

That’s the thing about being a teenager: Love is always a matter of life and death, every relationship either Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming or Tristan and Isolde. That’s also why Fearless employs fairytale imagery throughout. Yet even at a relatively tender age, Taylor had figured out how to view her experiences – and those of her best friend Abigail and others – with an artist’s eye. Her knack for dissecting youth so honestly separated her from the pack of teenage starlets who relied on big-name producers, songwriters, and television shows for a music career. She was the rare ingenue who actually played the part (and guitar). In Taylor, the young women of 2008 found an authentic peer voice in a sea of Disney-driven pop stars, led by Hannah Montana-era Miley Cyrus. While Miley was pretending on TV to be a regular girl by day, pop star by evening, Taylor came off as the real deal, with her images of boyfriends who opened car doors and cheerleaders as romantic rivals. She was 18, wide-eyed, naive, hopeful – and that’s how she sounds on Fearless.

But the new level of attention also led to the decimation of Taylor’s privacy. “Every single one of the guys that I’ve written songs about has been tracked down on MySpace by my fans,” she said, a little giddy. “I had the opportunity to be more general on this record, but I chose not to. I like to have the last word.” That would become less tenable in the future, though, as her personal life made its way into the tabloids, as it had in late 2008 in regard to her never-confirmed relationship with Joe Jonas.

All in all, Taylor Swift had suggested that its namesake had a unique talent for narrative structure and a true gift for building living characters – characters who seem real and who remind us of ourselves. Fearless not only confirmed that suggestion, but showed real growth and maturity in Taylor as a songwriter – where Taylor Swift sometimes struggles to get past the surface of its character’s emotions and conflicts, Fearless is piercingly honest and surprisingly bittersweet.

Composition

Regarding the album’s production, Taylor’s maturation on Fearless is deliberate and careful, styled after the crossover country-pop of Shania Twain and Faith Hill before they turned into divas. Despite the success of her self-titled debut, there was nothing at all diva-like about Taylor in 2008: she’s soft-spoken and considerate, a big sister instead of a big star.

There may be a hint of youthfulness to her singing but that is the only hint of girlishness here; Taylor’s writing is sharply, subtly crafted and the music is softly assured, never pushing its hooks too hard and settling into a warm bed of guitars and keyboards. Like many country-pop albums of the 2000s, the pop heavily outweighs the country – there aren’t fiddles here, there are violins – yet Fearless never feels garish, a crass attempt at a crossover success. It’s small-scale and sweetly tuneful, always seeming humble even when the power ballads build to a big close. Taylor’s gentle touch is as enduring as her songcraft. However, the album’s pop crossover appeal was much discussed by critics. Taylor, in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, responded to the critical debate:

«[Whether] you tell stories about how you live on a farm and cherish your family and God, or whether you tell stories about being in high school and being cheated on, they're stories about your life. That's what makes me a country artist.»

Taylor made her debut as a record producer on Fearless, co-producing all tracks with Nathan Chapman. One of their reference points for the album’s sound was the bright 2007 hit “Bubbly,” by Colbie Caillat. “There was a certain honesty and commitment to keeping the arrangements simple that that record had,” Justin Niebank, who mixed Fearless, told Billboard. “Taylor and Nathan loved the fact that on ‘Bubbly’ you could really sense that it was just an honest person sitting in a room surrounded by musicians.”

Fearless Era

Fearless Era 2008-2010 Most people didn’t have an opinion about Taylor in early 2008 because even though she was popular — having sold millions of copies of her debut self-titled record — she wasn’t mainstream. She was a country star, big on country radio and winner of country awards, but if you didn’t listen to country music, you could be safely ignorant about her whole deal.

Read More »

Title Significance

After completing the album’s first track, Taylor deeply deliberated her personal definition of the word “fearless”. She then started contemplating the word to title the album, and to assure she was making the correct decision, applied it to every song on the album. She explained the title’s meaning to The Boot:

«I really wanted to make sure it was the right choice, so I took that word "fearless" and I applied [it] to each one of the things that my songs deal with: getting your heart broken, having to face the fact that you're not going to be with the person you thought you were going to be with, someone apologizing to you over and over again for something they're never going to stop doing, having faith that maybe someday things will change – all of those things I thought had a fearless element to them. Also, I think that the word "fearless" doesn't necessarily mean that you don't have any fears. I think that sometimes being fearless is having fears but jumping anyway.»

In another interview, she added: “I have moments where I’m afraid of the music industry, I’m afraid of being average, I’m afraid of not mattering to people. I’m not afraid for this second album, honestly. There are moments when I think, ‘Is there anything that’s missing?’ But there’s really not.”

Album Artwork

As with Taylor Swift, Taylor was very involved with the album packaging. The album’s images were photographed by Joseph Anthony Barker, Ash Newell and Sheryl Niels while the cover and graphic designs were executed by Leen Ann Ramey for Ramey Design. Baker, also known as Tony Baker, is a music photographer based in Los Angeles and Nashville who worked with Talyor frequently from 2008 to 2012. Among other projects, he also was the photographer for her third album, Speak Now (2010).

Release and Promotion

On June 8, 2008, Taylor performed some songs from Fearless on Clear Channel’s Stripped. The album’s first commercial release, “Change” was made available via the iTunes Store on August 8 as a promotional single. It was included on the AT&T Team USA Soundtrack, a compilation of songs played during the United States’ participation in the 2008 Summer Olympics. A couple of months later, a digital campaign launched through the iTunes Store, called “Countdown to Fearless.” It featured one song released each week during the five weeks leading to the album’s release. “Breathe” was released as a promotional single exclusively via Rhapsody on October 21, 2008.

The thirteen-track standard edition of Fearless was finally released on November 11, 2008, by Big Machine Records. An international edition, featuring three additional tracks — “Our Song“, “Teardrops On My Guitar“, and “Should’ve Said No” from Taylor’s debut record —was released on March 9, 2009, by Big Machine in partnership with Universal Music Group.

Taylor made many television appearances to promote Fearless throughout late 2008, performing on shows including The Ellen DeGeneres Show (where an entire episode was dedicated to her album release party), Good Morning America, and Late Night with David Letterman. A special CMT Crossroads episode featuring Taylor and rock band Def Leppard singing each other’s songs was recorded on October 6 at the Roy Acuff Theater in Nashville, and aired on CMT on November 7, 2008. Her performances at awards shows that year included the Country Music Association Awards and the American Music Awards. One critic wrote: “I don’t say this lightly: Swift’s ability to market both her products and herself as a brand doesn’t recall the media blitzkriegs of past teen idols like Britney Spears or New Kids on the Block so much as Madonna at her peak.”

Besides live appearances, Taylor used her MySpace account to promote to a young audience, sharing snippets of songs for streaming before they were released to radio, as she had done with her debut album. “I owe it to people from letting them in from Day 1.” Eventually, walls would have to be erected. After all, Jakks Pacific had just released a line of Taylor Swift dolls, making her even more of an abstract idol and less of a real person. She was also the face of the l.e.i. clothing brand, carried exclusively at Walmart, one of many endorsements to come. That she was becoming less accessible was a problem that Taylor was, naturally, very attuned to:

«All I can do is put up a MySpace video where I don’t have any makeup on and am wearing a periodic table of the elements T-shirt.»

She continued to appear on televised events through 2009, notably hosting Saturday Night Live, and performing at awards shows including the 51st Annual Grammy Awards, the CMT Music Awards, and the Country Music Association Awards. Infamously, at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, rapper Kanye West interrupted Taylor’s acceptance speech for winning “Best Female Video” with “You Belong With Me” — an incident known as “Kanyegate”, which prompted many internet memes and media coverage.

That year, Taylor also spent a considerable amount of time in England, Japan and Australia in hopes of facilitating Taylor Swift, the global brand, a move that few country acts had been able to pull off before her.

Singles

Five songs were released as singles from Fearless. The lead single, “Love Story”, was released on September 15, 2008. It peaked at No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs, and was the first country song to reach No. 1 on the Mainstream Top 40, a Billboard chart monitoring pop radio in the US. The single peaked at No. 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and at No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart. It was Taylor’s first No. 1 single in Australia. She had clearly benefited from a broad demographic appeal: The “Taylor Nation” ranged from country to indie-music fans to the Disney generation. Her impeccably crafted songs easily translated to pop radio, and Taylor was clearly taken with the notion of crossing over, even back then.

«It’s, um...unreal. I don’t think I expected to be played on pop radio. I don’t think I ever expected to go to the (MTV) Video Music Awards. I never expected to get played in genres that aren’t country and...I never expected the kind of success I’m having at country, either.»

But she was nervous about alienating her core audience. “You can’t forget who brought you to the party, and that’s country radio.” That’s probably why most of the four remaining singles catered to that genre’s sound; “White Horse” (December 8, 2008), “You Belong With Me” (April 20, 2009), “Fifteen” (August 31, 2009), and “Fearless” (January 4, 2010). All four peaked within the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, with “You Belong With Me” peaking at No. 2 as the highest-charting Fearless single, and within the Top 10 of the Hot Country Songs, with “You Belong With Me” reaching No. 1. “You Belong With Me”, similar to “Love Story”, was a crossover success. The song was the first country song to top the all-genre Radio Songs chart, driven mostly by non-country airplay.

When speaking of her plan to manage her crossover fame, Taylor sounded like a well-seasoned executive. “I’m not about to snub the people who brought me to the party,” she told The New York Times in 2009. “We went back and studied other cases where it had failed every way that it can fail, and we tried to avoid those things.”

Critical Reception

Fearless received generally positive reviews from music critics in the press. Many lauded Taylor’s songwriting craftsmanship. Reviews published in The Boston Globe, Blender, Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice, and USA Today remarked that Fearless was an honest and vulnerable record contrasting with albums by other teenage singers, thanks to Taylor’s self-penned songs. Other reviews from AllMusic, Billboard, and The Observer deemed the lyrics mature for her age.

Some critics praised Fearless‘s crossover appeal. AllMusic‘s Stephen Thomas Erlewine and The Boston Globe‘s James Reed remarked that the album straddles the perceived boundary between country and pop; the former called it “one of the best mainstream pop albums of 2008”. In Rolling Stone, Jody Rosen hailed Taylor as a “songwriting savant with an intuitive gift for the verse-chorus-bridge architecture”. Christgau commented that the songs are effective partly because of “the musical restraint of a strain of Nashville bigpop that avoids muscle-flexing rockism”.
Taylor Swift on the "Fearless Tour" (2009)

Fearless Tour

Fearless Tour 2009-2010 The “Fearless Tour” was Taylor’s debut headlining tour, in support of her sophomore album, Fearless (2008). Also referred to as the “Fearless Tour 2009” and the “Fearless Tour 2010”, it was launched on April 23, 2009, with a sold-out show in Evansville, Indiana and concluded on July 10, 2010, in Cavendish, Canada.

Read More »

Commercial Performance

Fearless was a huge commercial success for Taylor. It debuted at No. 1 in the United States, and later became the best-selling album of 2009, selling over 3.2 million copies. It gave Taylor, 18 at the time, the distinction of being the youngest artist in history to have the year’s best-selling album. Fearless also topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand and achieved multi-platinum status in six countries. On December 11, 2017, Fearless became only the 121st album in music history to achieve a diamond certificationin the United States, having sold over 10,000,000 copies in America. Worldwide, the album has sold 16,6 million copies as of December 2018.

Five singles were released from Fearless. The lead single, “Love Story” was a crossover hit that became one of the best-selling singles of all time internationally and was once the best-selling country song of all time. The succeeding single, “White Horse“, also performed well in the US and earned Taylor her first two Grammys. “You Belong With Me” was an international success, becoming Taylor’s second best-selling single and her highest position on the US Billboard Hot 100 at the time. “Fifteen” and “Fearless” followed with both achieving a platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Accolades

Fearless is the most awarded country-music album in history. It won “Album of the Year” at both the Country Music Association Awards (CMA) and the Academy of Country Music Awards (ACM) in 2009. It was awarded as the “Top Selling Album” by the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) twice in a row, in 2009 and 2010. At the American Music Awards of 2009, Fearless won “Favorite Country Album” and was nominated for “Favorite Pop/Rock Album.” Its other accolades include a Teen Choice Award for “Choice Female Album,” a Sirus XM Indie Award for “International Album of the Year,” and a Juno Award nomination for “International Album of the Year.”

At the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards in February 2010, Fearless won “Album of the Year” and “Best Country Album.” The “Album of the Year” award made Taylor, then twenty years old, the youngest artist to win the award, a record she held for ten years. Taylor is only the second country-music artist to win the three highest awards for a country-music album by the ACM, the CMA, and the Grammys — after The Chicks with their 1999 album, Fly — and the first to further win the Grammy for “Album of the Year” for the same album. “White Horse” further won two Grammy Awards that year: “Best Female Country Vocal Performance” and “Best Country Song.”

Fearless featured on 2008 year-end lists by the Associated Press (7th), Blender (32nd), Rolling Stone (39th), and The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop (58th); and 2009 year-end list by The Guardian (40th). Jon Caramanica in The New York Times placed the album at No. 4 on his list of 2008’s best albums and called Taylor “one of pop’s finest songwriters”.

Platinum Edition

Taylor had already commenced to compose songs for her next album, what would become Speak Now (2010), but had also written songs she believed did not correspond with her scope of that record. Instead, she included them in a re-release for Fearless. Titled Fearless [Platinum Edition], the reissue was announced on September 10, 2009, and released on October 26, 2009. The Platinum Edition bore a new collector’s cover that altered the background color to black and included a CD and a DVD. The CD had an additional six songs placed prior to the original tracks from the album. The DVD meanwhile comprised the album’s music videos, behind-the-scenes footage, over new fifty images from the “Fearless Tour” (photographed by Austin Swift, Taylor’s younger brother) and backstage footage from the first concert of the tour, as well as “Thug Story” (a satire of “Love Story” with rapper T-Pain filmed for the 2009 CMTs). Taylor told iTunes in an interview:

«The six new songs on the Fearless [Platinum Edition] are songs that I either recorded and wrote really recently, wrote maybe a year ago and almost put on Fearless but decided not to for one reason or another, or are songs that I wrote when I was 14/15 and re-recorded recently. It's a good mixture of songs from different time periods throughout my life. When I make an album, I always have a general theme for it. And when I hear songs, or go back and listen to old ones, there are some that I know fit in with the theme.»

Jump Then Fall” was self-written by Taylor using a banjo and a “feel-good vibe”, which, along with its bouncy character, caused for it to be her favorite song on the re-release. She also reworked the tempo and replaced the guitar-driven instrumentation to piano of “Forever & Always”. The re-release also included Taylor’s only cover on a studio album, a rendition of American rock band Luna Halo’s “Untouchable” (2007). However, she altered the song both musically and lyrically, reworking the arrangement and switching the verses while maintaining the refrains similar, which ultimatively earned her a co-writing credit.

Fearless (Taylor's Version)

In 2021, Taylor re-released Fearless. Fearless (Taylor’s Version) was the first release in Taylor’s battle to regain control of her master recordings that would eventually see her re-record each of her first six albums (that’s everything from her 2006 self-titled debut up to 2017’s reputation). This bold step was a first for the music industry on this scale and came following several sales of Taylor’s back catalogue. Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is the first ever re-recorded album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200, a milestone for Taylor herself as well as the music industry at large.
Fearless (Taylor's Version) [Republic Records, 2021]

Fearless (Taylor’s Version)

Fearless (Taylor’s Version) April 9, 2021 This article is about the 2021 re-recording. For the original album, see Fearless (2008).Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is the reissue of Taylor’s second album, Fearless (2008). It was released on April 9, 2021, and features all tracks of Fearless re-recorded with fresh vocals from Taylor, including six bonus tracks that were scrapped from the 2008 version.

Read More »

Impact and Legacy

In November 2008, Taylor Swift became Taylor Swift. The critical and commercial successes of Fearless established her as a mainstream star beyond the country-music scene. During this album cycle, she solidified her image as the wavy-haired blonde who wore frosted blue eye shadow and pretty ball gowns to Hollywood events; the successful songwriter who, despite her burgeoning fame, was at heart just a suburban girl with a full diary and a lucky knack for catchy tunes. Even dating her first fellow star, Joe Jonas, and writing her first tabloid-baiting kiss-off, “Forever & Always,” didn’t taint her regular-girl image for her fans. Taylor’s “persona” was complete at just 18 years old.

Taylor’s songwriting on Fearless cemented her trademark confessional narratives. In a 2019 retrospective review of the album, Pitchfork commented that the album was a testament to her abilities of writing timeless songs, noting the album’s simplicity and earnestness. Other retrospective reviews attributed the album’s enduring popularity to songs about universal feelings—heartbreak, frustration, first love, and aspirations. Fearless placed No. 99 on NPR‘s 2017 list of the “150 Greatest Albums Made by Women” and No. 10 on Rolling Stone‘s 2022 list of the “100 Greatest Country Albums of All Time.”

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.”

“From the moment ‘Tim McGraw’ hit the channel, she began to amass an audience that traditional Nashville didn’t know or didn’t believe existed, and that is young women, specifically teens,” Brian Philips, executive vice president and general manager of CMT (Country Music Television), told The New York Times in 2009. “It’s as if Taylor has kind of willed herself into being.”
General Information
ArtistTaylor Swift
ReleasedNovember 11, 2008
Recorded2007–2008
StudiosBlackbird (Nashville)
Fool On The Hill (Nashville)
Love Shack (Nashville)
Quad (Nashville)
Sound Cottage (Nashville)
Sound Emporium (Nashville)
Starstruck (Nashville)
The Sound Kitchen (Franklin)
GenreCountry Pop
Length53:41
LabelBig Machine Records
Producers
Nathan Chapman
Taylor Swift
TAYLOR SWIFT CHRONOLOGY
Taylor Swift (2006)Fearless (2008)Speak Now (2010)
Taylor's Letter
Album Certification
Tracklist
Album Artwork
Hidden Messages
Highest Honor
Fearless Era

Fearless Era

Fearless
(Taylor's Version)

Fearless Songs

Fearless Tour

Journey to Fearless

Taylor's Discography