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Hey Stephen

Fearless (2008) | Fearless (Taylor's Version) [2021]

“Hey Stephen” is a song first released on Taylor’s second studio album, Fearless (2008). Taylor wrote it for her then-crush Stephen Barker Liles from the country music duo Love And Theft, who were an opening act for her in 2008. The re-recording of the song, “Hey Stephen (Taylor’s Version)”, was released on April 9, 2021 on the album Fearless (Taylor’s Version).

Background and Lyrical Theme

Taylor released her second studio album, Fearless, on November 11, 2008, through Big Machine Records. She wrote or co-wrote all tracks and co-produced the album with Nathan Chapman. Fearless is primarily about the challenges of love from a teenage girl’s perspectives, with prominent high school and fairy tale imagery. Taylor wrote and recorded “Hey Stephen” for Fearless in 2008, when she was 18 years old. In the album liner notes, she included the hidden message for the song as “Love and Theft”, referencing a country music duo who had toured with her at the time. Taylor said the song’s inspiration was Love and Theft member Stephen Barker Liles:

«It's someone who I've always been friends with and always kind of had a thing for... and he doesn't know. It's always fun for me to put something on the album that is personal. Something I know I'm going to have to deal with when the record comes out.»

Taylor Swift
After Fearless was released, she sent him a text message, saying “Hey, Track 4.”; Liles spoke to The Boot in 2009 about his reaction: “I was very relieved when it turned out to be a nice song, and it’s actually one of the nicest things anybody’s ever done for me.” He wrote “Try to Make It Anyway” as an answer song to Taylor’s “Hey Stephen”; although he had written it when they toured together, he only had time to finish recording it in 2011.

Recording

Country singer Martina McBride’s children lend finger snaps at the end of the upright-bass-propelled groove. Taylor told That’s Country how she got the kids involved, “We were recording at John McBride’s (Martina McBride’s husband) studio and he was like, ‘My kids are dying to meet you. Do you think that you could say hi to them?’ I said, ‘Sure, have them come and hang out while we’re recording.’ So his daughters and their friends from school – there were about ten of them there – they all came into the studio when we were recording ‘Hey Stephen’ and they loved it. They were singing along with it by the end of it.”

Live Performances

“Hey Stephen” was part of the regular set list for Taylor’s first headlining tour, the “Fearless Tour” (2009–2010). The song was part of the mid-show acoustic session; midway through the performance, Taylor went down the aisle to greet and hug her fans. The song was also part of Taylor’s set list for the Florida Strawberry Festival she headlined in February 2009. On September 18, 2018, during her St. Louis performance on the “reputation Stadium Tour,” she performed “Hey Stephen” acoustically as a surprise song.

Critical Reception

In Fearless album reviews, Rob Sheffield of Blender and Chris Richards of The Washington Post picked “Hey Stephen” as a highlight. Richards called it a track that “beams its irresistible smile before permanently lodging itself in your hippocampus”. Jody Rosen from Rolling Stone selected the song as an example of Taylor’s songwriting on the album: “Her music mixes an almost impersonal professionalism — it’s so rigorously crafted it sounds like it has been scientifically engineered in a hit factory — with confessions that are squirmingly intimate and true.”

In retrospective reviews of the song, Sheffield and Nate Jones from Vulture complimented its catchy melody. Jones wrote: “Swift is in the zone as a writer, performer, and producer on this winning deep cut.” In a 2021 article for Gigwise, Kelsey Barnes noted “Hey Stephen” as a parallel to Taylor’s artistic evolution and personal life; her youthful innocence on the track reflected her desire to be “seen, loved, and accepted by those she’s daydreaming about”, a recurring theme on many of her later songs. Barnes also commented that the track offered a glimpse into Taylor’s life before her personal life became sensationalized in the press.

Commercial Performance

After Fearless was released, “Hey Stephen” entered and peaked at No. 94 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart dated November 29, 2008. In April 2014, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified the song Gold, denoting 500,000 units based on sales and streaming. In 2021, upon the release of the re-recorded Fearless (Taylor’s Version), “Hey Stephen (Taylor’s Version)” charted on singles charts in Australia (86) and Canada (68), and peaked at No. 105 on the Billboard Global 200. In the United States, “Hey Stephen (Taylor’s Version)” peaked at No. 1 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 and No. 28 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.

Taylor's Version

After a dispute with Big Machine Records in 2019, when she had signed a new contract with Republic Records, Taylor released her re-recorded version of Fearless, subtitled Taylor’s Version, on April 9, 2021. Fearless (Taylor’s Version) includes the re-recorded version of “Hey Stephen”, also subtitled “Taylor’s Version”. One day before the album was released, she teased a snippet of “Hey Stephen (Taylor’s Version)” onto her management’s Twitter account. “Hey Stephen (Taylor’s Version)” is produced by Taylor and Christopher Rowe. In an interview, she said:

«Some of my favorite songs to re-record on Fearless I think were 'The Way I Loved You' and 'Hey Stephen.' Those were always lowe key favorites of mine, and favorites to sing live. I think having a bit of a more grown up voice really lent itself to songs like 'The Way I Loved You' and 'Tell Me Why.' Just songs that maybe I kind of struggled to master live back when I was eighteen. They were so much easier to sing now and they kind of felt more like they fit.»

Taylor Swift
When Taylor appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in May 2021 to discuss the record, the late night personality questioned whether “Hey Stephen” was written about him, which Taylor jokingly denied. “It’s just the power of music,” she said, adding, “Don’t flatter yourself.” She then continued the sketch holding up a mood board covered in pictures of Colbert’s face that she claimed originally inspired the song, Finally, she jokingly revealed that she’d actually penned the tune about novelist Stephen King.

Lyrics

[Intro]
Mmm-mm, mm-mm
Mmm-mm, mm-mm
Mmm-mm, mm-mm, yeah

[Verse 1]
Hey Stephen, I know looks can be deceiving
But I know I saw a light in you
And as we walked we were talking
I didn’t say half the things I wanted to
Of all the girls tossing rocks at your window
I’ll be the one waiting there even when it’s cold
Hey Stephen, boy, you might have me believing
I don’t always have to be alone

[Chorus]
‘Cause I can’t help it if you look like an angel
Can’t help it if I wanna kiss you in the rain, so
Come feel this magic I’ve been feeling since I met you
Can’t help it if there’s no one else
Mmm, I can’t help myself

[Verse 2]
Hey Stephen, I’ve been holding back this feeling
So I’ve got some things to say to you (Ha!)
I’ve seen it all, so I thought
But I never seen nobody shine the way you do
The way you walk, way you talk, way you say my name
It’s beautiful, wonderful, don’t you ever change
Hey Stephen, why are people always leaving?
I think you and I should stay the same

[Chorus]
‘Cause I can’t help it if you look like an angel
Can’t help it if I wanna kiss you in the rain, so
Come feel this magic I’ve been feeling since I met you
Can’t help it if there’s no one else
Mmm, I can’t help myself

[Bridge]
They’re dimming the street lights, you’re perfect for me
Why aren’t you here tonight?
I’m waiting alone now, so come on and come out
And pull me near and shine, shine, shine
Hey Stephen, I could give you fifty reasons
Why I should be the one you choose
All those other girls, well, they’re beautiful
But would they write a song for you? (Ha-ha-ha)

[Final Chorus]
I can’t help it if you look like an angel
Can’t help it if I wanna kiss you in the rain, so
Come feel this magic I’ve been feeling since I met you
Can’t help it if there’s no one else
Mmm, I can’t help myself
If you look like an angel
Can’t help it if I wanna kiss you in the rain, so
Come feel this magic I’ve been feeling since I met you
Can’t help it if there’s no one else
Mmm, I can’t help myself

[Outro]
Ah-uh, myself
Mmm-mm, I can’t help myself, I can’t help myself
Oh-oh-oh
Mmm-mm, mm-mm
Mmm-mm, mm-mm
Mmm-mm, mm-mm

General Information
AlbumsFearless
Fearless (Taylor’s Version)
ReleasedNovember 11, 2008
Re-ReleasedApril 9, 2021
StudioStudio of John McBride
GenreCountry Pop
Length4:16
LabelsBig Machine Records
Republic Records
SongwriterTaylor Swift
ProducersNathan Chapman (original)
Christopher Rowe
Taylor Swift
FEARLESS CHRONOLOGY
Love StoryHey StephenWhite Horse
Song Certification
Hidden Message
Love and theft
Song Artwork
Live Performance
Lyric Video
Taylor's Version
Original Audio