They say the sophomore album for an artist is telling of where their career can go. You can have a phenomenal debut record. Sell out shows, have hit single after single, do tons of promotion, see your name in lights. But if you’re struck by the sophomore slump, you may as well hang up the mic and say goodbye. But for some, the sophomore album does what the debut didn’t completely do. And in Taylor Swift’s case, Fearless, her second studio album, saw the then-country super star rise to new heights.
Taylor Swift released Fearless in the fall of 2008. She was 18 at the time, and although she had a moderately successful debut album, Fearless was arguably her true debut and what helped to make her the household name she’s become today. This album was more than just her sophomore release. It started to see her take the very baby steps in a new musical direction. She gained extensive radio play not only on country stations, but this saw her first cross into a pop direction, a bit of foreshadowing to where her career would inevitably take her. This era saw Swift headline her first arena tour, selling out most, if not all dates, playing iconic venues like Madison Square Garden and the Staples Center. This was also her longest tour with 118 shows total in just over two years. Success came at her like a crashing wave, and it wasn’t going to knock her down anytime soon.
Fearless is a cohesive and consistent album. It leads with acoustic guitars and gentle drums, but still manages to follow with upbeat tracks that can leave you dancing. Each song flowed one into the next with complete ease. Swift made her producer debut, co-producing all songs on the album along with Nathan Chapman. The album’s debut single, Love Story, became a smash hit by peaking at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album itself debuted at number one in the U.S., and became one of the fastest selling albums of 2009 selling 3.2 million copies. You Belong with Me, driven by non-country radio airplay, saw the song establish Swift to have the largest crossover radio audience since Faith Hill’s Breathe in 2000.
Although Swift made more of a name for herself with her later albums where she explored more pop music, there was something special about Fearless. It was very wholesome, and felt so real and relatable. She was the girl with a guitar singing songs about falling in love, getting your heart broken, and experiencing life. While other pop stars at the time were singing about partying, here was this pop-country girl who was telling songs that her target audience could relate to. Like, genuinely ‘I have also fallen in love with the guy who was taken by someone else’ or ‘Yea, I definitely have dreamed about that perfect first date.’ Or even, ‘I’m terrified about my first day of high school.’ Although the themes of love and heartbreak are still very present in her music today, Fearless had a particularly unique quality because she was speaking directly to her younger audience. Young girls could relate to being the girl on the bleachers, or dreaming about a relationship from story books.
The best part about Taylor Swift’s songwriting ability is that it tells a story. Even still to this day in her Reputation tracks, she’s still painting imagery and that image is then projected both in sound and on stage. Fearless was a great example of quite literally taking the lyrics and making them real on the stage. On tour she wore a marching band costume for You Belong With Me and a full on ballgown for Love Story. Her songs went beyond the verse/corus/verse structure. She made sure that you were right there next to her while she was experiencing these life lessons, and you were probably dealing with them too.
Ten years later, and Fearless still seems to hold its legacy. On her most recent tour, Swift performed tracks from the album in her set, as well as sprinkled some deep cuts as her surprise songs, much to the delight of her fans. The storytelling magic carried more into her third album Speak Now, but Fearless was the jumping off point. It was that last little push before catapulting into superstardom, but still before she reached the famed heights she holds today. Swift has changed a lot musically in the last six years with her transition to pop, but if you run into a casual fan, they’ll likely have a favourite song from Fearless. Whether a deep cut or a single, this album is full of musical and lyrical treasures that just seemed to have you pulled in. It’s pure and youthful. There’s a bit of hope in what love and life carries. Kind of what we all sort of felt or needed at that time in our lives.