I don’t often talk earnestly about Taylor Swift. I’m not sure why, either; my bizarre parasocial relationship with this woman more often than not ends in me joking about her, cursing her name, dubbing her unhinged, recommending she go to therapy,
All of this to say it’s rare that I look at the impact she and her work have had on my life and take that relationship seriously. The entire thing is odd, really; to an outsider, my Twitter would make it look like I’ve made wishing the worst for Taylor Swift my one and only mission in life. And while that might be true, it’s something that stems from the fact that I couldn’t imagine my life without her.
It’s a scary, weird thing to admit, even though I’m far from the first gay man to project himself onto a pop star. A lot of people know me as the Taylor Swift guy, and I generally wear that title with a lot of pride. There’s a weird sort of power in so many people associating something as culturally ubiquitous as Taylor Swift’s music with my presence in the world. As if, despite the massive inescapability of her work, it’s an extension of myself in the world at large.
But we’re not here to talk about Taylor Swift being my avatar, are we? (This is my blog, so we are.) This post is about Fearless (Taylor’s Version).
When Swift first announced plans to re-record her first six studio albums in the wake of Scootergate, Fearless was immediately my most anticipated. I’ve often gone on record citing it as my favorite album of all time, an opinion I continue to hold, now more than ever. It’s the thing that made me fall in love with Swift after past singles “Our Song” and “Picture to Burn” had already piqued my interest.
When I talk about Taylor Swift, I often say that her music raised me. When I say that, it’s primarily referring to Fearless. Sure, having a new album every two years provided some really impactful milestones as I grew up, but it was the constancy of these songs that I’ve always held to.
So you can imagine how visceral it was to hear them anew over a decade later, as my career is starting to come into focus and I’m beginning to really design a life for myself outside of education. I expected this, of course; I knew that I’d changed so much in thirteen years, and I have at least enough emotional intelligence to prepare myself for that component of the listening experience.
What I didn’t expect was how much these stories and themes would resonate with me in ways I’d never really understood listening to the originals.
Something that stands out to me about Fearless (and, I think, the reason I grew so attached to it in the first place) is its tenacious insistence on feeling. On really feeling, out loud and openly and without judgment and in spite of—rather, as an act of spite against—those who looked down on you for doing so.
As a Cancer, I’ve always been prone to that sort of feeling. It gets me into a lot of trouble, always has. My emotional highs are atmospheric, my lows catastrophic. And although, yes, I wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s (as Taylor might say) never simple or easy.
But Fearless created a space for that. Taylor made room for all the people who feel everything, people like me. I was always drawn to how earnest every song was, though I didn’t know that at the time.
And today, I’m the same person who feels so radically, even if what I’m feeling has changed pretty significantly. For starters, there was queerness I hadn’t begun exploring at age nine that I now hold tight as a fundamental part of who I am, one that infiltrates any other identity I might hold. And as such, it’s queered my relationship to this music, giving it the opportunity to make itself known to me in new ways.
I don’t know who said it, but I saw a tweet once that said Carly Rae Jepsen, famed gay icon, “loves like a gay man.” As anyone who’s listened to E•MO•TION knows, that simply couldn’t be more true. It’s similarly felt in bright colors, in unabashed exclamations, in giddy euphoria. I’d argue the same is true of Swift’s career as a whole, but more than anywhere else on Fearless. At 21, I’m playing catch-up on a lot of the romantic growth my straight peers experienced in their adolescence. It’s often isolating, knowing that my emotional response outweighs the severity of a situation but being unable to subdue it.
But Taylor? The bitch gets it. She always has, and even in the midst of the healthiest, longest relationship of her life, she still feels those highs and lows and writes about them—albeit fictionally this time. folklore and evermore conditioned me to expect that out of her. (I’m like Pavlov’s dog at this point.)
So hearing her, at age 31, singing these ripped-from-the-2007 headlines songs, was a bit overwhelming. Granted, I’d been drinking, as I am prone to do when she releases albums. But legitimately within seconds of “Fifteen (Taylor’s Version)” starting (the second track, I must emphasize), I found my eyes welling up, which grew to real tears which became full-on sobs by the bridge. “Wish you could go back and tell yourself what you know now,” Swift sang, all grown up, as if to taunt me directly.
I would be remiss not to mention that she unequivocally should not have to be re-recording this work. In all the overwhelming nostalgia and her own framing of the process, there’s a temptation to forget that, were it not for the ridiculous exercise of power and colossal stupidity that was the sale of her masters, we wouldn’t have to have Fearless (Taylor’s Version). So in a way, it feels weird to wax poetic about this record and my experience of re-discovery.
But then again, if it wasn’t for the whole fiasco, I’d be streaming the original probably just as much.