Taylor Swift’s ‘Fearless’, and the Art of Returning

It sounded more or less the same.

I thought about this when I straightened up in front of the mirror and looked myself in the eye. You are stronger than your pain. The words must have been different when I was a teenager. Sometimes, they fused with song lyrics that dominated our playlists, where one notable voice would inevitably belong to Taylor Swift.

“Music starts playing like the end of a sad movie,
It’s the kind of ending you don’t really want to see”

We wouldn’t even need to have our hearts broken or feel helpless, to slip into the words and make them our own. I remember walking around the Shillong golf course on a summer holiday, when my mother asked me what I was humming. At that time, the tracks from ‘Fearless’ frequented the countdowns on VH-1 and came on the radio. On that crisp morning in 2009, I sang-narrated the lyrics to ‘You Belong With Me’ to my mother –

“And you’ve got a smile that can light up this whole town
I haven’t seen it in a while since she brought you down
You say you’re fine – I know you better than that”

I didn’t buy too many albums at the dawn of my “English songs” era, because online downloads became the craze and most of us ended up putting our songs on our iPods, Walkmans and – for the cool kids who did get them before conquering their board exams – cell phones. However, Swift’s Fearless was one album I found in my arms, on a hot April afternoon, as I emerged from a Planet M near my friend’s house. I still have it on my bookshelf in Calcutta, in between old Book Fair loots and new books I got from Bangalore. It has always been there – in between the covers, in between different chapters of my life.

I thought of that when I heard the re-recorded version of ‘Love Story’, freshly released as a single on February 13 this year. It sounded more or less the same. There’s something liberating about going back to songs from your younger days – because the art of retrospection tells you how far you’ve come, but the fact that you still know every line by heart makes you feel at home. A hybrid feeling of being home but also on a journey, the address of our emotions chalked out in tunes.

“I got tired of waiting,
Wondering if you were ever coming around
My faith in you was fading
When I met you on the outskirts of town, and I said
Romeo, save me, I’ve been feeling so alone”

Also read: Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ And The Joys of Watching Your Problematic Fave Grow

Those of us who have experienced Swift through the years – from the lovable country pop phase of 2006, the spunky and feisty waves in 2012’s ‘Red’ and 2019’s ‘Lover’, to the soulful and magical ‘Folklore’ in 2020 – have seen her through different shades, and for her to return to the sweet-and-sour warmth of the late 2000s strikes a different chord. Because how is that any different from our own experience of emerging from our teenage cocoons, spreading our butterfly wings in our 20s, thrilled with the high of new experiences, getting hurt, still flying and growing into better versions of ourselves – all because a little “fearless” caterpillar dared to dream?

“And I don’t know how it gets better than this
You take my hand and drag me headfirst – fearless
And I don’t know why but with you I’d dance
In a storm, in my best dress – fearless”

The global pandemic saw hundreds of people returning to their hometowns once remote working was made available from their offices. Many of us twenty-somethings had to make a U-turn from the fast and thrilling lane of independence which we had only recently emerged into. Before that – before we were self-sufficient individuals, living alone in faraway, glimmering cities, playing ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ and heating cup noodles in the middle of the night – we had tracks of comforting sadness to fall asleep to. ‘White Horse’ for when school assignments would get too heavy; ‘You’re Not Sorry’ for when we would run out of boys to talk about with friends.

Through the rush and the newness of everything that our independent lives have given us, through complexities that only electro-pop can explain, endless nights desperately begging for some R&B intervention – there is a sense of peace in coming home, in returning to familiar tunes. We might get to behold ‘Fearless’ in a new light – which, again, fits into the narrative of our current lives; of how our prolonged stay in our hometowns are having us rediscover our old spaces, redefine our childhood nooks. Not so much as composing new stories, than picking up from the unwritten chapters of past stories left midway.

“And when you’re fifteen
Feeling like there’s nothing to figure out
Count to ten, take it in
This is life before you know who you’re gonna be
At fifteen”

It is how Swift promised six new tracks in this re-release, in addition to the ‘Fearless’ setlist; songs that have never been heard before. We may find ourselves on our old park bench, perhaps on our roof, listening to the new tracks, our teenage selves rewriting the lines of our mid-twenties’ chapters, with more hope and love, more elaborate words than we thought there was space for. Maybe our current lives will also emerge with more volume, and additional music, on the other side.

Madhura Banerjee was born in Calcutta, and now works from Bangalore. She has two books of poetry to her name, and has contributed to Scholastic India’s Yearbooks, written freelance articles and children’s fiction for The Telegraph, and has had her thoughts preserved in a few other literary portals as well. She is 25 years old, and also a TEDx speaker. She pursues her passion for music, and, apart from being trained in Hindustani classical vocals, plays the piano and ukulele as well.

Featured image: Taylor Swift/Instagram