Fearless is a
country pop album featuring traditional country instruments such as
acoustic guitars, intertwined with
Music critics noted the album's
crossover appeal brought by the influences of different styles including
rock. Inspired by Swift's feelings as a teenager, the lyrics explore themes of romance, heartache, and aspirations. The album's title refers to the overarching theme of all of its tracks, as they altogether depict Swift's courage to embrace the challenges of love.
To promote Taylor Swift, Swift toured as the
opening act for other country musicians, including
Rascal Flatts and
George Strait, during 2007–2008. While on tour, she continued writing songs for her follow-up album mostly by herself on the road, "at the concert venue... a quiet place in some room at the venue, like the locker room". In addition to self-penned material, Swift had songwriting sessions with
Liz Rose, with whom she had largely collaborated on her first album. She also wrote with musician
John Rich and singer-songwriter
Writing and production
Swift first 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. Swift's songwriting was influenced by Paisley and
Sheryl Crow's approach to expressing emotions.[note 2] Continuing on the romantic themes of her first album, Swift 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 fans 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."
Swift usually started writing by identifying a core emotion she wanted to convey through the melody on
guitar. For other songs, she sometimes came up with the title first before writing the
hook. While some songs were inspired by Swift's personal relationships, she said that most songs were dramatized observations rather than real-life experiences: "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." She explained that certain emotions on her songs such as frustration or heartbreak came easily without her actually going through emotional turmoil. By July 2007, Swift had written as many as 75 songs. She recorded the album within a few months after touring with George Strait. Chapman, who produced Swift's debut, returned as producer, and recording took place at studios in Tennessee, including six in Nashville and one in
During the recording sessions, Swift 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." By March 2008, Swift had recorded six songs, including one co-written by and featuring Caillat, "
Breathe"; Swift had used Caillat's 2007 song "
Bubbly" as a reference point during the recording sessions, because of its simple arrangements and honest sentiments. Apart from newly penned songs, Swift recorded a few that she had written for her debut album, believing there were stories that deserved to be put out. Swift made her debut as a record producer, co-producing all tracks with Chapman. The standard edition consists of thirteen tracks, which Swift had planned because she considered thirteen her lucky number. Of the thirteen tracks, Swift wrote seven by herself; the remaining were co-written with Caillat, Rose, Rich, and
Hillary Lindsey. Recording took place within eight months and finished in October 2008, when Swift completed the track "
Forever & Always" just before Fearless was
mastered and published.
Like Swift's debut album, Fearless's prominent themes are love and life from a high school teenage girl's perspective. The songs in Fearless examine those themes with a more nuanced and mature observation. Swift embraced country music's narrative songwriting to convey her
coming of age. She wrote the track "
Fifteen" during her freshman high school year in
Hendersonville, Tennessee. In the narrative, Swift and another girl named Abigail—her real-life high school friend—go through teenage love and heartbreak together. As the song concludes, Swift realizes she could accomplish more than dating high school senior boys.Music critics highlighted "Fifteen" as an example of Swift's songwriting about teenage themes, both with a starry-eyed innocence and a sense of nostalgia.
Many of Fearless's songs are about starry-eyed romance and use imagery associated with
fairy tales, such as princes, princesses, white horses, and kissing in the rain. The title track "Fearless" is Swift's imagination of a perfect first date, on which she is caught in her "best dress" in the rain. Inspired by a love interest unpopular to Swift's family and friends, "
Love Story" is based on Romeo and Juliet by
William Shakespeare. In the lyrics, Swift replaced the original story's conclusion with a marriage proposal, an ending she believed the two characters deserved. The optimistic "Love Story" is contradicted by "
White Horse", which was inspired by the same love interest. In "White Horse", Swift is disillusioned that the love interest is not her ideal
Prince Charming who could treat her like a princess after his unfaithfulness. "
Hey Stephen" is about Swift's hidden feelings for Stephen Barker Liles of
Love and Theft, a country-music band that had opened shows for her. Heartbreak and emotional tumult are explored in songs such as "Tell Me Why", about an on-and-off relationship with an informal love interest; "
You're Not Sorry", with lyrics describing an unfaithful man; and "Forever & Always", inspired by Swift's breakup with singer
Other songs were inspired by romantic relationships of Swift's friends. Swift wrote "
You Belong with Me" after overhearing one of her band members speaking to his unsympathetic girlfriend over the phone. Out of sympathy, she wrote a story in which the protagonist harbors feelings for an out-of-reach love interest. The lyrics feature high school iconography, describing the protagonist as an ordinary girl "on the bleachers", and the antagonistic girlfriend as a popular
cheer captain. In "The Way I Loved You", Swift sings about her passionate feelings for a complicated ex-lover, despite her current relationship with a decent boyfriend. Apart from romance, Fearless explores friendship, family love, and life lessons from Swift's underdog perspective. "Breathe" is about a fallout with a close friend. She dedicated "
The Best Day" to her mother after they went shopping together because Swift was turned down by her schoolmates. The lyrics of "
Change"—the closing track of the standard edition—detail Swift's determination to succeed despite her underdog status as a singer from a small, independent record label in Nashville. She finished writing "Change" the night she won the Horizon Award at the
2007 Country Music Association Awards.
Music critics debated the album's genre. Many critics considered Fearless more pop than country and cited the pop-friendly musical arrangements[note 4] with wide-ranging elements from
teen pop and
pop rock to
soft rock and
folk.[note 5] According to Hazel Cills of Pitchfork, the only country-music elements on Fearless are Swift's "faux-
country accent" and "a few bits" of banjo and fiddle scattered throughout the songs. In the British newspaper Guardian, critic
Alexis Petridis said the country-music identifiers are limited to the lyrical references to God and "one-horse towns", and the production is rooted in "orthodontically perfect pop-rock" with Swift's melodies evoking "the pitiless efficiency of a Scandinavian pop factory". Swift, 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." In retrospective reviews, Lindsay Zoladz from The New York Times and Chris DeVille from Stereogum viewed Fearless a record steeped in country music.
Many of the songs contain radio-friendly country pop hooks, demonstrated through tracks such as "Fearless", "Fifteen", "Love Story", "You Belong with Me", "Tell Me Why", "The Way I Loved You", and "Change". Music scholar James E. Perone commented that the songs contain hints of country, pop, folk, and
alternative rock with their instrumental mix. On "You Belong with Me", in addition to a banjo-led country pop production, the instrumental incorporates
new wave-inspired electric guitar; Perone noted elements of 1980s
new wave rock through the track's repeated
eighth notes joined by fiddle, mandolin, and guitar. "Tell Me Why" opens with country fiddles and, in the mix, incorporates 1990s alternative rock and
syncopated drum beats and
rock-inspired guitars. The dynamic "The Way I Loved You" features
distorted electric guitars with textual shifts that recall 1990s
grunge. Other tracks with a more
balladic production also feature pop hooks, such as "White Horse" and "You're Not Sorry". The standard edition's closing track, "The Best Day", features a stripped-down
country rock production with guitar
Release and promotion
Swift named the album Fearless inspired by the title track: "[Being] fearless doesn't mean you're completely unafraid and it doesn't mean that you're bulletproof. It means that you have a lot of fears, but you jump anyway." All the songs on the album reflected her "fearless" attitude to embrace the hardships and challenges in love and life. Swift was the
booklet designer; Joseph Anthony Barker, Ash Newell, and
Sheryl Nields were responsible for the photography; and Leen Ann Ramey designed the
cover artwork. The thirteen-track standard edition was 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"—was released on March 9, 2009, by Big Machine in partnership with
Universal Music Group.
Swift announced a
reissue of Fearless, subtitled Platinum Edition, on September 10, 2009. The reissue was released on October 26, 2009. The Platinum Edition package includes a CD and a
DVD; the CD features six additional songs—"Jump Then Fall", "Untouchable", "Forever & Always" (Piano Version), "Come in with the Rain", "SuperStar", and "The Other Side of the Door"—placed prior to the original tracks. The DVD comprises the
music videos for "Change", "The Best Day", "Love Story", "White Horse", and "You Belong with Me"; behind-the-scenes footage for the latter three; behind-the-scene footage from the first concert of the
Fearless Tour; and "Thug Story"—a video Swift filmed with rapper
T-Pain exclusively for the 2009
CMT Music Awards. "Untouchable" is a
cover of rock band
Luna Halo's 2007 song that had its lyrics and arrangement rewritten by Swift.
On June 8, 2008, Swift performed songs from Fearless on
Clear Channel's Stripped; the performance was recorded and included in the Platinum Edition reissue. Prior to the album's 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 digital campaign launched through the iTunes Store, called "Countdown to Fearless", 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.
Five songs were released as singles from Fearless. The lead single, "Love Story", was released on September 15, 2008. It peaked atop the Hot Country Songs, and was the first country song to reach number one on the
Mainstream Top 40, a Billboard chart monitoring
pop radio in the U.S. The single peaked at number four on the U.S.
Billboard Hot 100, and at number two on the
UK Singles Chart, and was Swift's first number-one single in Australia. The four remaining singles were "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 forty of the Billboard Hot 100, with "You Belong with Me" peaking at number two as the highest-charting Fearless single, and within the top ten of the Hot Country Songs, with "You Belong with Me" reaching number one.[note 6] "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
Fearless was a commercial success in the U.S., setting many chart records and catapulting Swift to mainstream prominence. It spent eleven non-consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard 200, the longest run of the 2000s decade. It holds the record for the most weeks at number one for a female country album. Thirteen album tracks (including from the Platinum Edition) peaked within the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100, setting a record for the album with the most such entries.[note 7] Five tracks peaked within the top ten: "Fearless", "Love Story", "You Belong with Me", "Change", and "Jump Then Fall"; Fearless was the first album since
Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. (1984) to have five top-ten songs with none reaching number one. On the
Top Country Albums chart, Fearless spent thirty-five weeks at number one. It became the female album with the second-longest weeks at number one on Top Country Albums, behind
Shania Twain's Come On Over (fifty weeks).
With 3.217 million copies sold in the U.S. throughout 2009, Fearless was the year's best-selling album in the country. The achievement made Swift, then twenty years old, the youngest artist and the only female country musician to have a best-selling album of a calendar year. It was the only album to spend its first full year in the top ten of the Billboard 200 of the 2000s decade, and spent a total of fifty-eight weeks in the top ten—a record for a country musician. The
Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified Fearlessdiamond in December 2017, recognizing ten million
units based on sales and stream. All singles were certified platinum or multi-platinum; the tracks "You're Not Sorry" and "Forever & Always" were certified platinum; and "Hey Stephen", "Breathe", "The Way I Loved You", "The Best Day", "Change", and "Jump Then Fall" were certified gold. By October 2020, the album had sold 7.21 million copies in the U.S.
Fearless received generally positive reviews from music critics in the press. On
Metacritic, which assigns an
aggregated score out of 100 to reviews in mainstream publications, the album earned a score of 73, based on fourteen reviews.
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 Swift 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
Other reviewers were divided over the production. Chris Richards of The Washington Post commended the radio-friendly tunes, but commented that the album is repetitive overall. Although Richards praised Swift's vocals, Keefe deemed them weak and strained, which blemishes the album with occasional breath controls and nasal tones. Petridis found the praise in the American press surprising: though he agreed Swift's songwriting was remarkable, he found the music "bland and uninventive", which occasionally left the audience "wondering if the world really needs any more music like this". The British magazine Q wrote: "Her giggly peers will find she speaks their language, while grown-ups will prefer her to keep quiet."
Fearless... has endured – not so much for the banjos and mandolins Swift geared to country radio, but for its teen-pop tension between happy-ending romances and bitter reflections on youthful naïveté, neatly chiseled into Swift's terse lyrics.
According to Billboard, as of 2022, Fearless is one of the 15 best-performing 21st-century albums without any number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100. The album's critical and commercial successes established Swift as a mainstream star beyond the country-music scene. Though Swift identified as a country-music artist, some critics considered Swift more of a pop artist after the crossover success of "Love Story" and "You Belong with Me"; she officially abandoned country with the release of her fifth studio album, 1989 (2014). Perone remarked that Fearless moved Swift's status from a "singer-songwriter prodigy to singer-songwriter superstar". In addition to Swift's musicianship, Perone attributed the album's commercial success to her marketing strategy: with enhanced bonus material for the CD instead of download, Fearless became "indicative of a 21st century marketing trend in CD recordings". Swift's rising fame prompted media scrutiny on her public image and personal life. Despite her popularity with music critics and a teenage audience, some media took issue with Fearless's romantic themes as anti-feminist and supposedly harmful.
Over time, Swift's songwriting on Fearless cemented her trademark confessional narratives.[note 9] Writing for Slate, critic
Carl Wilson dubbed this technique "Swiftian". In a 2019 retrospective review of the album for Pitchfork, Cills commented that Fearless was a testament to Swift's abilities of writing timeless songs, noting the album's simplicity and earnestness. Cills remarked that amidst sexualized teen idols, "there was something novel about Swift being a teenager and writing about her reality in her own terms coming into that same mainstream space, redefining what 'teen pop' could sound like in the process". Other retrospective reviews attributed the album's enduring popularity to songs about universal feelings—heartbreak, frustration, first love, and aspirations.[note 10] It placed number 99 on NPR's 2017 list of the "150 Greatest Albums Made by Women" and number 10 on Rolling Stone's 2022 list of the "100 Greatest Country Albums of All Time".Billboard in 2022 reflected that the Grammy Award for Album of the Year that Swift was honored for the album attested to her 20-year-old talent as "one of the most important singer-songwriters of her generation".
Swift began re-recording her first six studio albums, including Fearless, in November 2020. The decision came after a public
dispute between her and talent manager
Scooter Braun, who acquired the
masters of Swift's first six studio albums—which Swift had been trying to buy for years—following her departure from Big Machine Records in November 2018. The
re-recording of Fearless, subtitled Taylor's Version, was released on April 9, 2021, through
Republic Records. The Taylor's Version feature all tracks from the Platinum Edition, the Valentine's Day soundtrack single "
Today Was a Fairytale" (2010), and six unreleased "From the Vault" tracks. Following the release of Fearless (Taylor's Version), the original reappeared on albums charts of several European countries, reaching a new peak at number two in Austria, Germany, and Norway, and number three in Switzerland.
Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes. Except where noted, all tracks are written by Taylor Swift.
^On the Platinum Edition cover, the background behind Swift is black, and Swift's logo is silver. The standard edition used outside North America uses an alternative cover with a different image, a glow on Swift's logo, and a smaller text for "Fearless".
^Swift admired Crow for her "candidness,... how she tells it like it is, but still is vulnerable". Speaking on Paisley, Swift said: "He can write something so touching it can make you cry, and then he can make you laugh so hard that you can't breathe."
^"White Horse", "Fifteen", and "Fearless" peaked at numbers two, seven, and ten, respectively.
^"Fearless", "Fifteen", "Love Story", "White Horse", "You Belong with Me", "Forever & Always", "You're Not Sorry", "Change", "Jump Then Fall", "Untouchable", "Come In with the Rain", "SuperStar", and "The Other Side of the Door"
^Upon release, AllMusic gave Fearless a four stars rating. The site reassessed the album with a four and a half stars rating since at least 2012, and awarded the album a five stars rating in 2018.
^The chart positions listed below coincided with the release of the 2021 re-recording Fearless (Taylor's Version). In Austria, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland, the sales performance of the original Fearless was combined with that of Fearless (Taylor's Version).