FEW MAINSTREAM singers write or even co-write all of their own lyrics, but Taylor Swift insists upon handling that duty all by her lonesome. “I want to make people feel things,” she says about her lyrics. As a result, each of the thirteen tracks on Fearless come across as completely sincere—stories that have been lived and felt. In, “Hey, Stephen” she sings: “All those other girls, well they’re beautiful / but would they write a song for you?” Her sweetness is tempered with a subtle girl-power ethos. In the liner notes, she informs the boys who inspired the songs: “You had fair warning.” And she told Blender: “I’ve had a lot of guys complain about things I say either about them in songs or things I say about them in the press. I think it’s kind of fun to call out your ex-boyfriends. Why do this if you’re not going to take the opportunity to always have the last word? It’s so much fun.”
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, the tall, blonde, 18-year-old Swift is clearly following in the pop-country footsteps of Faith Hill, or a more recent Carrie Underwood (check out that very Faith/Martina/Celine/Mariah cover shot), but is wearing the shoes her own way. She was nominated for the Country Music Awards female vocalist of the year. Her young, at times unsure voice comes across too softly to overpower the glamor of a national setting or wow crowds with sheer vocal effort. She’s cautiously yet comfortably country, maintaining the tenors of country music within a consistently addictive pop rhythm.
Now, with “Should’ve Said No” barely off the charts, her second album is hot off the presses. It’s hardly a precedent-setting batch of country tunes, but it craftily manages the cross-genre straddling act many female country singers are attempting. So while there is not a lot of groundbreaking music on Fearless, there is plenty of the of the catchy, guitar-jamming, country-pop mix that quickly has made Taylor Swift the princess of the highways.
“Love Story,” Fearless’ lead single, is Swift doing her favorite thing: telling a heartfelt story with one of the gotta-hear-it-again melody that keeps people coming back for more—even if “more” sometimes sounds pretty similar. In the chorus, she borrows Sugarland’s simple chords and driving rhythm to compliment the pleasantly quick banjo-picking verse arrangements. “Fifteen” shares practical observations from a freshman perspective in high school. “I didn’t know who I was supposed to be/at fifteen,” she sings. The reflective song employs her favorite timing—a 4/4 beat—and a lilting melody.
At certain points on Fearless we can hear the faint strains of an Avril Lavigne–ish influence (like in “The Way I Loved You”), and there’s almost no doubt Swift listens to a lot of Jewel. Blending those inflections with the country aesthetic is a a formula that works better than you’d expect, winning the country base while reaching out to the more pop-oriented swing voter. A mid-album collaboration with Colbie Caillat—which like Caillat’s , is pleasant but unremarkable—is further evidence of her strategic alliances with well-known voices from the mainstream.
If you prefer “classic” country—think older George Strait or Alan Jackson—then you will enjoy “The Best Day,” a soft, guitar-led ditty, or “White Horse,” a soothing, reflective song with underlying strings tremors. But Fearless doesn’t do much to pander to your tastes: “Tell Me Why” utilizes the classic country sounds of guitar and fiddle, but with the up-tempo aid of drums and a skipping beat that pushes the limits of country music—much like Rascal Flatts. These songs don’t test any limits, but they sound great on the highway.
Jacob Parrish is a journalism student in northern Virginia.
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