Review Summary: Country-pop teen sensation proves that teenage romance still has a place at the top of the charts.
Good, honest pop is the kind of thing that only comes out once in a while, the kind of pop that isn’t mass-produced by some anonymous Oz-like Swedish svengali or popped out by some sort of marketing beast. I was hesitant to declare Taylor Swift anything but just another commercialized teen trying to make a novelty buck when her country-ish debut came out in 2006 and songs like the get-back-at-your-ex anthem “Picture To Burn” and the sappy “Teardrops On My Guitar” became ubiquitous. Fearless, however, is just the kind of pop record that is about as real as pop can get: earnest, memorable, deliberate, and just as catchy as anything else you’re likely to hear nowadays.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the record is Swift herself; unlike many pop idols her age, she is not some big-hearted daddy’s girl or a rebellious wannabe sex symbol; she’s just your normal teenager with some serious boy problems and a penchant for writing unnaturally talented songs. Lyrics like “in your life you’ll do things / greater than dating the boy on the football team / but I didn’t know it at fifteen” from “Fifteen” and “but she wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts / she’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers” from “You Belong To Me” are not only fantastic in the context of the song but also show Swift’s unerring ability to describe the teenage experience (her experience, in other words), without sounding contrived and fake. And even on some of the clunkers, like the awfully sappy “Forever and Always,” Swift’s vocal skills and obvious charisma hide some of her shallower sentiments.
For what Nashville no doubt considers their newest and brightest star, there’s a hell of a lot more pop than country here, and although some fans might miss the twangier side of Swift, she without doubt belongs in a more mainstream arena. There’s the occasional backwoods violin and pedal-steel guitar, and Swift can mimic the best of Nashville, but for the most part the music is perfectly suited to Swift’s subtle, careful pop style. The instrumentation is sharp and accompanies Swift well without overwhelming her, and the hooks are what you would expect from a person who’s already sold over three million.
Then again, don’t come to Fearless looking for anything musically mind-blowing, as the slick radio production is engineered to produce hits and is about as deep as a puddle. The spotlight here is squarely on Swift, and so on the few parts where Fearless falters, such as the pedestrian duet with Colbie Caillat and the too-cheesy-for-its-own-good closer “Change,” it’s usually because Swift isn’t focusing on her strengths: namely, boys, breakups, betrayals, or all three.
That’s not to say Swift is a one-trick pony; what Fearless has definitely proved, if nothing else, is that she’s the real deal when it comes to solid songwriting and an assured knowledge of her target audience. And with songs like the charming first single “Love Story,” one can assume that Swift will no doubt keep on selling enough records to continue getting all those guy problems out of her system.