Taylor Swift’s ‘Fearless’: How She Made Her Pop Breakthrough
Taylor Swift is re-recording her first six albums as a way of reasserting control over her master recordings. First up is Fearless: Taylor’s Version, due out April 9th — a new recording of the 2008 album that set her on a course to being one of the biggest pop acts of her generation. In this story, originally published in 2018, we spoke with the people who helped Swift make that breakthrough.
Taylor Swift spent the year following the release of her 2006 debut on the road as the opening act for country stars like George Strait, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill. Her relentless new touring schedule left her alone for long periods of time. After spending several years in Nashville co-writing sessions, she suddenly found herself seizing the chance to create on her own. “If you’re in Arkansas, who’s there to write with?” she said.
The album that eventually came out of this process — including “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me,” her first two Top 10 crossover pop hits — would introduce Swift to the pop mainstream. But when sessions first began, Swift was simply trying to build off her trailblazing debut. “There was definitely an unwritten stress,” says studio engineer Chad Carlson. “We knew we could make a monster record, but we put a lot of pressure in ourselves.”
One of Swift and producer Nathan Chapman’s reference points for the album’s sound was the bright 2007 hit “Bubbly,” by Colbie Caillat, who would end up co-writing and guesting on the Fearless track “Breathe.” “There was a certain honesty and commitment to keeping the arrangements simple that that record had,” says Justin Niebank, who mixed Fearless. “Taylor and Nathan loved the fact that on ‘Bubbly’ you could really sense that it was just an honest person sitting in a room surrounded by musicians.”
Swift, who co-produced the album, worked on Fearless throughout 2006 and 2007, in short spurts during time off between touring — this time, with a newfound focus on de-emphasizing country signifiers. “We wrote ‘You Belong With Me’ in one or two hours,” said Liz Rose. “When she’s writing something, she’s already producing in her head.” Ultimately, it was Swift’s rapidly progressing, increasingly personal songwriting that made Fearless feel pivotal, as heard on songs like the empathetic “Fifteen” and the downcast “White Horse.”
“When I knew something was going on in someone’s personal life and they didn’t address it in their music, I was always very confused by that,” Swift said at the time. “I owe it to people from letting them in from Day One.”