The Intense Nostalgia Of Taylor Swift’s (New) Fearless
Six days ago, keeping the promise she made when her master recordings were sold without her permission or approval, Taylor Swift released the re-recorded version of her 2008 album Fearless, and it’s all my friends and I have been listening to ever since.
I was 16 when Taylor first released that album and I can still remember the phone number of the boy I sang most of the songs about. Like I could call him right now. I mean, he wouldn’t answer. Because I was a Grade A psycho in 2008. But I could try. I remember the boy I sang Hey Stephen about and You Belong With Me. I remember the boy I created a false narrative of in my head just so that I could access the kind of emotion I’d need to pull off a convincing rendition of White Horse, and I remember thinking I’d let Taylor’s best friend Abigail run me over with a car when I heard Fifteen for the first time. No, I didn’t actually love any of those boys. Of course not. But I was sixteen! And the thing the thing about being a teenager is that everything feels terminal. However you feel is how you think you’ll feel forever.
Do you remember when you were young and your parents would say things like, “Youth is wasted on the young…”, or, “Enjoy it while you can – it’s all downhill after this!” or “Oh to be sixteen again!”, and they were implying that where you were, right then, was the peak? Like you’d reached the top of the mountain and the view would never be any better than it was right now? Well, I think when our parents said that, they were remembering it wrong. What I mean is, they weren’t remembering their youth accurately. They were remembering it the way you remember a past relationship or a lover; a mash-up of all the best moments and scenes and storylines, with all of the pain and betrayal and betrayal carefully edited out. Basically the opposite of a blooper reel. And when people look back on their teenage years and meet it with a kind of sweet nostalgia, I think it’s because they’re doing the same thing.
But this past week, as my friends and I re-listened to Fearless, we were catapulted back to the reality of 16. Of how actually fucking hard it was. Don’t you remember? Don’t you remember the pain of your friend being chosen by the guy you liked instead of you? Don’t you remember thinking every boy who put an ‘x’ at the end of his texts wanted to marry you? Don’t you remember the nausea and sweatiness as you stood up to deliver your speech in front of your English class? Or the thickness in your throat as you walked into the school hall to sit your NCEA exams? Don’t you remember standing at the top of your stairs listening to your parents arguing, convinced they were getting a divorce? Or feeling bullied by a sibling or comparing your body to someone else’s for the first time or feeling like your mum was sabotaging your happiness because she wouldn’t let you drink alcohol or go to a party unsupervised or drive on your restricted license past 9pm? Those things felt terminal, and it was largely because we hadn’t lived enough “life” to have anything worth measuring it against.
I’ve been 28 and I’ve been 16. And yes, adulthood is brutal, and the decisions we make come with so many more consequences, but there’s no way I’d trade it in for being a teenager again. In David Nicholl’s Sweet Sorrow, the best line came when Charlie was recounting how much concern and anxiety had plagued his adolescence:
“The greatest lie that age tells about youth is that it’s somehow free of care, worry or fear. Good God… doesn’t anyone remember?”