My Coming-of-Age Has Come and Gone: Revisiting Taylor Swift’s ‘Fearless’

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by Sherry Toh |

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time of trouble | SMA News Today | Disability Pride Month | main graphic for column titled "Wandering the Lines," by Sherry Toh

On April 9, I traveled back in time. 

I mean this metaphorically, of course. As much as I wish time travel were feasible in our world, it unfortunately remains the stuff of science fiction and fantasy. Thus, revisiting media I loved as a kid and looking back on my memories will have to do. 

But we shouldn’t underestimate the power of nostalgia and memory. On April 9, when Taylor Swift released the rerecording of her second album, “Fearless,” many young women who grew up with her music, including me, were transported back to our preteen and teenage selves

If there’s one influence greater than musicals on my life and work, it’s Taylor Swift. I’ve liked her music since I was 10, and I used to listen to her song “Love Story” on the radio with my Sony Walkman. But it was the week of my 11th birthday that sparked my true love affair with her work, when my dad bought me the platinum edition of “Fearless.”

I’ve gotten physical and digital copies of all of Taylor’s albums since. I’ve sung my heart out at every concert she’s held on my home island of Singapore. I’ve watched as she grew from country music’s teenage darling to the phenomenal woman she is today, responsible for shifts in the music industry and for shattering records.

Meanwhile, I was growing up, too. I was daydreaming about my future, hopeful that it would bring me success in my art and a fairy-tale romance. I was creating ideal versions of the world and people around me, and learning how the creation of those idealized visions could hurt me and the people I loved in reality. Like any young woman, I was figuring out who I was, what to do with life’s lessons, and what I truly wanted once I had to leave my childhood fantasies behind. I still am.

Returning to my 11-year-old self through “Fearless” was a bittersweet moment. Eleven-year-old Sherry could use both of her hands. Her spine’s hunch was mild. She wanted to be an actress, not a writer. Her parents weren’t divorced. She didn’t have to deal with the pain of friends and crushes coming into her life and leaving. The list of reasons to grieve goes on. 

But 11-year-old Sherry also didn’t believe she’d still be alive at 22. She didn’t expect her mum to remarry and give birth to her second brother. She hadn’t met the people in her life who would help her shed her internalized ableism and figure herself out; the fateful meeting with a girl named Brianna Albers, who lives in Minnesota and has SMA herself, was eight years away. She hadn’t realized her relationship with SMA was more complicated than she thought, and that it would lead her to more good than she could imagine — like a column where her story would be told.

My 11-year-old self based her dreams on the imagery found in “Fearless,” but I think my 22-year-old self has an understanding of its themes in a way only time can foster. “Fearless” was a coming-of-age album.

In Taylor’s words, “fearless was an album full of magic and curiosity, the bliss and devastation of youth. it was the diaRy of the adventures and explorations of a teenage girl who was learning tiny lessons with every new crack in the facade of the faIrytale ending she’d been shown in the movies.”

Fifteen” is perhaps the track that best exemplifies the album’s concepts, the parallels between Taylor’s life and the lives of her fans, and what listening to the album’s rerecording felt like. The song was released in 2008, and written a couple of years after her first year in high school as a retrospective about her experience and a cautionary tale for girls entering their adolescence. 

As my friend Hannah put it, “There’s this … I guess, almost nostalgic and knowing feeling to all the songs now. ‘Fifteen’ is a really good example of it. These are the songs a teenager wrote, some in retrospect, but now Taylor’s a grown woman. She’s both the kid who was singing them then and someone who knows just how much she didn’t know at 15.”

It’s funny to think that future versions of ourselves will return to where we are now. Will the memories of our present be as bittersweet to them as our past is to us? We won’t know until we do. But I hope they’re still dancing as the music of our youth plays in the background.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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