EH YO I’MA LET YOU FINISH BUT “YOU BELONG WITH ME” etc., etc. …
Martin Skidmore: This is lovely, and very precise in its evocation of how heartbreaking and all-consuming love can be for teenagers. As it happened I read one of the magnificent Alice Hoffman’s teen novels this afternoon, which may be why the delicate specificity and emotional conviction of this reminded me of her, and I can’t give higher praise than that to a song of this kind. I also confess that the typically moronic La Roux attack on her makes me more disposed to love her. Still, I don’t need bias to admire this: it’s rather beautiful, and one of the most acute and intelligent analyses of a key pop theme I’ve heard in ages.
Chuck Eddy: I’ve thought this song was slightly lacking in the hook department since the album came out, but hearing it on the car radio is already proving me wrong. And as unfair as it may be to Lily Allen, girls fretting about being 15 makes me care more than girls fretting about being 22. Though maybe when my daughter hits 22 I’ll think otherwise.
Hillary Brown: Compared to “You Belong with Me” (which in retrospect I keep upping my rating on mentally), this points up all of Swift’s weaknesses as a singer-songwriter: the tendency to outstay her welcome, the repetitiveness, the thin vocals, the high school soap opera, and so forth. None of this means it’s a bad song, but it’s nearly 5 minutes long!
Alex Ostroff: I was surprised to learn that this relatively unassuming track was Taylor’s next single, but underneath its reserve there’s a fragile beauty. “Fifteen” pulls Taylor’s standard trick of breathing life into generic situations, but musically and lyrically, the devil is always in the details. The bridge begins powerfully, with the desperation in Taylor’s voice at “When all you wanted was to be wanted,” chunky guitar chords and a warm cello counterpoint. But the centrepiece of the song is buried in the final verse, matter-of-fact and quiet, and punches me in the gut every time: “And Abigail gave everything she had to a boy / who changed his mind.” And then Taylor aches: “We both cried.” And so do I.
Renato Pagnani: The range of emotions she manages to shoehorn into “Fifteen” is astounding; the wide-eyed optimism of the first day of class; the pit-of-your-stomach nerves of your first date; the comfort and strength that having your BFF (the red-headed Abigail) around you gives you; the tender empathy for your friend who thought she was going to marry him; the wistful desire to go back and tell your fifteen-year-old self what you know now. Taylor can’t do that,of course, but she realized what she /could/ do—write a song and tell present fifteen-year-olds that they’ll survive high school, as unlikely as it might seem at times.
Anthony Easton: It is nice to have a teenager speak about teenage angst and, more importantly, it is vital for someone that age to say out loud — the whole thing is a con, a set of rituals, and the feelings you have are legitimate, but keep aware, be careful, do not give away yr integrity too closely. There is no nostalgia here, there is no attempt to guide behavior, nor to check the hormones because power and ambition are more important. It is a warning not to fuck, but not to fuck to get out of town, or because you are not sure of yourself, or because fucking makes you lose a bit of autonomy, or because fucking is scary are all legitimate. I think that in small towns where there is little to do, and boredom encroaches, and in conservative circles where all sex is suspect, a message about not having sex to maintain or extend personal autonomy is a message that needs to be heard. The rhetoric around abstinence is explicitly patriarchal: it is still mired in the desire for an imaginary purity. Swift has built a corpus of work about that, about maintaining self, about the authority of one’s own vision away from the dominant trends of both Nashville and Hollywood.
Martin Kavka: Taylor Swift is perhaps the best country songwriter since Dolly Parton. But while the backdrop of Parton’s songs is a genuine love for the region in which she grew up (even in bittersweet songs such as “To Daddy” or “Malena”), Swift’s “Fifteen” is far more jaded. Life in a small town is nothing more than being teased by popular bitches, and having your pants taken off by boys through their rank dishonesty. They are places that will fuck you up no matter how many wiser eighteen-year-old girls warn you of this fact. And so when you flee them, you flee into the warm arms of pop. “Fifteen” is country music for people who hate country. The fact that it’s such a good song makes this a real conundrum.
Ian Mathers: She really is sui generis at this point; even compared to the other pop-country singles I’ve liked here (there have been a few, I swear), my love for “Fifteen” feels wholly different. I’m sort of in awe of how good the melody, the vocal performance and, crucially, the lyrics are. Anyone who at 19 can write such a bittersweet song about looking back at being a teenager, and make much older people think about their own high school days with a bit of a lump in their throats, has got something.
Edward Okulicz: Taylor’s gift is that when she sings about her own life, she does so with such clarity it might as well be yours as well. “Fifteen” is a reasonably good demonstration of this, though it is a little bit distant emotionally, the stories a step removed, the chorus a touch overlong and the her vocal performance here is restrained and detached. Of course that’s just nitpicking; it’s a pretty tune and the numbness is part of the point. It’s not what she does best, but she does it well.
Alfred Soto: From the opening mandolin strums — reminiscent of “Back in the High Life Again” — to the way her voice rushes and ascends as she remembers those cute “senior boys,” Taylor Swift’s confidence never wavers. The choral melody isn’t as strong as the rest, which makes sense: she refuses to yield to a situation she hasn’t worked out as singer and songwriter. The kid’s 19, right? Failing to reach the necessary detachment only adds to her charm.
Melissa Bradshaw: Taylor Swift has tapped into a globally captivating mode of writing about small town America. “Fifteen”‘s honeyed chorus sounds designed for 15-year-olds, while her narrative will transport older listeners back to their formative teenage years, and the song’s technically deft and moving climax shifts the lens onto the inevitable heartbreak of adulthood. It’s the antithesis in mood to “You Belong With Me”, and the perfect complement. She is also saying something big and universal about being a woman. This, in combination with her undeniable talent and her appeal for a massive demographic, makes her every bit Beyonce’s equal.
Jonathan Bradley: Swift’s touch is sufficiently light that when she sings of flying after a date, her feet could plausibly have lost contact with the earth. “He’s got a car,” she marvels of the boy on the football team who asks out the adolescent Taylor, and her voice becomes even higher and more girlish than usual as she describes the thrill. And sure, first kisses and sports studs can make for painfully clichéd subject matter, but despite the soft touch, Swift sings of them with an appropriate weightiness. “Fifteen” is serious enough about the small triumphs and crushing confusions of high school to be plainspoken about them. She has an astonishing ability to elucidate the exact feeling of being young and in love, and her precision and detail reminds, without a hint of melodrama, that such a state is something very amazing and very crushing indeed.
John Seroff: Swift’s wise-beyond-her-years high school elegy sounds like it should come from the pen of Paula Cole or Dolly Parton; this kind of rock-solid songwriting should be out of the range of anyone in their teens. “Fifteen” doesn’t overdo its lyrical pathos, overwhelm with production or overstay its welcome. It’s an expression of pure vulnerability, gentle, inclusive and surprisingly, honestly wistful. There’s a lovely attentiveness to silences, brief introspective pauses that give this song the body and soul that sets it apart from goopier, less creative fare. Swift’s ubiquitous critical praise never quite clicked for me before, but ‘Fifteen’ has me eying the bandwagon… I suppose I have to go get Fearless now?