Taylor Swift and her best friend stick together their first year of high school in the empathetic “Fifteen."
A caring guitar opens the single, setting a nurturing tone. On the sidewalk leading to the high school, she passes by a couple girls carrying instruments on her bike. She takes her time chaining her bike, wishing she lived a couple extra miles away. She heaves a sigh, heading to the main doors. Madison and Caleb, her neighbors who live further down her block, wave to her. With her schedule in hand, she tries to find her homeroom. She walks close to the rooms, avoiding the cliques of two and threes chatting in the hallway. A handsome guy, likely a senior, in a letterman jacket decorated with several medals stands by the locker next to her, talking with his friends about the football game that was on last night. As the warning bell rings, he brushes past her, causing her purse to fall to her wrists. He continues talking with his friends, not even realizing he bumped into her. If only one of the sweet senior guys would see her wandering, ask her “do you need help?” He would tell her he did the same thing as a freshman. He would take her under his wing, introducing to her to everyone he knew and warning her about the tough teachers. But it’s a fantasy. She’s going to have rely on herself. (“You take a deep breath and you walk through the doors/It's the morning of your very first day/You say hi to your friends you ain't seen in a while/Try and stay out of everybody's way/It's your freshman year and you're gonna be here/For the next four years in this town/Hoping one of those senior boys will wink at you and say/You know I haven't seen you around, before.”)
In the chorus, she’s at the age before cynicism takes hold. She still has some innonence. The world is still drawn to her in shades of black and white. Her life is just starting. She has reached a milestone year that if she lets it, will define who she is. (“'Cause when you're fifteen and/Somebody tells you they love you/You're gonna believe them/And when you're fifteen feeling like/There's nothing to figure out/But count to ten, take it in/This is life before you know/Who you're gonna be/Fifteen.”)
In her second hour biology class, Abigail, a freshman like her, with her auburn hair pulled up in a ponytail and a casual t-shirt, compliments on her purse and asks where she got it. They have a short conversation discussing their favorite stores before the teacher begins. After class, they compare schedules, discovering they have English together 5th hour and the same lunch hour. At lunch, they mock the popular girls side eyeing anyone who dares to look at them and putting their purses in the seats as the so-called undesirable girls walk by with even barely a glance. They roll their eyes. Dealing with petty attitudes like three more years is going to test their patience. Abigail bets Swift will lose it first. They talk about boys. In one of her classes, she met Jonathan, a freshman linebacker on the JV football team. They had started talking about being paired up in a project. After several study sessions, he asked her out on a date. When he came to pick her up at her house in his car, he brought her carnations. At the end of their date, he kissed her. As she unlocked the door, she saw her mom on the couch, watching the news. She told her mom every detail, describing what a gentleman he was. That night, she put her favorite songs on and danced to every one of them until her bones ached. (“You sit in a class next to a redheaded Abigail/And soon enough you're best friends/Laughing at the other girls/Who think they're so cool/We'll be out of here as soon as we can/And then you're on you're very first date/And he's got a car and you're feeling like flying/And you're mamma's waiting up and you're thinking he's the one/And you're dancing 'round your room when the night ends/When the night ends.”)
In the second chorus, she thought nothing could ever top her date with him. Looking back, it was a great moment. However, not as important as getting her acceptance letter to the University of Michigan. (“'Cause when you're fifteen and/Somebody tells you they love you/You're gonna believe them/When you're fifteen and your first kiss/Makes you head spin 'round but/In your life you'll do things greater/Than dating the boy on the football team/But I didn't know it at fifteen.”)
In the bridge, at that age, having a group of friends and a doting boyfriend made her feel like she belonged. Even in five years time, post-high school, a lot has changed. At 20, Caleb was in a car accident and got a DUI. Madison married her high school sweetheart and is currently expecting her first baby with him. She thought, like Madison, she would be with Jonathan forever. Abigail is the one person she still talks regularly. If she had another chance, she wouldn’t gotten serious with Jonathan and kept him as her friend. It was a shock being at the University of Michigan without him. Her identify and interests had been wrapped up in Jonathan for so long, she didn’t know what she actually liked. She knew then she had a second chance to focus on her education. Back in high school, though, Abigail had dated another guy on the JV football team. However, she didn’t fare as well. They had gone out on a couple dates. On day in biology class, though, she was quiet. Afterwards, she wouldn’t even talk to her. By lunch, she had skipped out and just walked. Over the weekend, while they were studying, Abigail had told her what happened. She had slept with her boyfriend and when she saw him at school the next day, he avoided her. For an hour, Abigail cried into her shoulder. Tears ran down her cheek, helpless to end her best friend’s heartache. (“When all you wanted/Was to be wanted/Wish you could go back/And tell yourself what you know now/Back then I swore I was gonna/Marry him someday/But I realized some bigger dreams of mine/And Abigail gave everything she had to a boy/Who changed his mind.”)
In the third chorus, she sees her niece going off to high school and hopes she makes better decisions than she did at the time. She’s at peace with her mistakes and was fortunate enough to fix them. It wasn’t until she was 28 that she truly felt comfortable with who she is. She hopes her niece doesn’t try to grow up too fast. (“'Cause when you're fifteen and somebody tells you they love you/You're gonna believe them/And when you're fifteen, don't forget to look before you fall/I've found time can heal most anything/And you just might find who you're supposed to be/I didn't know who I was supposed to be/At fifteen.”)
In the final section, she “la la’s” and then repeats part of the first verse, hoping for the best for her niece. (“Your very first day/Take a deep breath girl/Take a deep breath as you walk through the doors.”)
Swift’s astute vocals try to calm her niece’s nerves. Helping her buy back-to-school clothes reminded her of the anxiety she once felt. Coupled with the anticipation that it’s an huge, overwhelming change, she hopes to answer her questions and let her know it’s only temporary.
Swift’s confessional style weaves a realistic story with some hidden characters (like the possible niece at the end). Including her real-life best friend by name, though, is complicated. While it demonstrates the level of trust of their friendship, it does add some weirdness knowing that Abigail is a real person. Commenting on a stranger’s experiences, even with the writer’s permission, seems to cross some personal boundaries. Real life fan fiction does exist on the Internet (which is as creepy as it sounds) and in a fandom as zealous as Swift’s, it can become problematic with some fans taking the connection too far.
The perceptive “Fifteen” has many stories to tell.