It’s 2010, and you’re listening to Taylor Swift singing “Take pictures in your mind of your childhood room” in “Never Grow Up,” off her third studio album Speak Now. Flash forward 13 years later; you’re listening to the same line, but, this time, sung by a more mature Taylor, and you realize you did, in fact, memorize your childhood bedroom because you spent endless hours there dancing to this same record. Some people say they wish they could listen to their favorite album for the first time again. Last Friday, Swifties had the chance to do so with the release of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).
A fan-favorite, Speak Now was the first record that Taylor Swift released after her highly successful and critically acclaimed sophomore album, Fearless. However, along with that success, came criticism. As Taylor herself put it, “I was trying to create a follow-up to the most-awarded country album in history, while staring directly into the face of intense criticism. I had been widely and publicly slammed for my singing voice and was first encountering the infuriating question that is unfortunately still lobbed at me to this day: ‘does she really write her songs?’ Spoiler alert: I really, really do […] I underwent extensive vocal training and made a decision that would completely define this album: I decided I would write it entirely on my own […] They couldn’t give all the credit to my cowriters if there weren’t any, but that posed a new challenge; it really had to be good. If it wasn’t, I would be proving my critics right.”
As a result, Taylor indeed created one of the best albums in her catalog. Swift wrote Speak Now between the formative ages of 18 and 20. She was amidst the chaos of growing up, falling in love, and becoming a music sensation. Overall, Speak Now feels like a mixture of fiction and real life. Through fantasy imagery, the musician takes a realistic look at life. With the opener, “Mine,” Taylor tells the story of a couple who lives a happy life, yet they’re not exempt from problems. Similarly, in “Back to December,” Swift describes a loving partner who was truly good to her, but she failed to reciprocate his love. Also, “Long Live,” which is Taylor’s most magical song yet, is full of references to dragons, knights, and kingdoms, yet it doesn’t feel cloying. Instead, Swift understands all good things must come to an end as she sings, “If you have children someday / When they point to the pictures / Please tell ’em my name / Tell ’em how the crowds went wild.”
One of the most anticipated re-recordings on this album was “Better Than Revenge”; not because of the song itself — although it’s a good one —, but because fans were not sure if Taylor would change a line that sparked controversy. The original track, which is about “the other woman,” included the lyric “She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress.” During an interview with the Guardian in 2014, Swift stated, “I was 18 when I wrote that. That’s the age you are when you think someone can actually take your boyfriend. Then, you grow up and realize no one can take someone from you if they don’t want to leave.” In Taylor’s Version, the song goes “He was a moth to the flame / She was holding the matches.” This caused a debate on social media about whether Taylor made the right choice. Whereas some fans were happy with the clever change, others refuse to stream Taylor’s version and assure they will continue to listen to the original. From a business standpoint, it might seem like the lyric change was a bad idea, but, ultimately, listeners can stream whichever version they prefer, and Taylor re-recording her albums was never about the money nor streams. It’s about reclaiming and owning her hard-earned work.
Of course, one of the best parts of each re-recording is listening to what Taylor calls “the vault tracks”; songs that were scrapped during the process of creating the original album. In the case of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), the musician unveiled six previously unreleased tunes, which she also wrote alone. The wistful “Foolish One (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” sees Swift longing for a love that never was, and it embodies the essence of Speak Now to a T. Another highlight from the vault is “When Emma Falls in Love (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault),” a charming song in which Swift sings about a girl she admires and how she navigates love and life itself. On the album’s release day, Taylor performed this song as a surprise at The Eras Tour in Kansas City, and she revealed she wrote “When Emma Falls in Love” about one of her best friends, leading many to think the song is about actress Emma Stone.
The vault tracks also include two collaborations with Fall Out Boy and Hayley Williams of Paramore. When revealing the back cover of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), Swift cited both acts as her most powerful influences as a lyricist. In fact, “Better than Revenge” evokes early Paramore tunes, and many of Taylor’s songs mirror Pete Wentz’s lyricism. Nevertheless, these collaborations are a bit disappointing. It’s no secret that Williams and FOB’s lead singer Patrick Stump have great voices, and one would’ve expected more up-tempo productions for these two songs, but both singers feel underused.
Swift had previously performed Fall Out Boy’s “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” with Stump during her Red Tour and with the whole band during their iconic Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show performance, both in 2013. Likewise, Hayley performed “That’s What You Get” at Taylor’s Speak Now Tour in 2011. Those performances are great examples of what Stump and Williams can achieve with Taylor, so that’s why the vault tracks feel kind of underwhelming. By no means are “Electric Touch (feat. Fall Out Boy)” and “Castles Crumbling (feat. Hayley Williams)” bad songs — in fact, the latter shines for its lyricism —, but they could’ve been better. Let’s hope for more, better collaborations with these artists.
To top it all off, Taylor released a music video for “I Can See You (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault),” starring Taylor Lautner, who “Back to December” and, allegedly, this song are about, as well as Joey King and Presley Cash, who also starred in the music video for “Mean” back in 2011. About directing “I Can See You,” the musician stated, “I always wanted to direct fight scenes/a heist storyline and had the most incredible time plotting this out.” The video, which is one of Swift’s best, symbolizes how fans have helped Taylor reclaim her music. You can watch it at the end of this article!
All in all, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) serves as a testament of what Taylor Swift is capable of. When listening to the album, memories of a time long gone flood the older fans, and the feeling of nostalgia is inevitable. At the same time, this re-recording shows the growth Taylor has gone through, and the entire album sounds like an older sister giving advice and telling her life story to a younger sibling. Definitely, Swift’s connection with her fans is one for the ages, and we hope it continues like this for many years to come. Long live Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)!