Speak Now (Taylor's Version)
“Real life is a funny thing, you know,” Taylor Swift wrote in the liner notes of 2010’s Speak Now, her third album and the third she’s rerecorded as part of a sweeping effort to regain her master tapes. “There is a time for silence. There is a time for waiting your turn. But if you know how you feel, and you so clearly know what you need to say, you’ll know it.” Swift was in her early twenties when she wrote Speak Now, still finding her voice as an artist and as an adult. But she’s faithful to her originals here—all of them written on her own, on tour, without co-writers—and faithful to a much younger version of herself. She pays tribute to early influences like Fall Out Boy and Paramore’s Hayley Williams, teaming up with them on the reimagined “from the vault” tracks “Electric Touch” and “Castles Crumbling,” respectively. And though she swaps Nashville producer Nathan Chapman for more recent collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, the arrangements are still warm and clear—minus a coat of varnish or two—with an eye towards the sort of all-encompassing pop she’d inevitably, wholeheartedly embrace. We all know what came next for Swift with 2012’s Red, but, looking back, you can easily see and hear what’s on the horizon in these songs. The grace of Speak Now is in how it makes simple work out of feelings that are anything but. Swift is vulnerable here, but she’s also self-empowered (“Mean”). She’s innocent, but knows when to take responsibility (“Dear John”). She’s wise enough to regret her mistakes (“Back to December”), but not too jaded see the best in people (“Innocent”). Does she want to grow up? Yes, if that means more agency and independence (“Speak Now”). But when you’re all alone in that new apartment, you still might cry—not just for the childhood home you left, but for the knowledge that you can never go back (“Never Grow Up”). The sound is big, but the details are extremely specific—at one point, Swift says her rival thinks she’s crazy because Swift likes to rhyme her name with things (pop-punk blowout “Better Than Revenge”). It’s that balance—the universal and the specific, the accessible and the obscure—that not only sets Swift apart from most contemporary pop songwriters, but makes her a guide for anyone trying to sort out the impossible avalanche of feelings early adulthood brings. Not that you have to be a teenager to resonate with her. If anything, what makes Swift special is her hunch that everyone has had their turn at the heartache she writes about, whether they’re ready to admit it or not. In her liner notes for Fearless, she described the power of believing in Prince Charmings and happily-ever-afters. On Speak Now, most of the Prince Charmings turn out to be duds, and the real happily-ever-after is the wisdom and resilience you find in falling for them anyway.