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Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is a cathartic release of Taylor Swift’s youthful, pent-up frustrations

"Speak Now (Taylor's Version)"

Release date: 07 July 2023
Taylor Swift - Speak Now (Taylors Version) cover
07 July 2023, 07:00 Written by Kelsey Barnes

When Speak Now was released back in 2010 without any co-writers, Swift used it as a message to critics and naysayers alike who doubted whether she actually contributed in writer’s rooms during Fearless.

Her 2008, third body of work, which was Swift’s first to sell over 1 million copies in a week, was produced by her longtime collaborator Nathan Chapman and danced between the country and pop genres.

If Fearless was Swift charting her own coming-of-age story, Speak Now was her making sense of her growing fame and the increased media interest in her personal life. With the third re-recorded release after Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and Red (Taylor’s Version), the biggest shift is Swift’s vocals. The country twang heard on songs like “Mine” and “Mean” has faded, but unlike what she sings on “Speak Now” (“I stand up with shaky hands, all eyes on me”), Swift and her voice are stronger and more assured than ever.

Reclaiming her work means Swift must revisit the events and experiences that brought her joy, inflicted pain, and every other emotion in between. But unlike the original versions of “Dear John” and “Last Kiss,” the breathy and defeated vocals have faded — in its place is a Swift completely at peace with the things she’s been subjected to. Better yet, she sounds like she’s at her full power.

Although the original album was a snapshot of what was happening to her in 2010, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is a snapshot of who she was and what she was listening to at that time. Two of the vault tracks feature pop punk and emo-leaning groups Fall Out Boy and Hayley Williams of Paramore who are featured on "Electric Touch”' and "Castles Crumbling" respectively. On “Electric Touch” there’s a punchy juxtaposition of Swift’s vocals with those of FOB lead singer Patrick Stump as they play off one another, whereas on “Castles Crumbling”, a song about grappling with falling from grace, it sounds more in line with Williams’ solo work rather than the work of Paramore. Although “Castles Crumbling” may not be the powerhouse pop-rock anthem Swemos were expecting, it’s as if its the prequel to Swift’s collab with Phoebe Bridgers on Red (Taylor’s Version): a story about growing up as teens in the public eye.

Similar to “Dorothea” on evermore, “When Emma Falls in Love,” one of the album’s other vault tracks, is a song written for one of Swift’s friends. The track, presumably about actress Emma Stone who became friends with Swift shortly before the release of “Speak Now”, is a piano-driven song in the perspective of Swift watching her friend fall in love. With lyrics like “Little does he know his whole world is about to change” and “Little Miss Sunshine always thinks it's going to rain” teeter on slightly naive storytelling, it’s a song that is quintessentially Speak Now.

Since its release, “Better Than Revenge” has been celebrated, criticised, and then found its own place in the zeitgeist as a slightly problematic but equally beloved track. Despite the original’s anti-feminist sentiments (“She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress”), Swift decided – much to the irritation of fans – to adapt the lyrics to “He was a moth to a flame / she was holding the matches.” Back in 2014, Swift said to The Guardian that she was 18 at the time of writing the track and her perspective was incorrect. Although this change clearly is Swift’s response to how her perspective has grown, attempting to rewrite history does a disservice to actually honouring who she was at that time – flaws and all – during the writing of the original Speak Now.

Despite that blemish, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is a cathartic release of pent-up frustrations of things she never had the confidence to say at 19 that are now stated proudly at 33. Almost prophetically, much of what she sings has already come true. She does live in a big city, shining like fireworks regardless of who has hurt her publicly, as referenced in “Innocent” and “Mean”, or privately as alluded to on “Dear John” and “Better Than Revenge.”

What hasn’t changed, though, is the message prevalent in “Long Live,” a song dedicated to her fans. The reclaimed version is even more formidable, a sonic snapshot of the artist she was when she first wrote it with the experience and growth of the artist she is today. The Swift of 2010 couldn’t foresee the number of walls she’d have to break through or the amount of dragons she’d have to slay in the 13 years that followed. But if Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) represents just one thing, it’s that her fans will be there to support her as she reclaims her work, truly living the lyrics “Long live all the magic we made [...] One day, we will be remembered."

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