Taylor Swift, on Top of Her Game, Reflects on Teen Angst in Speak Now Re-release

In “Long Live,” the closing track of Taylor Swift’s release Speak Now, the songwriter sings “It was the end of a decade, but the start of an age.” Who would have guessed how apt of a metaphor that would be for her career? 

It’s been 13 years since Speak Now was released and those lyrics were first sung. The album, released in 2010, right at the end of the aughts, marked the close of the first decade of Taylor Swift’s professional career. It also marked a point where the already-successful singer was still looking for respect and still trying to prove herself.

Ten albums later (including three re-recordings), Swift is arguably the biggest pop star in the world, but returns to a more insecure time on Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), a re-recorded version of her third album, which was released July 7. Devoid of the mammoth singles that would dominate future releases, like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” on 2012’s Red or “Shake It Off,” from 2014’s 1989, the album instead reads like a diary entry. An extraordinarily well-written one, of course, but it’s full of ballads expounding on heartbreak, desire, dreams, anger and fantasies.

It’s not the typical type of album that can be blasted through a stadium, in fact, Swift only performs one song off of the album, “Enchanted,” as part of her Eras Tour. Instead, for fans it’s an album that evokes tearful teenage car rides singing along to the songs, deep reflections on it in fans’ childhood bedrooms and an unshaking, deep admiration for the album that only something that speaks to a person’s teenage years so deeply can evoke. Sure, looking back at your teenage years can be heartwarming and endearing, but it can also be deeply embarrassing, even if you’re Taylor Swift.

She made it clear that she’s not too proud of all of her lyric choices by updating a line in “Better Than Revenge (Taylor’s Version).” Swift swapped out the infamous “She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress” lyric, to “He was a moth to the flame, she was holding the matches.” It’s good that Swift has taken the time to grow as a person, and that she’s embarrassed by slut shaming. But part of the fun of Speak Now is it speaks to the vindictive and petty anger that teenagers across the world can relate to, as the album was entirely written by a fellow teenager.

This isn’t the first time that Swift has cut a lyric, lest we forget “Spelling is fun!” from 2019’s “ME!,” but the re-recording project that she’s undertaken is all about having literal ownership over the singer’s work, so she should take ownership over the words she’s written as well, rather than just coming up with an admittedly poetic and clever swap out. 

Beyond lyric changes, the main difference throughout the re-recorded songs is Swift’s voice. In the decade-plus since she released the original album, her voice has become richer and more assured. It’s lost its charming youthful twang, but has a maturity to it that makes the album more reflective as a whole. When Speak Now was first released in 2010, it marked a time of transition for the country singer. In “Never Grow Up,” she sings about her fears about becoming an adult and moving out of her parents’ home. It’s interesting hearing those songs, expertly written by a teenager, again from the perspective of a 33-year-old woman, and arguably the biggest pop star in the entire world. 

It was also a time when she was proving herself. At the time, Swift said that she wrote the album as a reaction to the doubts that some critics had about her songwriting abilities, something that she explicitly addresses in “Mean,” in which she sings “Someday I’ll be living in a big old city, and all you’re ever gonna be is mean.” If Swift was trying to prove anything to critics, she certainly doesn’t have anything left to prove 13 years later. It must feel good to be able to look back at an insecure time and acknowledge all of the accomplishments you’ve made since then.

The original album is a collection of predominantly acoustic country pop songs, which lightly pushes into the pop punk world that was so popular at the time on tracks like “Haunted” and “Better than Revenge.” She steps further into that world on bonus tracks “Electric Touch (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault),” which features Fall Out Boy, and the stirringly prophetic “Castles Crumbling (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault),” featuring Swift’s old friend and Paramore singer Hayley Williams, in a collaboration fans have been waiting for seemingly for years.

The re-recorded album features some of the heaviest hitters in pop punk, but even the songs that don’t have an exciting feature seem more rock-focused. Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is still an undoubtedly country album, but the electric guitars in the re-recorded tracks are louder and more prominent, and the drumming is heavier. Oh, and the album’s about Swift’s teenage angst. What could be more pop punk than that?

And of course, we couldn’t talk about, well, anything related to Taylor Swift without acknowledging the singer’s penchant for leaving Easter eggs. This time, it’s at the end of the singer’s music video for “I Can See You (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault).” As a getaway car (hehe) makes its escape, it crosses over a bridge where there’s a sign that says 1989 TV, hinting that the singer’s 2014 album will be the next one to receive the (Taylor’s Version) treatment.

Beyond the collection of consistently great releases, this is the reason that Taylor Swift has been on the top of pop music for years. There’s no resting, there’s always something new in the pipeline. While we can all appreciate this re-recorded version of Speak Now, it’s time to get ready for what’s next.

Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is out now.

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