The original recording of Speak Now was released back in 2010, when Taylor Swift was just 20 years old. It was her follow-up to 2008’s Fearless and, in some ways, represented a response to that album’s sunny and optimistic take on romantic love. Speak Now found Swift in a more melancholic, contemplative mood as the dazzling glow of youth and stardom began to cast shadows on her life. She wrote the songs for Speak Now alone while on tour supporting Fearless, whereas much of her previous work had relied on collaborators.
Swift has now released Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), the third in the re-recordings of her first six albums, prompted by a dispute over the original master recordings with Big Machine Records. Alongside the album release, the country-pop superstar has also released separate music videos for each song that include on-screen lyrics, emphasizing how important the lyrics to these songs are to her. And it’s the confessional style of her lyrics that, in many ways, has created the close connection so many fans have with her. So, it’s not only her musicianship that has made her perhaps the biggest musical artist in the pop world. Are these Taylor Swift’s best lyrics to date? What do the songs’ meanings convey? We dive in with a fresh look at some of Swift’s best songs.
“Mine” Leads the Way
The lead-off song to the album, “Mine,” offers a good illustration of Swift’s techniques and talent. Like much of the album and many of her prior songs, the subject is romantic love and the narrator’s feelings toward another. The song opens by describing the other person: in college, part-time waiter, small-town origins. But the first verse’s last line says love doesn’t last, introducing a touch of melancholy right at the start.
Swift then paints a series of images, in the way so much of good country music does: “Do you remember, we were sittin’, there by the water? / You put your arm around me for the first time / You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.”
What sets “Mine” apart is how Swift recalls that image later in the song. After a midnight fight and bracing for a break-up, the singer is surprised: “You said, ‘I’ll never leave you alone’ / You said, ‘I remember how we felt, sitting by the water. / And every time I look at you, it’s like the first time.” That initial painterly image Swift’s lyrics created comes to play a crucial role in the story of the song, reminding the lovers of what they once had.
“Speak Now” and the Power of Words
On the title track, “Speak Now,” Swift’s lyrical craftsmanship comes to play again. Set at a wedding, the singer seeks to prevent a “boy…from marrying the wrong girl” who is dressed in “a gown shaped like a pastry” (can’t you just hear the contempt?). The usually joyful organ playing “Here Comes the Bride” instead sounds “like a death march.” And when the minister tells the audience to “speak now or forever hold your peace,” the singer is unsure of herself and hesitates. Earlier, she had expressed doubts about his devotion: “She floats down the aisle like a pageant queen / But I know you wish it was me / You wish it was me / Don’t you?”
As we wonder whether the singer will speak up, the song shifts personas, with the boy telling the narrator, “Baby, I didn’t say my vows / So glad you were around / When they said, ‘Speak now.'” As in “Mine,” the song sets up a dramatic situation that resolves on a hopeful note in the last lines.
“Dear John” Brings the Fire
The same cannot be said for “Dear John,” perhaps Swift’s most acclaimed song on Speak Now. Written as a break-up letter to a boyfriend (and widely interpreted as intended for Swift’s former beau, John Mayer, though never confirmed by the singer herself), this song exhibits a bite that had only been hinted at previously. “Don’t you think nineteen’s / Too young to be played by your dark, twisted games?” she sings. The song features some effective wordplay — noting her boyfriend’s “burned out” former girlfriends before she turns it around on him, taking his “matches before fire could catch” her, and now she’s “shining like fireworks.” Fire changes from something that burns out to something that shines, but the song ends not on this empowered, triumphant note. Instead, it closes with an accusatory one: “You should’ve known / Don’t you think I was too young? / You should’ve known.”
While Swift likes to put a spotlight on her songcraft, she nevertheless felt the need to tweak the original lyrics on one song, at least. On “Better Than Revenge,” Swift seems to have softened her perspective over the years. The song, about a girl who’s stolen the singer’s boyfriend from her, originally included the line, “She’s an actress, whoa / She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress, whoa,” denigrating her rival’s talent. In the version released on Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), Swift changed the lyric to, “He was a moth to the flame, she was holding the matches,” with the word “matches” nicely suggesting burning something down, like a relationship. While the new line lacks the biting drama of the original version, it offers more through metaphor.
Also included on Taylor’s Version are six songs “from the vault” — never-before-released songs written for the original Speak Now album release in 2010 but ultimately left out. The standout track, “I Can See You,” focuses on a romantic crush. Here Swift stretches her “good girl” image with lines wondering, “what would you do if I went to touch you now?” The song is more lustful than romantic, furthering Swift’s distance from her earlier, more innocent image.
A New Light
Ultimately, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) reveals a confident, growing songwriter adept at using imagery and phrasing to convey feelings and emotions. While the songs continue to focus on love and romance, there’s more experience at play here, casting Swift into a new light as a songwriter and delivering some of her best songs so far. No wonder she’s eager to share her lyrics alongside her music.
Explore Swift’s growth as a songwriter with our 100% Taylor Swift playlist, featuring all Taylor Swift all of the time, and enjoy heartfelt stories sung to some of the best country-pop music hits. Then keep the superstars on full blast with a look at the many layers of Ed Sheeran’s album Subtract and our top picks from the Jonas Brothers’ fresh release, The Album.