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Thursday, May 16, 2024

Taylor Swift releases ‘Speak Now (Taylor’s Version),’ 12 years after initial release

Swift stays true to her 2010 self, but her maturity seeps through the tracks to reveal something new for life-long fans 


By ELIZABETH WOODHALL — arts@theaggie.org


Taylor Swift is a force to be reckoned with — her career is marked by awards, record-breaking numbers of streams and millions of fervent fans, among other accolades. As she shows no signs of slowing down, her influence in the music industry has even led to some referring to her as “the music industry” itself. Amidst her many notable projects, Swift is in the process of re-recording seven of her 10 studio albums following a lengthy battle with former manager Scooter Braun. On July 7, while performing in Nashville, Tennessee as part of her ongoing world tour, she unveiled her highly anticipated re-recording of “Speak Now” to the world, complete with six new tracks released “from the vault.”

On “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version),” the voice of a young country pop star is replaced by one that is older, almost as if Swift is traveling back in time with the knowledge that could’ve saved her from many heartbreaks and mistakes. But it’s not something that she regrets — these are tracks that established her stardom, and fans that resonate with them were able to grow up alongside the singer.

Track one, “Mine (Taylor’s Version),” is a fan-favorite. A song that talks about taking risks and belonging to one another for the first time, it captures teenage love in the best light. This affection they hold strays away from what this couple hopes to never become: “You say we’ll never make my parents’ mistakes.” Their love takes dangerous steps that can prove to be destructive with the fall, but Swift is made into a “rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.” If they are each other’s “mine,” then there’s nothing they can’t overcome.

The next track, “Sparks Fly (Taylor’s Version),” immediately welcomes listeners with powerful instrumentals  and the sound of a violin that lingers longer than the 2010 version. A song about metaphorical sparks flying in a relationship, it’s packed with elements that are not unfamiliar to Swift’s signature sound, making it one that’s not very different from the 2010 version. With her tamed-down country accent and lyricism that could belong in a country pop song today, Swift stays true to her younger self.

The title track, “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)” follows a similar pursuit: her mature vocals are evident in this track, but the enunciation of phrases like “lovely bride-to-be” offers a new appreciation for “Taylor’s Version.” Her vocals have improved as she’s grown, so it’s no surprise that these higher notes demand to be heard in the 2023 version.

“The Story of Us (Taylor’s Version)” sees her voice amplified in comparison to the original version, but there aren’t any memorable changes, which might be exciting for fans who are adamant about having as few changes from the original recordings as possible. Regardless, it’s a track that remains as good as its 2010 counterpart — neither Swift nor her partner can admit that they are in the wrong, so their refusal to speak ultimately leads to the end of their story.

In “Back to December (Taylor’s Version),” Swift shows the intrinsic moments of falling in and out of a relationship through different seasons. She holds herself accountable for this instability: messing up a “perfect” relationship with actor Taylor Lautner, who gave her roses that she “left to die.” She stresses that she wishes she could go back to December to “make it alright.” Although Swift doesn’t change much about this track, the vulnerability and emotion that existed in the 2010 version aren’t perfectly captured. To elicit the same pain and regret that she felt almost 12 years ago would be hard to do. Nonetheless, this track is very close to the original track, and it’s one that stands out in the album.

“Dear John (Taylor’s Version),” in comparison, seems to be more heartbreaking. It’s rumored that this track is centered around singer-songwriter John Mayer and the manipulative tactics that he utilized during their infamous relationship. The line, “Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?” reference the 13 year age gap that existed between the then 19-year-old Swift and 32-year-old Mayer. This song’s heartbreaking sound stays true to the original, because even as an older woman, Swift still looks back at this relationship with regret. The emotional abuse she experienced as a younger girl is not one that can be ripped apart and thrown away, even today.

Tracks with heavier production — “Enchanted (Taylor’s Version),” “Haunted (Taylor’s Version)” and “Better than Revenge (Taylor’s Version)” — are ones that stand out because of their striking difference to the original instrumental composition.

“Enchanted (Taylor’s Version)” is one of the few tracks from “Speak Now” that she’s performed on tour so far. Its popularity seemed to boom when it recently went viral on TikTok, so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the more popular tracks from the re-recording. This song has remained one of my favorite tracks of all time, and hearing her sing this song today is nostalgic to me. It’s a timeless song, one that’s meant for the magical encounters when we experience love at first sight. “Haunted” seems to lean more towards a heavier production, but it adds more to the emotional despair of the break-up as it builds up Swift’s frustration.

“Better than Revenge (Taylor’s Version)” is another track on the re-recording that was highly anticipated. This controversial song was famous for the line, “She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress,” which many deemed as covertly sexist. In the re-recording, Swift changed this line to “He was a moth to the flame, she was holding the matches.” Some noted that this change was untrue to the original version, while others applauded Swift for changing a line that might be considered misogynist and slut-shaming. This depicts the man as someone who was in on the decievement instead of just blaming the woman for  being the one to ruin the relationship. That is, a moth who is attracted to the flame and is aware of the danger behind cheating, but still coming closer to the heat. With the background vocals being louder than the 2010 version, the 2023 version does not fall short. It’s revamped, and it’s a track that stays as true as it can be to the original. The track seems to be one of the best re-recorded tracks off of the album.

“Innocent (Taylor’s Version)” is one of the tracks that doesn’t seem to stand out from the great songs alongside it. Perhaps it’s the fact that this track might no longer fit in with the forgiving purpose that it once intended.

In contrast, “Last Kiss (Taylor’s Version)” is often overshadowed by the other heartbreak ballads in the album, but this does not dim its light. Even with Swift’s more mature — and perhaps sadder — voice in the song, it’s just as good as the original, if not better. The bridge is still as memorable, as she says, “So I’ll watch your life in pictures like I used to watch you sleep.” She’s saying goodbye to someone she hadn’t expected to lose, parting with a “last kiss.” Swift is no stranger to breakups, specifically with her recent split from actor and long-time partner Joe Alwyn, which is perhaps why it’s still passionately led by sadness.

This album dabbles with what it means to grow up, despite the popstar herself having led far from an average teen life. “Never Grow Up (Taylor’s Version)” talks about moving out and settling into a life of fame — a life that is desired by most artists, but one that Swift found hard to follow.

These universal themes of family, change and growing up segue to my all-time favorite song, “Long Live (Taylor’s Version),” which I had high hopes for — and it did not disappoint. Swift makes use of metaphors of castles and crowns to show what it meant to grow up performing in front of crowds of fans singing along, every night, all around the world. This track is a love letter to her fans, which is best seen in the bridge: “I had the time of my life, with you.” This track’s explosive instrumentals, paired with her deeper voice, make this track even more special than the 2010 version. Swift knows this, too. She decided to perform it on stage on July 7, the day “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)” was released, for the first time since her Reputation Tour in 2018. Although this song seems to hint at a future where she splits away from her band and fans in favor of leading a more private life, the fact that she still gets to perform this song with people who have grown up with her makes this song even more nostalgic than other tracks on the album.

When looking at her past re-recorded albums, the vault tracks on this album did not stand out to me. She did have more features than she usually does, including the likes of Fall Out Boy and Hayley Williams, yet it was tracks “When Emma Falls in Love (Taylor’s Version)” and “I Can See You (Taylor’s Version)” that received the “repeat” treatment. “When Emma Falls in Love” is rumored to be about Emma Stone, Swift’s life-long friend, and shows Emma’s quirky and memorable traits when she falls in love through lines describing the character as “if Cleopatra grew up in a small town.” This track is for the romantics, the heartbreakers and the people whose love can make anyone lose track of time. “I Can See You (Taylor’s Version)” is a track about the hidden moments shared between two people who are sly about their relationship. Swift is known for her tracks about forbidden love, hiding in plain sight and stolen glances across a room, so this fits Swift’s style well.

There is no denying that Swift has been able to reinvent herself in the almost 12 years since the original release of “Speak Now.” With a voice that’s grown deeper with the years, Swift is no longer the “girl-next-door” persona that she started her career as; she is someone who’s learned from her mistakes, and she controls her own narrative. An album filled with love that was destined for nothing more than hurt, growing up in the spotlight and falling in love overnight — it’s a work that promises a memorable track for anyone who tunes in. Out of all the re-recordings thus far, the vault tracks fall short, but the rest of the tracks make this album worth listening to over and over again.


Written by: Elizabeth Woodhall — arts@theaggie.org