Opinion – Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) Is The Album We Needed In 2023

WRITTEN BY Eva O' Beirne

August 1, 2023

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Opinion – Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) Is The Album We Needed In 2023

by | Aug 1, 2023 | Arts & Culture

Eva O' Beirne

1 Aug, 2023

The third edition of Taylor Swift’s re-records enters her discography in a similar dramatic fashion to her fictional account of disrupting a wedding in the album’s titular track. But despite the colossal success of the Eras Tour, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) has notably made less of a media splash than her re-record predecessors. This album is already more commercially successful than both Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and Red (Taylor’s Version) but has failed to capture the world’s attention in the same way. You could barely swipe through Instagram for a minute in November 2021 without being reminded of the self-released track “All Too Well” (10-Minute Version).

It could be argued that the legacy and dialogue around the original release of Speak Now was simply overshadowed by the commercial tsunami that was the previous Red era from 2012 to 2014. This original version also emerged in the aftermath of that infamous 2009 VMAs incident, and the beginnings of media outlets reducing Swift’s discography to the fallout of her romantic relationships.

Similar reporting in recent weeks has perhaps dulled the mania around Swift’s re-recordings, with websites such as People and Teen Vogue choosing to post updates on her standing with The 1975’s Matty Healy (a problematic character) as well as the alleged insensitivity of her subsequent “nonchalant” return to “normal” social media activity.

With hints of her pre-pandemic, pre-Lover and even pre-Repuation self returning as Swift grows more comfortable with being back in the public eye, there has been a growth of “Taylor Swift Fatigue” as I’d like to call it. The impact of the Eras Tour has also, no doubt, removed some of the media splashes Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) could have made – Taylor is notably not as readily available to appear on late-night TV shows to give promotional appearances or performances as she was during Red (Taylor’s Version) which received the five-star treatment of PR trains. It is worrying, really, to see the intense resurgence in interest to see who Swift will date next (as if it’s any of our business). Comments and quote tweets on posts detailing the end of her relationship with Joe Alwyn were devastatingly ignorant and just plain odd at times. Swift, as with many famous women, has been needlessly criticised for everyday errors and personal choices which makes the cultural zeitgeist around the release of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) even more interesting.

Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) occupies, for lack of a better word, an awkward space in her discography – the start of a transition from country starlet to pop icon. The end of a decade but the start of an age, if you will. It has often been categorised as a senior year album – a unique piece of work that does not document solely the teenage experience but the circumstances in which we become fully-fledged adults.

And that is where the “point” of Speak Now, and subsequently Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is lost on casual listeners.

It contains the first hints of breakups she experienced while in the music industry and opened the door to an unnecessary stereotype of a serial dater that has plagued Swift to this day. But what does 33-year-old Swift bring to the table that her 20-year-old self did not? Self-correction.

Speak Now (both versions) is far from a feminist album, but it allows the listener to relate to the rarely depicted teenage female rage. The irrationality or emotional turbulence experienced by young people as they attempt to navigate their first significant friendship, familial or romantic conflicts is scarcely documented by artists as soon as they experience it. Swift did not create this genre, but she has helped popularise it, allowing artists – such as Olivia Rodrigo, Maisie Peters, Sabrina Carpenter – to use albums as a way of giving their fans a snapshot of their lives over the past two years or so. Taylor’s choice to change the chorus lyrics on “Better Than Revenge” from “She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress” to “He was a moth to the flame, she was holding the matches” has been hotly debated since before the re-record was even released. And if we are being honest – the lyric change does make sense for what the ethos of Swift’s mission to reclaim her back catalogue is. If someone told me I could make thousands of millions of dollars by publishing my diaries from when I was nineteen years old I, of course, would edit them as much as feasibly possible. Everyone is awful in their teenage years, even Taylor Swift.

The new version of “Better Than Revenge” could have existed back in 2010. Big emphasis on “could”. But with the older Taylor’s perspective, it makes sense that she now recognises that it takes two to tango – her later album Reputation very much underlines that point. The “new” version of “Better Than Revenge” is still mean, however. If I heard that the lyric “no amount of vintage dresses gives you dignity” was written about me, I’d need a week alone to recover. But it is that immaturity that adds so much to this body of work – a running theme that also appears in the album’s titular song where she criticises the appearance and mannerisms of her love interest’s bride-to-be. It’s a perspective that we rarely get, pure uncensored female thoughts that only occur when your gut feeling plays out in front of you. Perhaps Speak Now (2010) was the first example of the “teenage girl in her twenties” meme we’ve seen so much across the internet in 2023.

It has been a running joke on Twitter (aka X) since the lyric change was announced that Swifties “deserve a little misogyny, as a treat” – after all, the world has been unfairly misogynistic towards the singer herself. But I can’t help but sit back and admire the careful route she has taken. In both terms of PR, and self-growth, Swift has taken the high road. We can compare her previous mistakes and note her development as an artist. And wow, does Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) beautifully demonstrate this. In comparison to her other re-records, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) displays a stunning awareness of the importance of production. I won’t bog down this piece with specific details on each song, but for what some tracks lack in raw anger or sadness they makeup in subtle changes to the musical arrangements and backing vocals as a wistful Swift revisits her past work and ads in her vault tracks for good measure. We finally get a taste of Swift’s full emotional experience from 2009 to 2010, from the delightful “I Can See You” – which acts as a prelude to songs such as “So It Goes..” and “Dress” from 2017’s Reputation – to the devastating “Castles Crumbling” which appears to detail her belief that the music industry fundamentally rejected her.

Discourse over the concept of Taylor’s re-recordings has been fascinating to watch. I distinctly remember a fellow female journalist criticising Taylor’s decision to re-release Red in November 2021, purely for the backlash Jake Gyllenhaal received as a result. “Why would she bring up a relationship that happened nearly ten years ago? Has she not gotten over it?” – or certain words to that effect. Too often, I think, are women reduced to the “crazy ex” persona – one Swift herself has equipped for “Blank Space” in 2014. Maybe this harassment of Gyllenhaal has contributed to Swift’s comments during her Cincinnati show on 24 June. “I’m 33 years old, I don’t care about anything that happened to me when I was 19… I’m not putting this album out so you can go on the internet and defend me against someone you think I wrote a song,” Taylor said before performing “Dear John” as a surprise song on the Eras Tour.

Some have regarded this as damage control, but I view it as Swift again having the last laugh when it comes to reviewing her past. She knows what happened over a decade ago was wrong – hence the song remains unchanged lyrically on the album. But Swift also knows the ego-maniac that the song inspired. The same man who could (big emphasis on “could”, maybe I’m just projecting) have inspired her vault track “Foolish One” which echoes elements of “Dear John” in its lyricism, sound and gut-wrenching honesty in dealing with someone who refuses to define how they feel about you. Swift is now older than John Mayer was when he dated her at nineteen and can take the high road as someone who has outgrown the situation. She doesn’t need a ten-minute version of “Dear John”. Why? Because she said everything she needed to with Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).

Recognising when someone has done you wrong, and learning about those behaviours through example is unfortunately groundbreaking for a lot of young women.

I can speak from experience that there is truly nothing as crushing as being built up, complimented and encouraged by someone you really admire and look up to, only to be left in the dust. Whether the dynamic is platonic, romantic or sexual, being used or rejected – these are unfortunate lingering emotions, and yet it is evident in her knowing voice in “Dear John (Taylor’s Version)” that Swift has firmly closed this chapter of her life as she notes at the new ending of “The Story of Us (Taylor’s Version)”. The art of letting go is difficult, but Swift has handed us a masterclass. Hopefully, I can learn something from her.

Credit: askarbek.art

Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) ultimately demonstrates growth, something the original album also sought to prove albeit in a different way. It comes at another pivotal moment in Swift’s career. Embarking on her most successful and biggest tour to date, ending her relationship of six years and engaging more with the public than she has since 2016, Taylor Swift is trusting the world to have matured alongside her. No longer, should we be looking to her songs for clues about relationships but instead about emotions and how we choose to deal with them. We only have to look to her interactions (and now collaboration via music video) with Taylor Lautner to see this progress over time.

Even with her vault track collaborators of Hayley Williams and Fall Out Boy, Swift has redefined her place in the music industry of the early 2010s. No longer an outsider, she has been welcomed into the communities that may have been initially dismissive of her capabilities as an artist due to her association with tabloid reports on high-profile romances. Let’s hope that we have matured and that we can all take away something from her latest re-record: how we feel matters, but how we choose to move on from those feelings – that’s what counts.

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