Rant and Rave: The stakes are high, the water’s rough, but ‘Speak Now’ is ours

“Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)” is a mature expansion of Swift’s original 2010 masterpiece, and will leave fans wanting more from her re-recording projects.

The Taylor Swift phenomenon has been extremely palpable over the last few years. Her subdued pandemic records Folklore and Evermore, synth-pop opus Midnights, and nostalgia-driven Fearless and Red re-recordings captured the current cultural zeitgeist and had a chokehold on streaming and sales charts. All of this culminated in The Eras Tour, her latest global stadium tour that became an avenue to celebrate her past albums, compassionately referred to as “eras” by herself and her fans, in the spirit of her Taylor’s Version projects.

The next chapter of the Taylor Swift saga was unveiled with the re-recording of Speak Now, her self-written, coming-of-age masterpiece from 2010. Penned by Swift when she was between the ages of 18 and 20, the original album saw the then-country superstar at her most unfiltered and vulnerable. Re-recorded at the age of 32, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) doubles as a retrospective look by one of the world’s biggest pop stars into her humble beginnings. 

The result is a musical palate that is simultaneously faithful to and deviant from the original through the reminiscent, mature expansion of the Taylor Swift classics. 

Remember this moment

Whether one starts with fan-favorite album opener Mine or jumps to TikTok-famous Enchanted, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) immediately hits its listener with a wind of nostalgia. Familiar tunes matched with Swift’s seasoned voice takes listeners on an emotional whirlwind as her struggles shine through the darkness and demand to be felt. The emotion reminds us of her subsiding pains as she croons Last Kiss and wishes quietly for us to Never Grow Up

Bringing back upbeat numbers like Superman and vengeful angsty tracks Haunted and Better Than Revenge—which included a lyric change that left a few eyebrows raised—are an opportunity for listeners to reconnect with their younger, inner Swifties. The re-recordings of Mean, Mine, and The Story of Us are best absorbed with the humble fascination of  how far Taylor Swift has come, from singing and starring in these music videos, to having full ownership of what truly is the best thing to ever be hers, or rather, Ours.

In another Swift swoop, the Speak Now mastermind captures and reminds us of the quiet sorrow in songs Back to December and Innocent—sans the pain in her every utterance. What melodies were once brought to life by the vulnerability of pain have transformed into a sense of healing, which justifies the calm in the re-recording of Dear John

The glamor of this iconic album is comparable to Swift’s purple dress, but it is not free from the specks of dust on its ruffles. The absence of beloved melancholic track If This Was A Movie,  co-written with Boys Like Girls lead vocalist Martin Johnson, was one of the first criticisms in the re-release. Thinking ahead, the Taylor’s Version of the song had been released under the Fearless title prior to the start of The Eras Tour—a creative decision made to maintain the 2010 album’s reputation of being purely self-written as this was the only co-written only in its release. 

Perhaps the biggest letdown in the Speak Now re-recording is the disappearance of the youthful playfulness in Swift’s vocals on the title track. While it is tangible evidence of how far her voice has come, it is not exactly what you’d have in mind for a song of such whimsical nature. Though of course, she may not be the same teen that wants to go back in time and change how that one December played out.

Drop everything now

Swift and her fans love surprises—it is, after all, their unique bond that has been maintained throughout her career. Among them are Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)’s most-awaited From The Vault tracks co-produced by Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner. These songs were written in the original album’s writing sessions but were cut from the original tracklist. 

The re-recording’s six new additional songs are all self-written. Swift collaborated with Chicago pop-punk heroes Fall Out Boy on the refreshing anthem Electric Touch (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault), which pays homage to the pop-punk genre that sang to Swift’s youthful heart at the time. Surprisingly, the emotive listen Castles Crumbling (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault), which featured powerhouse Paramore vocalist Hayley Williams, was a mournful narration of collapsing past experiences that departs from Williams’ and Paramore’s trademark in music.

Other From The Vault tracks showcased Swift’s diverse songwriting and storytelling. When Emma Falls In Love (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) weaves a tale of ardor and vulnerability, encapsulating the feeling of longing and romance. The emotionally-charged Foolish One (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) acknowledges the pattern of being trapped in “situationships” that are doomed to fail, never learning the lesson. Her ability to capture universal emotions and create timeless melodies that resonate with listeners was highlighted in Timeless (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault), a beautifully crafted ballad that reflects on the enduring nature of love. 

Meanwhile, I Can See You (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) carries atmospheric and haunting soundscapes, emphasizing Swift’s growth as a producer. All fans were wonderstruck when Swift revealed that she had been working on the music video featuring  ex-beau Taylor Lautner together with Joey King and Presley Cash who starred in the original Mean music video. 

“I wrote this video treatment over a year ago and really wanted to play out symbolically how it’s felt for me to have the fans helping me reclaim my music,” Swift shared in an Instagram post. The well-received music video follows Lautner, King, and Cash on a heist to free Swift—a version of her from the Speak Now era—from “The Vault”.

Letting her be jeweled

On Spotify, the default equalizer settings normalized the song’s mix so that each song’s frequency was placed at the same level. This denies the album’s pop-punk leaning tracks the ability to pack an emotional punch through its hard-hitting live instrumentals, which is an experience that may not have been favorable for some. Fortunately, the album makes up for it with the classic Swiftian lyricism we have grown accustomed to.

Now that Swift is halfway through her re-recordings, fans are scrambling to see what more she has up her sleeve. Whatever it may be, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is a confident assertion of Swift taking control of her art, which bodes well for the  future installments of her Taylor’s Version projects. With the album already breaking records as the most streamed country album on Spotify, fans can expect bigger and flashier releases going forward.

Ultimately, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is a perfect encapsulation of a wide-eyed teenage girl who was suddenly thrust into adulthood. Swift’s musical talent shines brightly with this revamp of her past album. Truly, her castle has not crumbled down, as her story lives on. Whatever she has in store, the whole world will certainly be watching, and Swift will surely still leave us enchanted; as she always has.

Rating: 3.5/4.0
Andy Jaluague

By Andy Jaluague

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