Revisiting Taylor Swift’s third studio album ‘Speak Now’ as a 23-year-old still feels like the very first time!
Much has been said about this megastar, whether it’s about her music, her personal life or (sigh) her love life. It takes an admirable amount of courage, however, to write and release music that is as personal as Swift’s songs are, and while everyone is entitled to their opinion, audiences weren’t always the kindest when it came to frivolously discussing the motives behind her tracks.
Love songs, happy or sad, have been a driving force in the pop music industry. But Taylor Swift’s music goes above and beyond that, and calling her songs merely ‘about her relationships’ does not come close to describing the complexity and beauty that went into creating them.
I vividly remember the very first Taylor Swift song I heard – Love Story. I remember feeling a range of emotions that I was admittedly too young to process. I remember rooting for the characters in this song, and this heart-wrenching feeling that threw me into a wondrous rampage with only one mission: I needed more music like this. And so it began. I bought every CD, watched every music video, found every hidden message in those CD booklets (if you know, you know). I was lovestruck. There is something about music that takes you through a story, makes you feel something, that drove little old starry-eyed me straight to the nearest CD store, equipped with my carefully collected pocket money.
Flash forward to 2010: Taylor Swift dropped her album Speak Now, which is what I can only describe as pure perfection neatly packed into a shiny CD. I played every song, over and over again. I sang along. I laughed and I cried. Most importantly, I felt something. And it’s safe to say that after 10 years, I still go back to this album, just to remind myself of that feeling that only music has the power to make you feel.
So for all those of you reading this, if you haven’t already swooned to these records, there’s no better time than right now. I’m taking you through every track in the ‘Speak Now’ album, highlighting what makes each of these songs perfect, and giving you a little bit of insider knowledge that I gained whilst fan-girling my way through the better part of my teenaged years.
The epitome of feel-good love songs, ‘Mine’, like most of Swift’s songs, is a story. I’d be lying if I said the lyrics –
“You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter”
didn’t hit me right in the feels. From the nuances of new love to the pain of the very first fight, this song has it all. Swift manages to paint a picture that is so easy to imagine, it’s almost as if you’ve been transported right into this magical world. We all love a happy ending, and boy did Swift deliver!
Right from the guitar-heavy intro, this track will have your heart do that fluttery thing you love/hate so much. And before you know it, you’re hooked. The bittersweet first line –
“The way you move is like a full-on rainstorm, and I’m a house of cards”
had me in absolute awe of how accurately I could imagine the entire song, replete with vivid colors. Swift has a way of creating a dimension that is chock-full of imagery while staying true to her dedication to writing, a story that has a start, a wild high and an equally suitable end. Oh, how I wanted to be captivated by somebody like a firework show.
Back To December
This song is a beautiful kind of painful and takes you through Swift’s reconciliation with a past relationship.
“I’d go back in time and change it, but I can’t
So if the chain is on your door, I understand”
Fans at the time speculated that this song was an apology to Swift’s ex-boyfriend, Taylor Lautner, of Twilight fame. It’s raw and real, showing a side of Swift that is as brave as it is empathic.
The title track, Speak Now is painted in the midst of a wedding. While this song may sound upbeat and frolicky, the lyrics are about our main character crashing a wedding only to run away with the groom. Poking some light-hearted fun at the bride, Swift sings –
“She’s yelling at her bridesmaids Somewhere back inside a room wearing a gown shaped like a pastry”
The way this story plays out has you rooting for this wedding-crasher, so it’s a treat for listeners to get their happy ending. There’s also something about the image of Swift hiding behind a curtain while the bride walks down the aisle that had me in splits!
Taylor Swift takes names and she does it so well. Written for ex-boyfriend John Mayer, Dear John is everything Swift wanted to say, so she put it into song.
“All the girls that you’ve run dry
Have tired, lifeless eyes’
Cause you burned them out
But I took your matches before fire could catch me,
So don’t look now, I’m shining like fireworks over your sad, empty town”
Every word in this song is masterfully executed, taking listeners on a wild ride full of ups and downs, and in-betweens that Swift sang with a finesse that only heartbreak can bring.
We all have that one person that has constantly tried to pull us down. So of course, Swift found no better way than to pull from her own experiences for some rightful self-motivation. This song was my anthem, and an instant mood-lifter for days when it felt like nothing was going right.
“Someday I’ll be living in a big old city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean”
The artwork had Swift tied to train tracks while a moustached man towered above. Grim, but heavily symbolic and beautiful to look at. Goes to show that nobody is above unwarranted hatred, not even Swift herself.
The Story Of Us
“But you held your pride like you should’ve held me”
In this drum-driven record that speaks of a high school romance Swift experienced, she manages to go above and beyond in capturing the nuances of young love and heartbreak, by adding tiny, meaningful comparisons and masterfully described imagery that has listeners relate, almost like they’re in this story themselves.
Never Grow Up
“You’re in the car on the way to the movies
And you’re mortified your mom’s dropping you off
At 14 there’s just so much you can’t do
And you can’t wait to move out someday and call your own shots”
Growing up. Take it from the pop-queen herself when she says there’s no rush. This song is a letter to Swift as much as it is to her fans, where Swift talks to the central character, taking listeners through important phases of the character’s life. From infancy to the terrible teens, all the way to Swift herself moving to a new city, still reminiscing about her childhood and the importance of keeping the younger version of herself safe inside her. This song has all the feels, and really makes you reflect on your old life. It also had me looking in awe at my (now much older) little brother.
The very first encounter with a love interest couldn’t sound better!
“Walls of insincerity
Shifting eyes and vacancy vanished when I saw your face”
Playful conversations, staying up late pondering questions about love and what it means to Swift, Enchanted is an incredible sonic enchantment for listeners, complete with lyrics that uplift, mesmerize and make you reminisce.
Better Than Revenge
Speculated to have been directed towards Swift’s then rival, Camilla Belle, this song is nothing if not a PG-rated clapback to anybody who dared to make a move on Swift’s man, and honestly, my teenage self couldn’t get enough.
“She took him faster than you can say sabotage”
I fondly remember hollering this record out loud with my girlfriends, banging on our chests and serving looks into the mirror, imagining this situation playing out with us involved. Oh, to be young and reckless!
“It’s alright, just wait and see
Your string of lights is still bright to me
Oh, who you are is not where you’ve been
You’re still an innocent”
We all know who this song was directed towards (hint hint – 2009 MTV VMAs) and Swift couldn’t have done it better, if I may say so myself. This song is pure, and the first time I heard it, without much knowledge of its origins and reasons for existing, it almost felt like Taylor had gotten a peek into my own secret diary and was reassuring me of all my little slip ups. If you’re in need of a reminder that you are not defined by what you were, there’s no better place than in the arms of this song.
“Holding my breath, won’t lose you again
Something’s made your eyes go cold”
A darker record, compared to the rest of the album, this haunting piece is nothing short of perfection. I’ve probably used the word ‘perfection’ way too many times but it is what it is. Makes you wish heartbreak was as beautiful as Swift manages to make it.
“I do remember the swing in your step
The life of the party
You’re showing off again
And I roll my eyes and then
You pull me in
I’m not much for dancing
But for you I did”
This is, hands down, the most beautifully written song. It’s all in the details, and Swift has an eye for them like no one else. I’ve cried, hurt, sang along, though I’d never experienced anything like this. You will too, go ahead, go listen to this and feel your heartbreak. It’s worth it.
“Cause for a moment a band of thieves in ripped-up jeans got to rule the world”
The last track on the Speak Now album, Long Live is nothing if not wholesome. Although I can’t quite place where this story takes place, I can’t help but hope to one day feel the magic that culminated into this beautiful piece of music. Swift mentioned it being about her journey as an artist, and if that isn’t enough to get you to listen to this one, nothing will be. It’s an instant mood-lifter and I still find myself humming to the tune of this song, though it’s been 10 years!
Imma Finish By Saying…
The Speak Now album has and always will hold its own on my own list of albums that have actively impacted my life. Swift’s ability to put a story into song is an admirable one, and while some of her recent music has been arguably relatively simpler, her initial albums spread like wildfire, at least in my hometown, Mumbai, and gained mass appeal for their complexity as well as their replay value.
The effect it had on the younger me influenced my own artistry, and for that, I can’t thank Taylor Swift enough.