Speak Now Has Always Been About Big Feelings

Just like in the original recording, Taylor Swift prioritizes emotional hyperbole over particulars on the Taylor’s Version of her third album

Music Features Taylor Swift
Speak Now Has Always Been About Big Feelings

Taylor Swift specializes in specifics.

“I left my scarf there at your sister’s house / and you’ve still got it in your drawer, even now,” she famously sings on “All Too Well.” On “New Year’s Day,” she notices glitter, candle wax and Polaroids on the hardwood floor. And then later, on “invisible string”: “Teal was the color of your shirt / when you were sixteen at the yogurt shop.”

These and countless other lyrics are born of Swift’s talent for noticing things other people don’t. It’s one characteristic that makes her music so compelling.But sometimes, her strongest moments come more from instinct and heart than analysis and brain. Speak Now is an album full of these moments. Written throughout her late teenage years and released when Swift was 20, Speak Now is inherently full of hyperbole because everything is at that age. What is being a young adult if not feeling every single feeling as hard as you can?

While Swift probably doesn’t want to relive her teenage years any more than the rest of us, she nevertheless re-recorded Speak Now as part of her quest to recapture ownership of her music. And Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) has every emotional high, low and overreaction we know from the original, all delivered with the wisdom of a 33-year-old woman.

Speak Now is a collection of big feelings: love, lust, nostalgia, regret and pure hatred. “Enchanted”—which is the only song from Speak Now that has a dedicated spot in Swift’s ongoing “Eras” tour setlist—embodies the shimmery feeling of instant romantic connection better than perhaps any song ever written. “Mine” tells an unlikely love story in what feels like an instant, and when the world tries to break that love to pieces, “Ours” projects a united front.

But for every description of everyday love on Speak Now, there’s a dozen snapshots of heated romance. Has there ever been a more romantic plea than “Drop everything now / Meet in the pouring rain / Kiss me on the sidewalk / Take away the pain”? Swift borrows more scenery from the movies in the iconic title track, which spins a story of pastry-shaped gowns and runaway grooms. And Swift continues her romantic scheming on the suave “I Can See You,” one of several vault tracks added to Taylor’s Version of the album.

Now for the not-so-fun feelings. On “Dear John,” Swift recounts an unpredictable relationship with an older man—widely believed to be a certain singer of the same name—all while mimicking said-man’s signature guitar chords in a stroke of petty brilliance. She also flirts with yearning on “Back To December” and “Haunted” and the reality of becoming an adult on “Never Grow Up.” And we can’t forget the grit and sass that define “Mean” and “Better Than Revenge.” That Swift could weave the excitement of relationships and crushes with the sadness of time passing and the ferocity of feeling betrayed is not only a testament to her abilities, but also to the heightened emotions she was feeling at this point in her life. But all this talk of sweeping emotional experience is not to say that the boisterous pop-country and searing country-rock (often infused with the emo stylings that defined the late aughts) songs on Speak Now aren’t also observant. They’re just more raw, more open.

Life as an 18-year-old can often feel like you’re having experiences that no one else on earth has had, when in reality every single person in the history of the world has felt what you’re feeling. Early-adult angst spares no one—not even teen sensation Taylor Swift. This universal experience paired with songwriting brilliance made for some of the most emotionally visceral songs in Swift’s entire catalog, and it’s a recipe for timelessness. Songs like “Speak Now” and “Mean” endure to this day.

The Speak Now years may not necessarily define Swift’s career, but it’s clear so much of this music was inspired by events that made Swift who she is now. If only reliving the thrills and anguish of being 18 years old sounded this good for all of us.

Ellen Johnson is a former Paste music editor and forever pop-culture enthusiast. Presently, she’s an editor and freelance writer. You can find her tweeting about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson and re-watching Little Women on Letterboxd.

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