LOS ANGELES (AP) — In 2010, newly anointed as a Grammy winner, Taylor Swift released “Speak Now,” her third studio album and her first without a single songwriting collaboration.
Her 2006 self-titled debut and 2008’s “Fearless” had inspired both acclaim and criticism for her bold bridges and keen lyricism — these are masterful country-pop songs, critics argued, but surely a teen idol wasn’t responsible for them. Swift proved her detractors wrong on “Speak Now,” an album that arrived just before her pivot from country’s youngest hope to pop’s freshest voice.
The album served as a close document of her nascent fame and future career ambitions, and now, 13 years on, it’s back. “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version),” released Friday, is the third release of the six albums Swift plans to re-record. The Taylor’s Version albums, instigated by music manager Scooter Braun’s sale of her early catalog, represent Swift’s effort to control her own songs and how they’re used — a fitting ethos for “Speak Now,” a record built exclusively of her own voice.
In preparation for “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version),” The Associated Press reached out to Taylor Swift scholars to discuss all the ways listeners can and should think about the release.
ADOLESCENCE TO ADULTHOOD
Before “Speak Now” became “Speak Now,” the working title was “Enchanted,” named after the power ballad of the same name. The mythology ( folklore, anyone? ) behind the shift is that Swift’s label president at the time, Big Machine Records CEO Scott Borchetta, told her to move on from whimsy and fairytale iconography — she was entering her 20s and this LP warranted a more mature title.
Transition creates an interesting framework for thinking about this album: Written largely between the ages of 18 and 20, released when she turned 21, “Speak Now” is a collection of songs on a precipice — of adulthood, of fame, of declaring ownership but still concerned with the subject matters that concern a young adult. There are crushes (“Superman,” “Sparks Fly”) and bittersweet breakups (“Back to December,” “If This Was a Movie”), alike.
“You hear a youngness when you listen to these songs,” says musicologist Lily Hirsch, author of “Can’t Stop the Grrrls: Confronting Sexist Labels in Music from Ariana Grande to Yoko Ono.” “It’s all about these romantic relationships. The world hinges on all of that, which is so typical of that age. So, it is interesting hear the re-recordings bring a more mature voice to those earlier preoccupations.”
Elizabeth Scala teaches a course on Taylor Swift’s songbook at the University of Texas at Austin as an introduction to literary studies and research methods.
“I think ‘Speak Now’ is still in the vein of ‘I don’t have enough life experience at my ripe age of 18 to give you a fully autobiographical anything, but I’m going to use what I read and what I know from other people,’” she says of the songs’ lyrical content, which still manage to “make really beautiful, coherent things out of the messiness and inaccuracy of our memories.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH HER CRITICS AND CELEBRITY
Coming a year after Kanye West interrupted her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, “Speak Now” is the moment in Swift’s career where she began to use her celebrity as a mirror to her interior life.
“Mean,” a takedown of a rock critic, becomes a banjo-led treatise on antagonism of any kind; the blues-y “Dear John” centers on a young woman’s tumultuous relationship with an older man.