The most striking change is that ‘If This Was A Movie’ has been removed from the album. Releasing the track as a standalone single instead set her purpose with these recordings crystal clear. This is not a formality to reclaim control of her old material. This is an empowerment project, standing her ground as our generation’s finest songwriter and reminding us that she has always been this good – even at 20.
The other huge change comes when you hit track 10, the boisterous fan-favourite ‘Better Than Revenge’. It’s been a joke for a while, with fans throwing around comments about getting ‘Better Than Revenge (Taylor’s Version) (internalised misogyny version)’ thanks to the original chorus lyric “She’s not a saint and she’s not what you think, she’s an actress / But she’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress.”
I’ll confess: I love that lyric. The original ‘Better Than Revenge’ has been my rage song since I was 12, and as an adult, I don’t see much fault in the original lyric. Men have been allowed to write far worse things about women, while artists like Taylor Swift or Paramore’s Hayley Williams have been held to such a high critical standard for songs such as this or ‘Misery Business’.
While the new lyric, “He was a moth to the flame, she was holding the matches”, fits fine, maintaining the head-banging energy of this standout track, it risks potentially foiling Taylor’s re-record mission, with some listeners being sure to return to the savage original.
As albums, these re-recordings are near-impossible to review. I’ve been a lifelong Swiftie, and Speak Now has been my favourite album since I was 12. I know these songs like the back of my hand. ‘Mean’ got me through secondary school, ‘Last Kiss’ soundtracked a first heartbreak, and ‘Never Grow Up’ carried me through to university.
Speak Now is a deeply special album in Taylor’s discography, dealing with coming-of-age in a whole new way as it not only explores the steps to adulthood but Taylor’s rise to fame, confusion with the recognition and several aftermaths from the shift: manipulative relationships, loss of friends, and that Kanye incident. And while the rewrites stray away from the original process of the re-recordings, it’s no wonder such a personal album fostered this change in approach.
Most tracks are nearly note-for-note to the original, so the recordings don’t feel up for critique. What can be said is that these songs haven’t aged. They still hold up as a gold standard for pop songs, with the euphoric highs of ‘Sparks Fly’ and ‘Enchanted’ deserving of every accolade in the book, while the dark and epic ‘Haunted’ and ‘Innocent’ remain goosebump-inducing.
As with all the re-records, the importance of hearing these songs sung now by a 33-year-old Taylor can’t be understated. In her 2020 documentary, Miss Americana, Taylor ponders age, candidly saying, “As I’m reaching 30, I’m like, I want to work really hard while society is still tolerating me being successful.” Now, three years on, on one of the biggest tours the world has ever seen, and with six more record-breaking albums under her belt, hearing her matured voice reclaim these tracks could bring a tear to my eye.
And the tears really swell when you hit ‘Dear John’. Similar to Midnights’ ‘Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve’, this album track is transformed from a sad breakup song to a brutal look at the aftermath of an age-gap relationship. Her older voice instantly brings more wisdom to the track, seeming to point out the flaws in her old lyrics without ever having to say anything.
Looking back at the track, now all adults, you hear all the red flags. Singing “Don’t you think 19’s too young to be messed with?”, ‘Dear John’ rightfully takes its place amongst some of Taylor’s most powerful work, sitting alongside ‘All Too Well’ and ‘Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve’ as songs that re-evaluate her relationships as she reclaims her own words.
Wrapping up the original album, ‘Long Live (Taylor’s Version)’ is a moment in itself. Singing, “It was the end of a decade, but the start of an age,” the track seems to perfectly summarise this moment for Taylor, putting to bed these old individual eras for a whole new status – sailing on the dizzy highs of all her past work combined.
With all the re-recordings, the additional ‘vault tracks’ provide something new. Written at the time of the original album, these previously unreleased tracks are dedicated to 19- and-20-year-old Taylor, her pop-punk tastes and the friends she made at the time. Featuring Fall Out Boy and Paramore, ‘Electric Touch’ and ‘Castles Crumbling’ are now so prophetic of the sound Taylor would find on Reputation and beyond, even with the indie detailing we saw on Folklore and Evermore.
The vault tracks well and truly prove that Taylor Swift was always going to be huge. We saw it back on ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’ where vault tracks like ‘You All Over Me’, written at 18, aged like wine. Listening to the sweet, Billy Joel-esque storytelling of ‘When Emma Falls In Love’, or the unique pop of ‘Foolish One’, you’re reminded that when Taylor’s cast off are of this quality, it should be enough to silence the critics.
Revisiting one of her finest albums, and reclaiming this collection of timeless classics that sound as good in 2023 as they did in 2010, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is a reminder of Taylor’s decades-long domination. It’s a touching dedication to her 20-year-old self, as though Taylor is reaching back and saying, ‘Hey, we made it.’
It was a privilege growing up with this album, and now as an adult, it’s a privilege to see this collection of flawless pop songs get a second wind.