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Taylor Swift Reimagines Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) With an Emo Twist

Re-recording expands on transformative album with rock elegance — and Fall Out Boy
Taylor Swift Speak Now Taylor's Version

Call it the latest surreality of Taylormania ‘23.

Next week, Taylor Swift’s meticulously re-recorded “new” album, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), will become the pop deity’s 12th consecutive No. 1 album, passing Jay-Z for the longest string of chart-topping LPs — a ridiculous feat for any artist, especially one who is just 33 years old.

As far as Swift’s year in review is concerned, this anticipated re-release — her third since 2021, out on July 7 — will be a footnote to her colossally successful Eras Tour, which continues to dominate U.S. cities and stands to earn more than $1 billion in sales, a would-be record.

For a mega-star to drop yet another album while touring to support (pauses to count) six additional No. 1 albums — Lover (2019), folklore and evermore (2020), Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and Red (Taylor’s Version) (2021), and Midnights (2022) — is a level of saturation and audacity never before seen in the pop sphere. It’s Taylor’s world, we’re just living in the Ticketmaster queues.

Then again, Swift has a schedule to keep. In 2019, she committed to re-recording her first six albums to claim ownership of her masters after the originals, released under Big Machine Records, were purchased and sold by music executive Scooter Braun. Since then, Swift has rolled these passion-project retreads into their own backtracking pop culture events. Her last re-release, Red (Taylor’s Version), broke streaming and vinyl sales records in fall 2021.

Now, Swift’s Speak Now earns its own second run in the spotlight, revisiting the diaristic angst of her late teens — the original, Swift’s third album, was recorded between the ages of 18 and 20 — and rekindling the album’s nebulous concept, around words left unsaid, largely bound to heartache. Speak Now was Swift’s first album to be entirely self-written, challenging dissenters — and her own self-doubt — who chalked her success up to the Nashville hit machine.

Despite winning two Grammys in country categories (Best Country Performance and Song, for “Mean”), Speak Now remains Swift’s most rock-focused project: rousing electric guitars, heavier drums, volatile choruses influenced by the pop-punk anthems of Paramore and Fall Out Boy — Hayley Williams is a longtime pal and Swift has called Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz her “favorite lyricist.”

Conveniently, Williams and Fall Out Boy appear among the “From the Vault” tracks, trading vocals with Swift on two of the album’s six previously unreleased songs. Williams’ feature on the deliciously emo piano burner “Castles Crumbling” (co-produced by recent Swift collaborator Aaron Dessner) is the stronger of the two. On “Castles,” the women share in the fear that the empires they built as teens could implode at any moment: “You don’t want to know me, I will just let you down,” they lament in unison. It’s a similar notion to “Nothing New,” Swift’s brilliant Red vault track with Phoebe Bridgers wondering the same thing: When will everyone get sick of me? (Spoiler: Probably never.)

The Fall Out Boy track “Electric Touch” (also co-produced by Dessner) is more upbeat, a fun and hooky, four-on-the-floor guitar jam — exactly the sort of pop-rock banger missed amid the digital thumps of Midnights. Though the vocal combination is an odd match; Patrick Stump’s precise, almost mechanized delivery grates against Swift’s more creamy approach, and distracts what is otherwise the vault’s most exhilarating new track. If Swift wished to stay in genre, another emo forefather in Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional — whom Swift also is a fan — might have made for a more dynamic match.

Delving deeper into the vault, “When Emma Falls in Love” is a mid-tempo piano cut sonically reminiscent of Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” (which Swift fittingly covered on the Speak Now Tour) and finds her singing in third-person about a hopeless romantic character named Emma. Whether or not Emma is meant to be Taylor herself, it’s an uncommon point of view considering Swift’s penchant to sing almost entirely in first-person until folklore. It’s an exciting discovery for the diehards who study her writing styles.

Elsewhere, the lusting “I Can See You” (co-produced by another frequent Swift collaborator Jack Antonoff) adds spice to her lyrical canon — “I could see you up against the wall with me / And what would you do? Baby, if you only knew” is much more scandalous than any line that made the Speak Now original — and unfamiliar guitar tones. It plays like the Cardigans’ “LoveFool” — imagine ‘90s Taylor on the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack — before the melody begins to mirror “You Belong With Me.” Mash-ups will surely abound.

As for the core of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), the goal is clearly to create a copy, not to embellish past work. Some sonics are punched up — more reverb on “Haunted,” thicker guitars on “The Story of Us.” The only major exception, however, is “Better than Revenge,” the Paramore-nodding pop-punk rager that in recent years has endured online criticism — much like its biting cousin “Misery Business” — that its chorus promotes slut-shaming. Acknowledging the division among fans, Swift has changed the line in question from “she’s better known for the things that she does on a mattress,” to “he was a moth to the flame and she’s holding the matches.” While it’s indeed her prerogative to edit her songbook, swapping out a relatively vanilla line feels exceedingly diplomatic, and too catering to those who are chronically online. If 19-year-old Taylor was pissed enough to pen the lyric, let it stand.

Otherwise, the only significant difference in the new recordings is Swift’s more mature and textured vocal performance — the dividends of time and hindsight presenting several tunes with new weight and nuance. The new version of her apologetic ballad “Back to December” — bound to her brief relationship with actor Taylor Lautner — now feels more like a timeless break-up number and less tethered to a single season in the tabloids.

The same goes for “Dear John,” her soaring fan favorite long assumed to be skewering her ex, John Mayer. Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, with wounds hopefully healed, the grandest ballad in Swift’s catalog not titled “All Too Well” now beams more brightly, not ripped from headlines but a beacon for all lovelorn listeners “praying the floor won’t fall through again.”

Though perhaps most smirk-worthy is “Mean,” her Grammy-winning banjo-pop single, which becomes ironic as 33-year-old Swift re-skewers the critics who now praise her relentlessly.

While not quite as epic as her 30-track Red (Taylor’s Version) behemoth, her shortest re-recording to date is still a haul at 104 minutes and 22 songs. Though most Swifties will easily pass this latest test of commitment and attention, investigating the liner notes in search of Easter eggs revealing which of the remaining three re-recordings will come next: Taylor Swift (2006), 1989 (2014), or Reputation (2017).

But fans who pass this latest test of commitment will find another studied and resolute replica of one of Swift’s most compelling and formative albums — a project that saw her sharpen her songwriting tools and prepare to explode beyond the country-pop bubble.

It’s another dazzling example of bringing a snapshot into greater focus, capturing nostalgia and expanding the universe, urging fans both old and new to drop everything and revel in the walls she crashed through.