Courtesy of Pitchfork

On July 7, 2023, American singer-songwriter and pop-culture icon Taylor Swift released “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version),” a re-recording of her third studio album of the same name from 2010. 

The “Taylor’s Version” designation points to the artist gaining back her own work. Following Big Machine Records’, her previous label, sale of her early catalog against her wishes to music executive Scooter Braun, Swift set out to re-record her masters. In a Tumblr post from 2019, Swift wrote, “When I left my masters in Scott’s [Borchetta] hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them. Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine the buyer would be Scooter … He knew what he was doing; they both did. Controlling a woman who didn’t want to be associated with them.”

Previous Taylor’s Version albums include “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” (2021), and “Red (Taylor’s Version)” (2021). Both were released to massive success, breaking multiple sales and streaming records, topping charts and gaining numerous awards. 

Entirely written by Swift from the ages of 18 to 20, the original “Speak Now” album explored her journey into adulthood. Drawing inspiration from heartbreak, adversity and rising fame, the album marked a period of maturity for the singer, unlike anything she had released prior.

Now 33, Swift still manages to capture that youthful spunk and angst in “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).” Despite the revamped instrumentals and evolved vocals, the raw emotion captured on the original album remains. 

Songs such as “Haunted (Taylor’s Version)” and “The Story Of Us (Taylor’s Version)” are significantly stronger, thanks to strikingly majestic backing tracks and Swift’s improved vocal talents. Her voice is rich with experience and power, allowing her to showcase her range and growth from the original recordings. 

Yet, she is still able to retain her girlish charm on the more lighthearted tracks “Mine (Taylor’s Version)” and “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).” Flirtatious and energetic, Swift’s mischievous flair makes for an enjoyable listen.

Swift is at her strongest on “Dear John (Taylor’s Version).” Rumored to be about her relationship with then-32-year-old musician John Mayer, the original track is heartbreaking. Her voice is full of regret as she sings lyrics such as “You are an expert at sorry and keeping the lines blurry / Never impressed by me acing your tests.” Now, 13 years later (and the same age Mayer was when they dated), Swift replaces her feelings of regret with pure anger. Her tone shifts from meek to resentful when she asks, “Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?”

At just 19 years old, Swift was able to perfectly capture the complex emotions associated with that age. In the power ballad “Enchanted (Taylor’s Version),” Swift fantasizes about a romantic encounter, gushing about a recent infatuation and hoping for its reciprocation. 

However, she also adopts a sense of realism in “Foolish One (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault),” acknowledging her delusional mindset when she sings, “Foolish one / Stop checkin’ your mailbox for confessions of love / That ain’t never gonna come.” The duality of perspective speaks to the singer’s career-defining poeticism.

“Foolish One (Taylor’s Version)” is one of six tracks “from the vault,” which are songs that were scrapped from the original album. These often feature star-studded collaborations, ranging from Phoebe Bridgers to Keith Urban. 

For this album’s vault collaborations, she partnered with pop-punk royalty Fall Out Boy and Haley Williams for the rock anthem “Electric Touch (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” and the introspective “Castles Crumbling (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault),” respectively.

The standout vault track is “I Can See You (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault),” a surprisingly sultry and mischievous pop-rock song. The synthesized electric guitar has a grit unlike anything Swift has released prior, capturing the playful feeling of seduction, longing and secrecy. 

While the album largely benefits from a more mature Swift, certain elements suffer from the modern adaptation. Due to accusations of slut-shaming, “Better Than Revenge (Taylor’s Version)” features a reworked line, changing “She’s better known for the things that she does / On the mattress” to “He was a moth to the flame / She was holding the matches.” While metaphorically powerful, the line fails to assimilate with the immature and angry atmosphere. The song is also still misogynistic — replacing one lyric with another does not erase the meaning of the track. 

Her fuller vocals also change the feel on tracks “Last Kiss (Taylor’s Version)” and “Never Grow Up (Taylor’s Version).” While sonically stronger, it almost erases the direct and raw emotion captured by Swift when recording the original album.

Despite this, “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)” is a powerhouse. The album “speaks” to a multitude of demographics: the hopeless romantic, the heartbroken mess, the angry flame. Breaking multiple records upon its release (even her own), Swift continues to prove that she is a force to be reckoned with.