On her third album, Speak Now, Taylor Swift took the pain and turmoil of failed relationships and turned them into powerful songs. In a webchat with fans at the time, Swift said she wrote all of the album’s 14 songs herself, some in the early hours of the morning during touring. “It didn’t really happen on purpose. It just sort of happened that way,” she wrote.
Speak Now is a very personal work, with the Pennsylvania-born singer-songwriter basing the concept of the album around letting out her feelings – and at length. Some of the songs are more than six minutes long and the shortest is still nearly four minutes.
Swift described album opener “Mine” as “a song that is about kind of my tendency to run from love.” “Back To December” was supposedly about actor Taylor Lautner, whom she left after a brief relationship in 2010. Swift said it “was about a person who was incredible to me, just perfect to me in a relationship, and I was really careless with him. So this is a song full of words that I would say to him, that he deserves to hear.”
Swift, who was 20 when the album was released, on October 25, 2010, does not specify the names of her song subjects but it was widely reported that the scathing “Dear John” was about singer John Mayer. The anguished lines “Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?/The girl in the dress/Cried the whole way home” are heartfelt and raw.
“I second-guess and overthink and rethink every single thing that I do,” Swift said at the time. Though the songs on Speak Now are highly introspective they packed a powerful punch for her young fans. On “Never Grow Up” she sings a personal song of regret, while “Enchanted” showcases Swift’s ability to capture the beguiling emotions of falling in love. Elsewhere, the pained words of “Mean” (about being “knifed” in a review by a critic) are set against some wonderfully jaunty bluegrass fiddle from Rob Hajacos. There is also a score-settling song (“Innocent”) about the infamous MTV Music Video Awards clash with Kanye West.
Speak Now is a musically adventurous album on which Tom Bukovac shines on electric guitar. On “Last Kiss,” South African-born Nick Buda, who had played on Swift’s first two albums after being introduced to the teenage star by multi-instrumentalist producer Nathan Chapman, said there was an air of real excitement when they were recording the album. “Even at 15 she knew what she wanted,” said Buda. “She would say, ‘I didn’t feel it on that, let’s do another one,’ and she knew what was needed… She is awesome to work with and super-appreciative of her players. There was a real chemistry involved in this record.”
Their desire to get exactly the sound they wanted extended to changing Buda’s modern drum kit to a vintage one on some choruses in order to get a different tone from some of the bombastic “teenage rock band” sound. Buda recalled that, despite her age, Taylor was already at the top of her game. “The songs were so well written that very rarely did they go past a third take,” he said.
Though Speak Now was pipped to the Grammy award for Best Country Album by Lady A’s Own The Night, it was a commercial triumph. The album debuted at No.1 on the Billboard charts after selling more than a million copies in its first week, and has since sold nearly five million copies.