Speak Now is the third studio album by Taylor Swift, released on October 25, 2010 through Big Machine Records.
- Sparks Fly
- Back to December
- Speak Now
- Dear John
- The Story of Us
- Never Grow Up
- Better Than Revenge
- Last Kiss
- Long Live
- If This Was A Movie
Prior to the album's release, Swift worked on "Speak Now" for two years. She wrote all of the songs on the album without co-writers.
Speaking on a live webcast on July 20, 2010, she said, "I actually wrote all the songs myself for this record. It didn't really happen on purpose, it just sort of happened. Like, I'd get my best ideas at 3:00 am in Arkansas, and I didn't have a co-writer around and I would just finish it."
In an analysis of Swift's lyrics, The Oxonian Review noted themes of regret and solitude, highlighting that "December is a month to get through so we can return to the beginning, and is certainly not a month to relish. Yet, Swift goes there—'all the time'—in 'Back to December' by delivering an apology to an ex-boyfriend, which she never did on her prior two albums."
Music writer Stephen Thomas Erlewine viewed that the album musically is "no great progression from Fearless but rather a subtle shift toward pure pop with the country accents [...] used as flavoring".
The recording sessions for "Speak Now" took place at several recording locations, including Aimeeland Studio, Blackbird Studios, and Capitol Studios in Hollywood, California, Pain in the Art Studio, and Starstruck Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, and Stonehurst Studio in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Some of the songs feature live strings, and some, a full orchestra.
According to Big Machine Records president/CEO Scott Borchetta, the original title of the album was called "Enchanted."
According to Borchetta:
"We were at lunch, and she had played me a bunch of the new songs. I looked at her and I'm like, 'Taylor, this record isn't about fairy tales and high school anymore. That's not where you're at. I don't think the record should be called Enchanted." After the discussion, Swift then excused herself from the table at that point. By the time she came back, she had the Speak Now title, which comes closer to representing the evolution that the album represents in her career and in her still-young understanding of the world."
Music & Lyrics
The album's opening track, "Mine", was released as the lead single from the album.
Swift explained that the uptempo country pop song was about her tendency to run from love. Critics praised the song, although some critics called it "formulaic" and reminiscent of her earlier work.
"Sparks Fly" was written by Swift when she was 16 years old, prior to her debut in the music scene and was first performed during one of her concerts in 2007. The song's lyrics were revised several times, and the banjo that was originally played on the track was removed.
Swift explained that the song was about "falling for someone who you maybe shouldn't fall for, but you can't stop yourself because there's such a connection and chemistry."
"Back to December" is the third track from the album, and was released as the second single from the album. It received positive reviews from critics, who regarded it as one of the highlights of the abum. It is one of two songs where Swift first incorporated an orchestra on record. Critics have speculated that the song is Swift's apology to her ex-boyfriend Taylor Lautner.
The title track follows, released at first as a promotional single.
The upbeat country-pop song relies on acoustic guitar and is a narrative from the perspective of a person who crashes her former love's wedding in an attempt to win him back.
"Dear John", the fifth track, clocks in at six minutes and forty three seconds, making it the longest song on the album, and the longest song ever released by Swift. It is driven mainly using guitars and an organ, with bass, drums, piano, and tambourine entering the song later.
"Dear John" is an "open letter" to an ex-boyfriend, who is speculated to be John Mayer, whom Swift dated from late 2009 to early 2010. The song discusses manipulation and betrayal by a loved one.
The Grammy-winning song "Mean" is the sixth track of the album, regarded by critics as one of her most country-sounding songs. The song's lyrical content addresses those who question Swift's ability to sing.
The pop-oriented "The Story of Us" followed, relating the awkwardness that takes place between two people after they break up. The song has been described as being a pop punk song with vibrant beat, electric guitars and a fast-paced chorus.
"Never Grow Up" is an acoustic guitar ballad addressed to a young child from Swift, feeling alone as she spends her first night in a new apartment of her own. Swift explained that the song is about "the fact that I don't quite know how I feel about growing up".
The power ballad "Enchanted" serves as the ninth track of the album. Lyrically, the song addresses Swift's attraction to a guy while not knowing if her instant infatuation is at all reciprocated.
Swift wrote the song in her hotel room after meeting a man in New York. She deliberately used the word "wonderstruck" because the person had used the word one time in an e-mail and so he would know. The song has a length of five minutes and fifty two seconds, thus making it the third longest song in the album.
"Better than Revenge," (like "Story of Us") is a pop punk music song, and is one of Swift's vengeance songs speculating to be aimed at Camilla Belle, the young actress Joe Jonas pursued after breaking up with Swift. Critics and listeners compared it to the works of alternative rock band Paramore.
"Innocent" is written in response to the previous year's Kanye West contretemps on the MTV Video Music Awards. The song is about someone who has lost his path their life, but whose "string of lights are bright to me."
"Haunted" is a dramatic song opening with violins and other string instruments, and it is the second song in the album to incorporate an orchestra. The song is about the aftermath of a break up, and involves Swift demanding that the guy "finish what he started."
"Last Kiss" is a country ballad. Swift explained that the song "is sort of like a letter to somebody." It is rumored to be about Joe Jonas. The song clocks six minutes and seven seconds making it the second longest song on the album.
The closing track "Long Live", is about her band and her fans. It is a look towards the future, to wonder what story will be told then about today.
Swift said that "this song for me is like looking at a photo album of all the award shows, and all the stadium shows, and all the hands in the air in the crowd. It's sort of the first love song that I've written to my team."
"Speak Now" debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 1,047,000 copies in its first week of release. It was just the 16th album in United States history to sell one million copies in a single week.
Of the 1,047,000 copies sold in the first week, 769,000 were physical CDs and 278,000 were digital downloads.
It was then the second biggest debut ever for a female artist, the second biggest ever by a country album, the biggest in five and one half years, and the biggest of 2010.
"Speak Now also set a new record for the biggest one-week sales tally for an album by a female country artist, surpassing Shania Twain's "Up!" album. It is also Swift's second US number-one album.
During its second week on the Billboard 200, the album remained at number one and sold 320,000 copies. It dropped to #2 and sold 212,000 copies in its third week.
In its fourth week, the album dropped to #9 and sold 146,000 copies. In its fifth week, it rose to #4, selling 241,000 copies.
The album returned to the top spot on its eighth week with over 259,000 copies sold. It was able to top the Billboard 200 again on the succeeding three weeks, giving a total of six non-consecutive weeks at number one.
After only 10 weeks in release, "Speak Now" became the third best-selling album of 2010 in the United States, with sales of 2,960,000 copies. It had sold 681,000 digital copies as of January 2012, making it the tenth best selling digital album of all time.
On January 11, 2012, the album was certified quadruple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), making it Swift's third album to reach this plateau (following her debut album and "Fearless." It was certified 6× Platinum on December 11, 2017. As of July 2019, it has sold 4.68 million copies in the United States.
All fourteen songs on the album and three bonus tracks have charted on the US Billboard Hot 100, eleven of them charted concurrently making Swift just the third artist in history and first female artist to have over ten concurrent Hot 100 hits.
"Speak Now" is also the only album in history to spawn seventeen Hot 100 hits produced four top 10 hits, seven top 20 hits, and nine top 30 hits. It also garnered success outside the US. The album entered at number one on the Canadian Albums Chart, selling 62,000 copies.
It stayed at the top spot on its second week and was later certified triple platinum by the Music Canada for shipments exceeding 240,000 copies. The album also debuted at number one on Australian Albums Chart, became Swift's first number one album in Australia.
It was later certified triple platinum by Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA), topped the New Zealand Albums Chart for two weeks and was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ).
The album also charted within the top ten in five more countries including the United Kingdom where it debuted at number six on the Top 40 Albums chart and has been certified Gold by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).
At Metacritic, "Speak Now" received an average score of 77 (based on 20 reviews indicating "generally favorable reviews").
AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine commended Swift's mature lyrics, staying that "she writes from the perspective of the moment yet has the skill of a songwriter beyond her years."
Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "she makes memorable music by honing in on the tiny stuff: the half-notes in a hummed phrase, the lyrical images that communicate precisely what it's like to feel uncomfortable, or disappointed, or happy".
Rudy Klapper of Sputnikmusic called it "the best pop record of the year".
Jon Caramanica of The New York Times called the album a "bravura work of nontransparent transparency ... the most savage of her career, and also the most musically diverse. And it's excellent too, possibly her best."
Music critic Robert Christgau said that, although the songs are "overlong and overworked", they "evince an effort that bears a remarkable resemblance to care—that is, to caring in the best, broadest, and most emotional sense."
Dave Heaton of PopMatters observed "a richer array of narratives and even more songs about that process of turning your life into a narrative."
Theon Weber of The Village Voice perceived Swift's songwriting strength as "not confessional, but dramatic" and stated, "Like a procession of country songwriters before her, she creates characters and situations—some from life—and finds potent ways to describe them".
Weber described the album's songs as "iceberg songs" and elaborated on how Swift's talent grows "in proportion" to Swift's artistic freedom, writing: "Swift enjoys slipping in and out of identities, and her best songs are constructed from multiple, superimposed points of view. She also likes using a tossed-off phrase to suggest large and serious things that won't fit in the song, things that enhance or subvert the surface narrative ... She's more comfortable inside these new songs, and cleverer ... She can still sound strained and thin, and often strays into a pitch that drives some people crazy; but she's learned how to make words sound like what they mean."
In a mixed review, Allison Stewart of The Washington Post called the album "ridiculously entertaining [...] a lengthy, captivating exercise in woo-pitching, flame tending and score-settling", but found it "long: 14 wordy, stretched-thin, occasionally repetitive songs".
Slant Magazine's Jonathan Keefe found Swift's singing "technically poor" and her lyrics "generally lack[ing] the variety and sophistication of her compositions", which he called "expertly crafted pop music."
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