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Why "Speak Now" matters - Taylor's magnum opus in retrospective

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Robert.    12,545

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Revisiting ‘Speak Now': Why Taylor Swift’s third album is so special

 

Taylor Swift is currently at the top of the music world. Her latest album, 1989, is her most commercially successful album since 2008’s Fearless, and is her most critically acclaimed effort to date. It’s also her first pure pop album, her shortest album, and her most radio-friendly one.

Now, while having all of these remarks in mind, let’s talk about another Taylor Swift album that is arguably the most different from 1989. Let’s revisit Speak Now.

Speak Now is Taylor Swift’s third album, released in October 2010. When looking back at all of the albums released by major, established, and commercially successful artists during that period, the first two years of the 2010s, Speak Now defiantly stands out, and for three reasons:

 

1. It was too long

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The average length of the songs pop radio is willing to play is three minutes. The longer the song gets, the less likely it’s going to be picked up by the radio. Of the 14 songs that make up that standard version of Speak Now, only three songs are less than four minutes long. Six songs are more than four minutes long (with one of them being only six seconds short of the five-minute mark). Three songs are over five minutes long. Two songs are over six minutes long (with one of them approaching seven minutes).

At a running time of an hour and seven minutes, Speak Now was way too long for a pop album, and unsurprisingly, the singles significantly underperformed on pop radio, especially when compared to the airplay received by singles from Swift’s preceding album, Fearless, and from the albums her peers had released around that time, such as Rihanna’s Loud and Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream. None of the album’s singles topped pop radio, and only two went top 10, an underperformance by Swift’s standards.

There have been much longer albums than Speak Now, but for an established, major crossover act, who was expected to live up to the standards set by her best-selling, breakthrough album released two years before, having Speak Now run that long was a bold move.

 

2. It was too wordy

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Swift is known for her detailed, narrative, and occasionally autobiographical writing style, and on Speak Now, she exercised that style to a fault. Beginning with long, detailed verses, followed by catchy, yet confessional, choruses that lead to explosive and (again) long bridges, Speak Now was a wordy album released at a time when radio was heavily focusing on feel-good party songs everybody could bop along to after a long day of work and didn’t demand much focus on the lyrical content.

The only exception radio programmers were willing to grant at the time was Adele, who was able to get three consecutive radio hits with very personal and confessional songs. But besides Adele, whose breakthrough 21 album was neither as wordy nor as detailed as Swift’s, radio was not keen on playing songs about the romantic struggles of a woman in her late teens to early 20s.

And this is one of the things that make Speak Now special (notice that I used the word “special,” not the word “good,” because, yes, I’m aware that wordy writing is not always good writing). At a time when established artists were aiming for a less lyrical, less personal, and a more universal sound, for the sake of chart success, Taylor Swift didn’t mind going “in,” singing about her life and expressing her personal opinions and thoughts, even if they were not universal enough for the masses to enjoy, and only appealed to a certain demographic. She didn’t try to achieve mass appeal by toning down the diaristic writing style and shortening the songs. She didn’t pretend to be the kind of songwriter she actually isn’t just for the sake of more successful singles.

 

3. It was too organic-sounding

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Swift grew up within the country industry, a genre best known for its acoustic, guitar-driven sound, and while Speak Now was for the most part a pop album, it was not an electronic one. It was a pop album influenced by the organic sound of Swift’s country roots. While Swift’s first real venture into electronic music in late 2012 with her dubstep-inspired “I Knew You Were Trouble” from her album Red was met with great success, topping pop radio for six consecutive weeks, it hasn’t always been this way for her.

The organic-sounding singles from Speak Now struggled to fit in on radio during the dance-pop craze that was launched by the break out of Lady Gaga in early 2008, and had thankfully ended by early 2012, as the music industry decided to move to a more personal and substantial sound as a part of the “Adele effect.”

To sum up, Speak Now was a refreshing album. An album by a mainstream artist put under the pressure of having to duplicate the pop success of their previous album, and the pressure of having to stay relevant in a very competitive musical landscape that doesn’t attempt to water down the style or sound which first made that artist successful.

Speak Now was the moment Taylor Swift was most tempted to sell out, to fit in more with what was being played on radio, but ultimately didn’t, and stayed true to her artistry. The quality of the album is something subjective; one might like it (I do), another won’t, but at the end of it all, Speak Now was a true representation of the artistry of the musician who made it, which at the time of its release, was a bold and daring thing to make, especially for an artist held to high commercial standards.

 

She would later transition gradually to pure, electronic pop, a change that would span four years and two more albums, so that, by the time she reached the end of her transition, one felt this what she was aiming for all along.

 

http://www.hypable.com/taylor-swift-speak-now-review/

 

 

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Robert.    12,545

I really love this article. I would've added a fourth reason - "It was too personal". Taylor wrote this record all by herself, every lyric, every note was entirely composed by herself and she said everything with "Speak Now" she couldn't put into words any other way. I think this is why people felt disconnected with this record, it was rather autobiographical and lacked potential pop hits.

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edwinfg    8,062
Swift is known for her detailed, narrative, and occasionally autobiographical writing style, and on Speak Now, she exercised that style to a fault. Beginning with long, detailed verses, followed by catchy, yet confessional, choruses that lead to explosive and (again) long bridges, Speak Now was a wordy album released at a time when radio was heavily focusing on feel-good party songs everybody could bop along to after a long day of work and didn’t demand much focus on the lyrical content.

 

I would have loved 1989 more if it followed more the lyric patterns of Speak Now. antm1

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Robert.    12,545

I would have loved 1989 more if it followed more the lyric patterns of Speak Now. antm1

Same! I think Clean, Wonderland and Blank Space come pretty close lyric-wise tho.

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Umbreon    4,601

I loved "Dear John" a lot. You could feel the raw emotion in the song.

 

The album probably was too personal and distanced listeners from her, yet it still sold a million in its first week. Ha power.

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Robert.    12,545

I loved "Dear John" a lot. You could feel the raw emotion in the song.

 

The album probably was too personal and distanced listeners from her, yet it still sold a million in its first week. Ha power.

Yeah, definitely! ITWAM, "Enchanted" and "Long Live" are special to me as well! cry0

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edwinfg    8,062

Same! I think Clean, Wonderland and Blank Space come pretty close lyric-wise tho.

I really did loved the metaphors in Clean. cry7

 

Lyric perfection tbh. cry7

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CHANEL #1    10,257

I loved the wordiness of it. I loved that all the songs has long lines. It really helped each song to tell it's story which I felt really complimented the slight fairytale aspect the album had. I also personally enjoyed the long length of the songs. It was refreshing. I don't mind a song being long if it keeps my interest the whole time (something Dear John unfortunately failed to do). The organic sound is definitely another aspect of the album I personally love. The fact that the album has both light and dark songs is something I really like as I think it adds more emphasis to the fairytale thread throughout. Speak Now truly houses some of Taylor's best songs. ny10

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RihannaRTT    11,166

I just adore Speak Now. It's really stunning. I have the Easy Piano book and I love how simple but effective the ballads are; Dear John, Enchanted, Haunted, Long Live. All amazing. Her best album and nothing else comes anywhere close. 

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Mau    1,375

In a way it wasn't an easy album to digest at first. The more I listened to it the more I learned to love it. Fearless was more accesible.

 

Still, songs like Enchanted, Dear John and Last Kiss are what I'd call epics.

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Arya    8,630

Yeah... Speak Now is definitely amazing. cry1

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Arya    8,630

I really love this article. I would've added a fourth reason - "It was too personal". Taylor wrote this record all by herself, every lyric, every note was entirely composed by herself and she said everything with "Speak Now" she couldn't put into words any other way. I think this is why people felt disconnected with this record, it was rather autobiographical and lacked potential pop hits.

cry0

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Robert.    12,545

Yeah... Speak Now is definitely amazing. cry1

It's my fav Taylor album! cry0

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Arya    8,630

It's my fav Taylor album! cry0

1989 is amazing too! cry0

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Robert.    12,545

1989 is amazing too! cry0

I'd rank her albums like this:

 

1. Speak Now

2. 1989

3. Red

4. Fearless

5. Taylor Swift

 

cry0

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Arya    8,630

I'd rank her albums like this:

 

1. Speak Now

2. 1989

3. Red

4. Fearless

5. Taylor Swift

 

cry0

Perfect ranking. cry0

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So It Goes...    724

Speak Now is my favorite album her. Almost every song on the album is amazing. Also she solo-wrote it all. I sucks that is commercially her least successful album    brit2

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