Swift has previously said that each song on ‘Speak Now’ is meant to serve as “a different confession to a different person”
Taylor Swift is ready to Speak Now — again — with her rerecorded version of the album.
Originally released in October 2010, Swift’s third album was largely inspired by her growth as a person and artist as she entered adulthood.
“I first made Speak Now, completely self-written, between the ages of 18 and 20,” Swift wrote on Instagram when she announced Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).
“The songs that came from this time in my life were marked by their brutal honesty, unfiltered diaristic confessions and wild wistfulness. I love this album because it tells a tale of growing up, flailing, flying and crashing … and living to speak about it.”
A loose concept album about the times she wishes she had spoken up, Swift previously teased to Songwriter Universe magazine that each song is meant to serve as “a different confession to a different person.”
In addition to writing songs about her family and her fans, Swift also pens several songs about her public heartbreaks and adversaries.
From “Dear John” to “Last Kiss,” here’s everything Swift has said about the inspirations behind her Speak Now songs.
Swift previously told Rolling Stone that the lead single from Speak Now was about “a boy I liked at a certain time” and detailed “what it would be like if I actually let my guard down.”
She later elaborated on the song’s inspiration during an interview with Yahoo! Music. “This is a situation where a guy that I just barely knew put his arm around me by the water, and I saw the entire relationship flash before my eyes, almost like a weird science-fiction movie,” Swift told the publication, per MTV News.
“After I wrote the song, things sort of fell apart, as things so often do. And I hadn’t talked to him in a couple months. And the song came out, and that day, I got an email from him. And I was like, ‘Yes!’ Because that one was sort of half-confession and half-prediction or projection of what I saw.”
Though Swift hasn’t shared much about the inspiration behind “Sparks Fly” in interviews, she did give a big clue when she wrote “Portland, OR” as the hidden message in the song’s liner notes.
Eagle-eyed Swifties later found an old Myspace post from October 2006, nearly a year before she started performing the song live, in which she recalled an “amazing” night playing in a Portland bar called Duke’s, where she opened for country singer Jake Owen.
In the post, she also talked about getting to meet Owen during his soundtrack, where he raved about being a big fan of Swift’s music. Fans have also pointed out that the original “Sparks Fly” lyrics talked about falling in love in an empty bar, which could be a reference to Duke’s where they played.
“Back to December”
Thanks to several pointed references in the lyrics, many assumed this breakup track was about Swift’s brief romance with her Valentine’s Day costar Taylor Lautner, from whom she split in December 2009. But it was Lautner himself who later confirmed the song is about him.
During a Facebook Live in 2016, the actor briefly spoke about the song’s inspiration after his Scream Queens costars Lea Michele and John Stamos interrogated him about his relationship with Swift. “That’s what she does. She writes songs,” Lautner replied when Michele asked whether Swift had penned a track about him. “It’s called ‘Back to December.'”
So is he sweating now that Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is on the horizon? “I think it’s a great album,” he told TODAY.com in May. “Yeah, I feel safe. Praying for John [Mayer].”
Unlike some of her other tracks on the album, Swift previously noted that “Speak Now” was actually written about a close friend. “One of my friends … the guy she had been in love with since childhood was marrying this other girl,” she told Yahoo! Music in 2010.
“And my first inclination was to say, ‘Well, are you gonna speak now?’ And then I started thinking about what I would do if I was still in love with someone who was marrying someone who they shouldn’t be marrying. And so I wrote this song about exactly what my game plan would be.”
Swift’s breakup track is rumored to be about her brief romance with John Mayer, partly because of the title (which is also a reference to a “Dear John” letter, a common idiom referring to a woman ending a relationship with her partner) but also because of the lyrics which make reference to their age gap. Swift was 19 at the time, while Mayer was 31.
Though Swift declined to comment on who the song was about while speaking to PEOPLE in 2010, noting the track was “a tough one to write,” Mayer later hinted he was the inspiration as he talked to Rolling Stone about how the song “really humiliated” him.
“It made me feel terrible,” Mayer told the publication. “Because I didn’t deserve it. I’m pretty good at taking accountability now, and I never did anything to deserve that. It was a really lousy thing for her to do.”
During her Eras Tour in June 2023, Swift prefaced a live version of “Dear John” by asking her fans to show “kindness” to the rumored subjects of her songs. “I’m 33 years old. I don’t care about anything that happened to me when I was 19,” she said.
“I’m not putting this album out so that you can go and should feel the need to defend me on the internet against someone you think I might have written a song about 14 billion years ago when I was 19,” she continued. “I do not care. We have all grown up. We are good.”
Swift’s song “Mean” is rumored to be about critic Bob Lefsetz, who reviewed her 2010 Grammys performance on his blog Lefsetz Letter by calling her “young and dumb,” declaring that she “can’t sing” and had “destroyed her career overnight.”
In Swift’s 60 Minutes interview, Lesley Stahl made pointed references to his review as she asked Swift about the song’s inspiration. “The things that were said about me by this dude floored me and leveled me,” Swift said, referring to Lefsetz. “I don’t have thick skin. I hate reading criticisms. You never really get past things hurting you.”
Lefsetz also addressed the song on his blog, the Lefsetz Letter, following its release. “Here I am giving Taylor Swift the publicity she desires. She won,” he wrote at the time.
He continued, “But she still can’t sing and isn’t it time to start acting like an adult? To cast off the high school persona and fly as a woman instead of darting around like a little girl? That’s what’s got everybody’s eyes rolling, her aw shucks/ohmygod! look when she strides onto the stage to earsplitting applause. Taylor got to live out her adolescent fantasy. Can she now be a woman singing about womanly issues?”
In a full-circle moment, Swift performed the song live at the 2012 Grammys, and received a standing ovation from the audience.
“The Story of Us”
During a previous interview with USA Today, Swift told the publication that “Dear John” and “The Story of Us” are about the same person, insinuating that the latter is also about Mayer.
“The Story of Us is about running into someone I had been in a relationship with at an awards show, and we were seated a few seats away from each other,” she told the publication. “I just wanted to say to him, ‘Is this killing you? Because it’s killing me.’ But I didn’t. Because I couldn’t. Because we both had these silent shields up.”
The song is rumored to be about Swift and Mayer’s appearance at the 2010 CMT Awards, where they sat near each other. Swift seemingly confirmed the theory as she wrote “CMT Awards” as the hidden message in the liner notes.
“Never Grow Up”
Swift has previously stated that she wrote the song when she was about 18 or 19 years old, which was around the time she moved out of her parents’ house and purchased her first home in Nashville. The song details the trials of growing up as well as getting older and being on your own.
“‘Never Grow Up’ is a song about the fact that I don’t quite know how I feel about growing up. It’s tricky,” Swift reportedly wrote on her website, according to Genius.
“Growing up happens without you knowing it. Growing up is such a crazy concept because a lot of times when you were younger you wish you were older. I look out into a crowd every night and I see a lot of girls that are my age and going through exactly the same things as I’m going through. Every once in a while I look down and I see a little girl who is 7 or 8, and I wish I could tell her all of this. There she is becoming who she is going to be and forming her thoughts and dreams and opinions. I wrote this song for those little girls.”
In a previous interview with Yahoo! Music, Swift explained that she wrote “Enchanted” after meeting a guy in New York City. “I started writing that in the hotel room when I got back, because it was just this positive, wistful feeling of ‘I hope you understand just how much I loved meeting you,’ ” she said, per MTV News. “Using the word ‘wonderstruck’ [in the lyrics] was done on purpose, because that’s a word which that person used one time in an email … so I purposely wrote it in the song, so he would know.”
Swift later teased the person’s identity when she wrote “ADAM” as the hidden message in the song’s liner notes. In February 2011, Owl City singer Adam Young seemingly confirmed the lyrics were about him as he wrote about the track on his band’s blog (and recorded his own version of the song in response).
“I’m so tremendously honored that Taylor would write such an elegant song and thereby offer a gracious nod in my direction,” he wrote in February 2011. “Needless to say, I was lost for words and utterly smitten. I couldn’t stop smiling.”
“Better Than Revenge”
The song was said to be about a woman who dated Swift’s ex Joe Jonas following their split — and fans zeroed on on actress Camilla Belle due to the timing. Though Swift hasn’t directly addressed who the song is about, Belle seemingly made reference to the Speak Now track following Swift’s public feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.
Amid the back-and-forth between West, Kardashian and Swift that ensued when Kardashian posted videos that appeared to be of a conversation between Swift and West about his song “Famous,” Belle obliquely weighed in on social media.
“No need for revenge,” she wrote, seemingly making a nod to “Better Than Revenge.” “Just sit back & wait. Those who hurt you will eventually screw up themselves & if you’re lucky, God will let you watch.”
In the Taylor’s Version of the song, Swift has since swapped out the offending lyrics.
Swift wrote “Innocent” as a response to the infamous 2009 VMAs incident between her and Kanye West, in which he interrupted her acceptance speech to declare that Beyoncé’s video should have won instead. “I think a lot of people expected me to write a song about [West],” she told NYMag.com. “But, for me, it was important to write a song to him.”
“It doesn’t really add anything good if I start victimizing myself and complaining about things. Because I’m proud of that performance at the VMAs last year, where my fans helped me get through it,” she explained, referring to the fact that she went on to perform live shortly after. “And there was a lot that went down backstage that I will always be thankful for, and the fans in the subway know exactly what happened that night. I feel everything. I’ve never had this thick skin that can’t be… It’s not like I am bulletproof in any sense of the word.”
In a previous blog post on her website, Swift explained that “Haunted” was written “about the moment that you realize the person you’re in love with is drifting and fading fast. And you don’t know what to do, but in that period of time, in that phase of love, where it’s fading out, time moves so slowly. Everything hinges on what that last text message said, and you’re realizing that he’s kind of falling out of love.”
She added, “That’s a really heartbreaking and tragic thing to go through, because the whole time you’re trying to tell yourself it’s not happening. I went through this, and I ended up waking up in the middle of the night writing this song about it.”
Though Swift teased that the song was inspired by a personal breakup, fans have also theorized that the track was originally written for the New Moon soundtrack, which starred Swift’s then-boyfriend Taylor Lautner.
This theory was further fueled in 2022 when director Chris Weitz revealed that Swift’s team fought hard for the singer to be a part of the movie but that ultimately they had to turn her down.
“Taylor Swift and I had the same agent at the time, and he said, ‘Taylor would like to be in this movie — not because of you, but she’s a Twi-hard,'” Weitz said. In the end, he said, he thought her presence would be too much of a distraction in the movie.
As she recounted on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Swift wrote the song “Forever and Always” in the wake of her breakup with Joe Jonas and rushed it onto the Fearless album. So when the words “forever and always” appeared as the hidden message in the Speak Now liner notes for “Last Kiss”, fans had a pretty good idea who this song was about.
Jonas was later spotted at several of Swift’s Speak Now Tour shows, including San Jose, California, during which she wrote, “After all that we’ve been through, I know we’re cool,” from Gwen Stefani’s song “Cool” on her arm. (And they’re in their “supportive exes” era these days.)
Over the years, Swift has referred to “Long Live” as a love letter to her fans. “This song is about my band, and my producer, and all the people who have helped us build this brick by brick,” she previously wrote on her blog, as reported by Genius.
“The fans, the people who I feel that we are all in this together, this song talks about the triumphant moments that we’ve had in the last two years,” she wrote in part. “‘Long Live’ is about how I feel reflecting on it. 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.”
Swift previously revealed on an episode of VH1’s Storytellers that she wrote the song “Ours” about a “guy nobody thought [she] should be with.”
“So I wrote this song specifically just to play it for him, just to show him, ‘I don’t care what anyone says,” she added. “I don’t care that you have tattoos. I don’t care that you have a gap between your teeth. I love you for who you are.’ And that song ended up actually making it on a record [Speak Now] and becoming a No. 1 song.”
During a live performance of the song, Swift revealed that “Superman” was inspired by a guy she was “enamored with” at the time. “This song got its title by something that I just said randomly in conversation,” she said, per Taste of Country. “[When] he walked out of the room, I turned to one of my friends and said, ‘It’s like watching Superman fly away.'”
Fans have assumed the song is about Mayer as one of the lyrics, “loved you from the very first day,” was the hidden message in the liner notes for “Dear John.”
“Electric Touch” is the first vault track from Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) featuring Fall Out Boy. Though Swift hasn’t revealed too much about the inspiration behind the song, she did gush about getting to work with the band on the track ahead of its release.
“Since Speak Now was all about my songwriting, I decided to go to the artists who I feel influenced me most powerfully as a lyricist at that time and ask them to sing on the album,” she wrote in June.
The band has a long history together as they previously performed together at the 2013 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Lead singer Patrick Stump also made a special guest appearance during Taylor Swift’s Red Tour.
“When Emma Falls in Love”
Fans believe the Emma behind Swift’s love song is her close friend, Emma Stone, who she first met in 2008 about two years before Speak Now was originally released. While some have theorized that the track is about Stone’s previous relationship with Andrew Garfield, the song’s liner notes show the song was actually written in 2010, insinuating that it could actually be about Stone’s relationship with Kieran Culkin, who she dated from 2010 to 2011.
During the Eras Tour on July 7, Swift confirmed she wrote the song about one of her best friends as she performed it as a surprise song, furthering rumors that the La La Land actress was the inspiration.
“I Can See You”
Swift’s vault track, “I Can See You,” details the singer pining after a love interest. Though Swift hasn’t said too much about the song’s inspiration, it is one of the three vault tracks she produced alongside longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff.
“Castles Crumbling,” which Swift sings with Paramore’s Hayley Williams, seems to detail the pressures she faced growing up in the spotlight around the time Speak Now was originally released, including living up to the success of her Grammy-winning album Fearless and having her personal life became much more publicized.
“I heard the song and was super impressed by the storytelling in it,” Williams told Coup de Main magazine about the song. “Which is no surprise because it’s a Taylor Swift song, but it’s about an experience that both of us have shared growing up in the public eye, and I just felt very honoured to sing about that feeling.”
“Foolish One” details falling for someone despite all the warning signs. At one point, Swift sings, “Wishful thoughts forget to mention when something’s really not right / And I will block out these voices of reason in my head.” Though Swift hasn’t expanded on the song’s inspiration, fans theorize the song could be about John Mayer as the lyrics draw many parallels to “Dear John,” including the bridge: “Now I’m slidin’ down the wall with my head in my hands / Sayin’, “How could I not see the signs?” / Oh, you haven’t written me or called / But goodbye screamin’ in the silence.”
Meanwhile, some believe Swift could be singing about Joe Jonas as the bridge references her former love interest moving on with someone else — “‘Cause you got her on your arm and me in the wings / I’ll get your longing glances, but she’ll get your ring” — and draws parallels to her “Mr. Perfectly Fine” lyrics, “‘Cause I hear he’s got his arm ’round a brand-new girl / I’ve been pickin’ up my heart, he’s been pickin’ up her.”
“Timeless” seems to detail the love story of Swift’s maternal grandparents, Marjorie Finlay and Robert Finlay, as the lyric video features many photos and home videos of them. Swift previously wrote about her grandmother on Evermore with the track “Marjorie,” which details how Swift looked up to her growing up.