Billboard asked five writers to argue for one of Taylor's first five studio albums as her best. Here, Jennifer Brittney McKenna makes the case for
"Speak Now", Swift's 2010 entirely self-written LP.
Taylor Swift's third album "Speak Now" opens with one of her best songs. "Mine" is pure, Platinum pop-country perfection, as well as an
amalgam of what had already made Swift a record-breaking superstar at the age of 20: open-hearted romanticism, a careful balance of pop hooks and gentle twang, and the kind of evocative lyrics
that can transport you right back to the halls of your high school or to that last night out with the one that got away. Try finding a better pop lyric than, "You made a rebel of a careless man's
careful daughter." It may well be popular music's answer to Hemingway's "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
There was a lot riding on "Speak Now" for Swift. Her sophomore album "Fearless" took home the Grammy for "Album of the Year", was the best-selling album of 2009, and cemented her as country's
biggest crossover star of the new century. While whatever album Swift chose to follow "Fearless" with would inevitably do well, it was also her chance to make a statement to a world of listeners
whose ears were now singularly focused on her.
That "Speak Now" is Swift's only album with nary a co-writer in sight is likely no coincidence, then. Producer Nathan Chapman is still behind the boards, but trusted co-writers like Liz Rose are
notably absent. While Swift came out swinging on her self-titled debut album and entered the history books with "Fearless", "Speak Now" was
and remains her most complete artistic statement, and also the clearest portrait of who Swift is and what she cares about.
In many ways, "Speak Now" is the last album Swift made before the "wide-eyed gaze" she'd sing about on "RED" standout "All Too Well" began
to narrow into a cynical glare. Take single "Mean," for example. While basking in victimhood on "reputation" lead single "Look What You
Made Me Do" has painted Swift as vindictive, the scrappy, banjo-led optimism of "Mean" was endearing. The track, allegedly written in response to criticism from decades-older music blogger Bob
Lefsetz, also finds Swift engaging in a rare moment of vulnerability, acknowledging she's been "knocked off [her] feet" and admitting, "You can take me down with just one single blow."