The title track of Taylor Swift’s new album is an entertaining tune, and perhaps the most entertaining thing about it is the structures and themes it takes up and twists from “Love Story.” In both tracks, Swift is vocalizing a fantasy about a relationship, a fantasy which she repeats back to herself in the voice of the fantasized partner at the end of the song (there’s probably something to be said about phallogocentrism here; why is it so important for Swift to have her words authorized by male repetition?). The difference is that “Love Story” is a fairy tale, while “Speak Now” is a daydream at an ex’s wedding, in which she imagines herself interrupting the wedding and running off with the groom, complete with hilariously vituperative descriptions of the bride (“wearing a gown shaped like a pastry”). This serves as a general model of how Swift has updated her songwriting now that she can no longer, quite, fictionalize her life into an everygirl story: she’s turned to her other strength, spite.
This might suggest a familiar narrative of spoiled innocence, in which disappointed naïveté sours into petty, reactive, vengeance. Swift herself endorses this conception of “meanness” when she attacks a critic as “a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life,” in the track “Mean,” which itself serves to prove that this is not true of Taylor Swift’s own meanness. The thing about this track, especially, is how joyful it is: the jaunty beat is accentuated by handclaps, while Swift’s voice is overdubbed to give it the quality of a playground chant. This track and “Better Than Revenge” are so brightly cheerful in their cruelty, they give the whole album a delightfully untroubled conscience.