If there’s one thing that Taylor Swift loves as much as Easter eggs and cats named after
network drama characters, it’s a spoken-word interlude. The device has become a staple of Swift’s work — we all remember where we were when we first heard, “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now” — and one of her most coveted storytelling tools. As Swift begins revisiting her oeuvre by releasing the re-recordings of her first six albums, the spoken-word interlude will undoubtedly play a large role in her journey. Fearless, her second album overall but the first that she’s re-releasing, is the album where Swift dips her toe into the spoken-word pool (she’ll eventually dive into it headfirst, like it’s a Fourth of July party in Rhode Island.) From what we’ve heard thus far, it’s clear that she’s committed to recreating her original songs as precisely as possible, down to the breath — and these spoken moments won’t be any exception. (Because let’s be honest, Swifties would notice the absence of the miniscule “huh oh” at 1:38 of “Love Story.”)
Swift is many things — a careless man’s careful daughter, a crumpled up piece of paper, a mirrorball — but she’s not one to overlook the details. If there’s anyone with the borderline obsessive precision needed to perfectly recreate every line reading, laugh, and inflection of her spoken interludes, it’s her. With the release of
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) kicking off this parenthesis-filled walk down memory lane, let’s evaluate all of the spoken-word interludes, intros, and outros that appear in her catalog. 19. Hey Stephen ( Fearless ) - “Haha” (2:54)
It might seem inconsequential, but this tiny “haha” was the critical first step in Swift’s spoken-word journey; since laughing is not singing, it qualifies. The “haha” in question comes after the lyric, “All those other girls are beautiful but would they write a song for you?” But while an errant “haha” deserves credit for starting this journey, it doesn’t give us quite enough to avoid last place.
18. Speak Now ( Speak Now ) - “Don’t you?” (1:46)
Taylor gets points here for quite literally speaking in a song called “Speak Now.”
17. Everything Has Changed ( Red ) - “You good to go?” (0:00)
Ed Sheeran utters this quick question at the beginning of the song as he casually begins strumming the guitar, giving the rendition a more laid back and intimate feel. It’s a departure for Swift, who isn’t known for being particularly “chill.”
16. ME! ( Lover ) - “Hey kids! Spelling is fun!” (2:40, music video)
This line, which sets up a riff about not being able to spell “team” or “awesome” without “me,” was so lambasted by fans that it was actually
removed from the song altogether — living on only in the music video. Swift has said that it was included to set the tone and convey that it wasn’t a very serious love song. And sure, it’s a little bit cheesy, but I think the main problem with this line is that it’s an outright lie. Spelling is not fun. Have you ever tried to spell “exercise?” What about that is fun to you, Taylor Swift? 15. London Boy ( Lover ) - “We can go driving in — on my scooter, uh, you know just around London.” (0:00)
This is the most inexplicable spoken-word intro/interlude in her entire discography. The voices belong to two of Swift’s
Cats co-stars Idris Elba (Macavity) and James Corden (Bustopher Jones) taken from a 2017 interview on The Late Late Show. Swift seemingly had no involvement in this interview, so how did this come about? Why this clip? It’s worth noting that they refer to a “scooter,” and that very well might be a reference to Swift’s nemesis Scooter Braun. But in what way? I haven’t known peace since this was released. I need a two-hour Long Pond Studio Session just about this intro.
[NOTE: The song that Taylor Swift performs in
Cats (“Macavity”) does not have any spoken-word interludes. That is why it doesn’t appear on this list, NOT because I am afraid to go there.] 14. I Forgot That You Existed ( Lover ) - “It’s just indifference...so...yeah.” (2:44)
Swift drops the key on the last word of several verses to give the effect of speaking, but the clearest case is the final words of the song, where she forgoes the singing mid-sentence, fittingly on the word “indifference” to convey, well, indifference. I’m a little indifferent to this one, so it stays in the middle of the pack!
13. Stay Stay Stay ( Red ) - “Hahah, that’s so fun” (3:18)
Unlike with “ME!”, Swift didn’t tell any lies here. This song was fun, and she was right to say it.
12. Gorgeous ( Reputation ) - “Gorgeous” (0:00)
The song opens up with a small child saying the word “gorgeous,” and like most questions about Swift’s work, the answer involves Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds’ children. The voice belongs to two-year-old James Reynolds, who later will have a role in Swift’s discography as the name of the narrator in
Folklore’s “Betty.” Legend has it that the toddler kept repeating the word after Swift played the song for the family on guitar, and Swift recorded her for the intro. It’ll be interesting to see if she’s legally able to keep the same recording for the re-release, or if she’ll have to re-record that as well. Maybe another Lively-Reynolds child (Inez or Betty) can take on the mantle, unless a now six-year-old James reprises the role, Richard Linklater/ Boyhood style. 11. No Body, No Crime (feat. HAIM) ( Evermore ) - “She was with me, dude” (2:42)
Swift has mostly forgone her beloved interludes in her indie pivot, with the exception of
Evermore’s murderous “No Body, No Crime,” in which, after she sings, “Este’s sister is gonna swear she was with me,” we quite literally hear Este’s sister say, “She was with me, dude.” Including a piece of dialogue here works beautifully because of how much of a story this song is. She also gets extra points for the speaker being Este’s actual sister. Double bonus points for calling a detective investigating a murder “dude.” 10. Shake It Off ( 1989 ) - “Hey hey hey, just think, while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and dirty dirty cheats of the world, you coulda been getting down to this sick beat” (2:18)
“This sick beat” walked so “spelling is fun” could run. It’s cheesy and earnest in a way that makes it an intensely funny line. “Shake It Off” is such a strong pop single that Taylor could have said literally anything in this interlude and gotten a free pass. She could follow up a chorus with the entirety of the FitnessGram PACER Test audio and people would still be flooding the dance floor.
9. Better Than Revenge ( Speak Now ) - “Now go stand in the corner and think about what you did” (0:00)
Anybody who has seen
knows that Taylor Swift is an The Giver actor. Here we see that in action, as she delivers a brilliant performance with a line reading that truly plays to the back row and beyond. The tone, the cadence, the inflection — everything about it is unmatched, and perfectly sets up this angsty, pop-punk adjacent bop. 8. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things ( Reputation ) - “HA HA HA, I can’t even say it with a straight face” (2:31)
This is the quintessential
Reputation-era interlude, filled with the high drama and feuding that the entire album exudes, but the best part of it is that it’s a fake out. In a sequence of rhyming toasts to her various allies, she suddenly makes a jarring pivot and toasts to her antagonist (“ because forgiveness is a nice thing to do”). For a split second one might be fooled into thinking that after an entire album going after her enemies, Taylor’s done a 180 and suddenly had a change of heart, but then we’re hit with that uproarious cackle. Shots fired. 7. So it Goes… ( Reputation ) - “One, two, three” (2:52)
Singers love counting in songs. They quite frankly can’t get enough of it! But babies can also count, and where are their Grammys? The thing about Swift’s counting that sets her apart from your average toddler is that it's high concept. Sure, on a casual listen it might sound like your everyday “one, two, three,” but you have to catch the context. The preceding lyric is “But who’s counting?” so her “one, two, three” is an immediate answer to that question, indicating that she is. A classic show don’t tell. Your move,
Sesame Street. 6. Blank Space ( 1989 ) - “Tchk!” (Chorus)
This one’s a stretch and surely doesn’t really count as a “spoken interlude,” but the noise she makes in between “I’ve got a blank space, baby” and “and I’ll write your name” is important to the culture and must be acknowledged.
5. The Story of Us ( Speak Now ) - “Next chapter” (1:25), “The end” (4:23)
This is where Swift’s love of spoken interludes meets her deep love of Easter eggs. When accepting the award for Favorite Pop/Rock Album at the 2018 AMAs, Swift ended her
speech by saying that she’s even more excited about the “next chapter,” an incredibly subtle reference to this line in “The Story of Us.” We eventually found out that this was a fully insane Easter egg. How long is “The Story of Us,” you might ask? 4:26. And when did this next chapter begin with the release of Lover’s lead single? 4/26. Her mind. 4. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together ( Red ) - “What?” (0:16), “Like, ever.” (1:03), “So he calls me up and he’s like ‘I still love you,’ and I’m like, I’m just, this is exhausting, you know, like we are never getting back together...like ever.” (2:14)
Swift was snubbed for the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for
Red, considering that she was chatting up a storm on this album. And speaking of the Grammys, she performed this song at the 2013 ceremony, including the heftiest of the interludes, which she altered to say she was “busy opening up the Grammys.” The recital of the spoken lines live is like watching a mini play mid-song, and if it’s been said once it’s been said a thousand times: Arthur Miller wants what Taylor Swift has. 3. Daylight ( Lover ) - “I want to be defined by the things that I love, not the things I hate, not the things I’m afraid — I’m afraid of, not the things that haunt me in the middle of the night. I think that you are what you love.” (4:10)
This is the deepest and most meaningful of her interludes, and essentially serves as a thesis statement for the entirety of
Lover. Whereas Reputation was driven by her feuds and conflicts, this album is the opposite. The line, which is in stark contrast to her other typically light and fun interludes, can be interpreted both as a public request but also feels like a sticky-note-on-the-mirror kind of reminder. This earnest Dove chocolate wrapper-esque message is all well and good, but we know that at the end of the day that if there’s one thing Swift loves more than writing about those she loves, it’s writing about those she hates. Moving on! 2. Look What You Made Me Do ( Reputation ) - “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, cause she’s dead.” (2:50)
This one was a complete reset. Swift’s albums each represent distinct eras, and that’s never been as explicitly clear as when she launched
Reputation by saying that the old Taylor was outright DEAD. Everything about this line is high camp, and despite mixed feelings on the song it appears in (the “I’m Too Sexy” sample can be a tough pill to swallow), this interlude overcomes that to take a seat in the hall of fame alongside Britney’s Titanic interlude and whatever the hell Jade and Alexander were up to in “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. 1. 22 ( Red ) - “Who’s Taylor Swift anyway? Ew” (1:16)
This is the essential Taylor Swift interlude in that it checks just about every box: it’s self-referential, has a theatrical line reading, it’s fun to sing along to, and of course, it includes Swift incorrectly thinking that she’s an underdog. Swift is her truest self when she’s in conflict with something, and that’s a theme that carries over from her lyrics to her interludes. Sometimes it’s liars and dirty dirty cheats, an ex, a celebrity she’s feuding with, or in this case, the “cool kids.” And despite a tired criticism, this isn’t a victim complex, it’s good storytelling. Any good story has a protagonist in conflict with something, and Swift’s music is no exception.
It’s an added dimension that with the upcoming releases of her re-recordings, we’ll once again get to hear her say, “Who’s Taylor Swift anyway?” at a time when the question makes even less sense than ever before.
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