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Innocent

Promotional Single | Speak Now (2010) | Speak Now (Taylor's Version) [2023]

“Innocent” is track eleven on Taylor’s third studio album, Speak Now (2010). Written in response to Kanye West’s interruption of her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, the ballad is Taylor’s confession to West, claiming that he was “innocent” despite the public outrage after the controversy. The re-recording of the song, “Innocent (Taylor’s Version)”, was released on July 7, 2023, on Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).
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Background and Lyrical Theme

It took Taylor six months to write “Innocent”. The song features sparse instrumentation to reflect the simplicity of innocence, while lyrically it speaks about someone who has lost their way in life but who is “still an innocent”. It also conveys a message of forgiveness and redemption, describing how anyone can rise above and move past a difficult time in their life and become a better person – which Kanye sadly did not. Taylor told Billboard she took her time to reflect on how she really felt before she wrote the song:

«The song 'Innocent' is about something that really intensely affected me emotionally. It took a while to write that song. That was a huge, intense thing in my life that resonated for a long time. It was brought up to me in grocery stores, and everywhere I went, and in a lot of times in my life when I don't know how I feel about something, I say nothing. And that's what I did until I could come to the conclusion that I came to in order to write 'Innocent.' Even then, I didn't talk about it, and I still don't really.»

In the liner notes for Speak Now, Taylor explained that every song on the album is an “open letter” to someone in her life, “telling them what I meant to tell them in person.” She also noted that one song in particular is addressed to “someone I forgive for what he said in front of the whole world,” alluding to the MTV Video Music Awards incident. She said in an interview with New York Magazine that while she knew people “expected me to write a song about [West],” she felt it was important to “write a song to him.”

Live Performances

Taylor premiered the song at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards on September 12, a month prior to the release of Speak Now, as a means of putting the controversy behind her. She discussed her performance on her website:

«I was fortunate enough to get a chance to perform this song on the VMAs, and that's the first time that anyone ever heard it. Putting out an album called Speak Now where you're supposed to say what you feel when you know how you feel, I felt that performing that song on that particular award show was appropriate. I hope everybody likes this one.»

Talking to Access Hollywood in 2010, she added: “The decision to perform ‘Innocent’ on the VMAs was very in line with what the album is about. The album is called Speak Now, it’s about saying what you need to say at the moment you need to say it. And I had a bunch of options going into the VMAs: I could’ve sung a different song, I could’ve not gone, I could’ve done a bunch of different things. But I felt like going to the VMAs and singing a song about how I had felt…it seemed like the right call. If I’m going to live my life in the way that I wrote that album.”

Taylor didn’t perform the song again for 13 years, until she chose it as the second surprise song for her show on November 24, 2023, in São Paulo (Brazil) on “The Eras Tour” (2023-2024). She played it acoustically on piano.

Critical Reception

“Innocent” garnered mixed reception from music critics. Allison Stewart of The Washington Post described “Innocent” as a “small masterpiece of passive-aggressiveness” in her review of the album. Country-music journalist and CMT editorial director Chet Flippo said he was not at all surprised by the way Taylor handled herself at the show. “Everyone was waiting to see how she would do it, and that’s what she does: She writes songs based on what’s going on in her life,” Flippo said of the ballad. “It’s not unique. Some of the best country music writers do that, but typically those songs are self-directed and not about someone else.”

Commercial Performance

“Innocent” achieved moderate critical and commercial success, debuting at No. 53 and 27 on the Canadian Hot 100 and Billboard Hot 100 respectively, following the release of Speak Now.

Taylor's Version

The re-recording of the song, “Innocent (Taylor’s Version)” was released on July 7, 2023. In the prologue for Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), Taylor mentioned that the song still means a lot to her:

«I went through my first worldwide scandal (the mic grab seen around the world). [...] [That is a] weird experience to have at any age, but even more surreal when you're 19. I had the nagging sense that in the most intense moments of my life, I had frozen. I had said nothing publicly. I still don't know if it was out of instinct, not wanting to seem impolite, or just overwhelming fear. But I made sure to say it all in these songs. [...] Some of these emotional revelations were surprising to people. Some expected anger and instead got compassion and empathy with 'Innocent'.»

Upon the release of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), “Innocent (Taylor’s Version)” debuted and peaked at No. 63 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the week ending July 13, 2023.

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
Guess you really did it this time
Left yourself in your war path
Lost your balance on a tightrope
Lost your mind trying to get it back

[Pre-Chorus 1]
Wasn’t it easier in your lunchbox days?
Always a bigger bed to crawl into
Wasn’t it beautiful when you believed in everything?
And everybody believed in you

[Chorus 1]
It’s alright, just wait and see, your string of lights are still bright to me
Oh, who you are is not where you’ve been
You’re still an innocent
Still an innocent

[Verse 2]
Did some things you can’t speak of
But at night you live it all again
You wouldn’t be shattered on the floor now
If only you had seen what you know now then

[Pre-Chorus 2]
Wasn’t it easier in your firefly catching days?
When everything out of reach someone bigger brought down to you
Wasn’t it beautiful running wild till you fell asleep?
Before the monsters caught up to you

[Chorus 2]
It’s alright just wait and see, your string of lights are still bright to me
Oh, who you are is not where you’ve been
You’re still an innocent
It’s okay, life is a tough crowd
32 and still growing up now
Who you are is not what you did
You’re still an innocent

[Bridge]
Time turns flames to embers
You’ll have new Septembers
Every one of us has messed up too
Minds change like the weather
I hope you remember
Today is never too late to
Be brand new

[Chorus 2]
It’s alright just wait and see, your string of lights are still bright to me
Oh, who you are is not where you’ve been
You’re still an innocent
It’s okay, life is a tough crowd
32 and still growing up now
Who you are is not what you did
You’re still an innocent
You’re still an innocent

[Outro]
Lost your balance on the tight rope
It’s never too late to get it back

General Information
ArtistTaylor Swift
AlbumsSpeak Now
Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)
ReleasedSeptember 12, 2010
Re-ReleasedJuly 7, 2023
Written2009–2010
GenreCountry Rock
Length5:01
LabelsBig Machine Records
Republic Records
SongwriterTaylor Swift
ProducersNathan Chapman (original)
Christopher Rowe
Taylor Swift
SPEAK NOW CHRONOLOGY
Better Than RevengeInnocentHaunted
Hidden Message
Life is full of little interruptions
Song Artwork
Live Performance
Lyric Video
Taylor's Version
Original Audio