The pop-country star follows last year's biggest album with an emotional new CD about love and loss

By Tanner Stransky
Updated August 27, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

When you write lyrics about your own high-profile romances, there’s an important extra step in the record-release process after writing and recording: deciding who needs advance warning. ”I feel like if I’ve written a song that will make their life better” — an apology or a love letter, say — ”then I’ll definitely let the people know,” says Taylor Swift, 20, whose eagerly awaited third studio album, Speak Now, comes out Oct. 25. ”But I figure the people who get the more brutal end of the lyrical spectrum — they’ll know. I don’t have to tell them.”

Swift’s deeply personal songwriting is a big part of her appeal, and fans won’t be disappointed by her new disc; all of the songs are inspired by real events (no word yet on whether she addresses the Kanye West — VMAs incident, however). ”The album is a collection of confessions — things I wish I had said when I was in the moment,” says the singer, whose last disc, 2008’s Fearless, won the Album of the Year Grammy. ”You walk away and know exactly what you should have said.”

Given Swift’s much-discussed recent romances — she’s been linked to Twilight hunk Taylor Lautner and Joe Jonas — the big question will be who inspired each of these new tunes. Sorry: She won’t spill. ”You can’t ask me that!” she says with a laugh. ”But I think most of the songs are self-explanatory about who they’re about. I can’t write songs without them being detailed.”

She describes Speak Now as a two-year diary covering everything from her ”tendency to run from love” in first single ”Mine” (already a top 10 hit) to ”the anxiety and conflict and awkwardness you feel when running into an ex in public” in ”The Story of Us.” ”Back to December,” she says, is the ”first time I’ve ever apologized to anyone in a song.” ”I was careless with a boy’s heart, and I shouldn’t have been.” (She reportedly broke up with Lautner around Christmas last year, which may or may not be a coincidence.)

The title track was inspired by a friend who watched as a longtime love married someone else. ”I wrote that song about the moment in a wedding where you speak now or forever hold your peace,” says Swift. ”I remember saying to her, ‘Are you going to speak now?’ I started to think about it on the way home: what it would be like to be in love and know they’re marrying someone else. That night I had a dream about one of my ex-boyfriends getting married. The next morning I wrote the song.”

Swift penned around 30 tunes for Speak Now, although only 14 made the final cut. Clearly it’s been an emotional couple of years. ”There are a lot of things everybody saw me go through,” she says, ”and then there are a lot of things people have no idea I went through, and I wrote about. I feel like I’ve been dealt a pretty good hand of inspiration.”