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30th November 2021

Painting the town red (Taylor’s Version)

Get ready to cry into your maple lattes because Taylor Swift has done it again
Painting the town red (Taylor’s Version)
Photo: Jana Beamer @ Wikimedia

As a part of her quest to own her music (after celebrity talent manager Scooter Braun bought her catalogue out from under her), Taylor Swift has dropped the second of her re-recordings. This time she has turned her 2012 album Red into Red (Taylor’s Version). There was a long, arduous wait since the announcement was made five months ago, and it’s easy to understand why.

Even before acknowledging Red’s critical success or its raw, powerful lyrics (and oh boy, we’ll get to that), Red holds a lot of nostalgia for casual fans and diehard Swifties alike. Not to mention, it was the album that signified her conversion to pop music and which solidified her superstar status. So, 11th November felt more akin to Christmas Eve as we waited for this fated album to grace our Spotify.

I’ll be honest; I haven’t felt the same since.

Red tackles the most severe and dramatic emotions, from passion and love to hate and anger. Swift’s feelings come primarily from her whirlwind disaster romance with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as the beginnings of her brief fling with Connor Kennedy (yep, those Kennedy’s). It’s interesting to revisit this album now, being more or less the same age Taylor was when she recorded the original. When Red first came out, I was almost too young to understand it, being just 14. But now, as is the case for many Swifties, life experience means I hear these lyrics very differently.

While I may not have fallen for a man ten years my senior who stole my scarf and didn’t come to my birthday (seriously, jerk move, Jake), your early 20’s guarantee you at least one real heartbreak. And now the lyrics you once screamed at the top of your lungs are felt a little bit more deeply; whether it’s the bitter resentfulness presented by ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’, the melancholic desperation of ‘The Last Time’, or the aching loneliness found in ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’. I’ve personally always found Red to be one of her most underrated albums, especially after it was snubbed at the Grammys. So watching fans revisit and fall in love with it again – and being able to do it myself- is more than welcome.

Unfortunately, the resurgence of the Red era means we also seem to have reverted to 2012’s misogyny towards her. Jokes like “has she considered that she’s the problem” and “watch out, she’ll write a song about you” have crawled back from the depths of the Internet once again. Because they were just hilarious the first time around, right?

I suppose there are few easier punching bags than Taylor Swift, even now. It would be lovely if we could leave sexist jokes about the dating habits of a woman (who was in her early 20s) in the past, but it seems we can’t have everything, can we? Not that she misses the opportunity to call out hypocrites who “tell you while you’re young, ‘Girls, go out and have your fun’, only to then ‘hunt and slay the ones, Who actually do it”.

Amongst the broken romances and butterflies, Taylor drops some truths about the fading sparkles of stardom and her worries about how long her dreams will last. The re-recorded version of the supremely underrated ‘The Lucky One’, and a new song from the vault, ‘Nothing New’, both show Taylor’s deep anxiety about the fleeting nature of fame and the pressure which comes from keeping up in a game designed to kick women out. Swift asks if pursuing her lifelong dream was worth it in the end, questioning if she was indeed, “the lucky one.”

‘Nothing New’ specifically addresses Taylor’s worries about growing older in the spotlight, wondering if her audience will be just as dedicated to her when the shine wears off and she’s no longer fresh or exciting. Taylor discusses these anxieties in her 2020 documentary, Miss Americana, and portrays them in a hauntingly beautiful way here, aided by Phoebe Bridger’s vocals. These songs take on a bitter irony having them now. Young Taylor had no idea that the 2016 #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty was just around the corner, or that the label she called home would sell her integrity and legacy for a quick buck. They take on an almost prophetic element, and it makes for a heart-wrenching listening experience.

As with the rerelease of Fearless, this album came with bonus tracks From The Vault, those that didn’t make the cut on the original version of the record. In addition to ‘Nothing New’, Taylor treats fans to a classic Swift-style ballad ‘Run’ (featuring Ed Sheeran), as well as ‘Babe’ and ‘Better Man’, songs Swift wrote for other artists. There were also some hints as to how Taylor’s music would develop in the form of ‘Message In A Bottle’ and ‘The Very First Night’, both with a synthpop, upbeat sound that would feature heavily in her next album, 1989. In this way, Red (Taylor’s Version) becomes more of a time capsule, with the vault tracks bridging the gap between her albums. It’ll be interesting to see if this continues in later re-records.

The crowning jewel is, of course, the 10-minute version of every Swiftie’s favourite break-up ballad, ‘All Too Well’. Fans have dreamt of this for years, and so to finally have it felt almost surreal. But oh, was it worth the wait. If the original ‘All Too Well’ is an emotional punch to the gut, the extended version sends you flying down a flight of stairs. This version takes the story the original presented us with but shows us the finer details. An imbalanced relationship and a young girl desperate to hear those three little words. A trail of broken promises, and ultimately a battle that left Taylor defeated, worn out, and permanently changed.

This song highlights her ability as a storyteller (perhaps hinting at the future creation of folklore and evermore). It brings the reader on a whirlwind of emotions, from nostalgia to confusion to rage to reluctant acceptance. Everyone has one line that resonates with them so deeply it hurts (mine being “the idea you had of me, who was she?”), and if that doesn’t speak to her power as a lyricist, nothing will.

Taylor’s raw and bold vulnerability, mixed with a biting sense of anger, combined with the release of a short film, culminates in a musical experience that will move even the most stone-hearted of listeners.

And of course, beyond all of this is the songs we know and love, rejuvenated with Taylor’s more mature vocals. Some of her best lyrics are on this album, and it’s beyond beautiful to hear them given new life. Dedicated fans may spend hours picking out differences, an inflection here, a pause there, to the point where they can tell the difference with just one listen. But for everyone else, we can just turn it on, watch the autumn leaves fall, and appreciate that Taylor is one step closer to owning her music. 

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