‘Happy, free, confused and lonely’: ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’ is all-encompassing

Katie Langley, Associate News Editor

Swift originally released ‘Red’ in 2012, when she was 22.
Photo by Jana Beamer via Flickr

I’ve always felt like Taylor Swift narrates my life.

From break-ups to love stories, Swift has a song for it all. These themes and more are heard on perhaps her most complex album, “Red,” which came out in 2012.

The album’s first incarnation came among Swift’s split from actor Jake Gyllenhaal and brief fling with Conor Kennedy. Swift’s fourth studio album will go down in history as one of the most pivotal pop albums of our time and the standard for a great heartbreak album.

“Red” marks both Swift’s genre transition from country to pop and the growth of her writing prowess. The album is a beautifully chaotic mix of chart-toppers like “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “22” as well as lyrical hidden gems like “All Too Well” and “Treacherous.”

Thought masterpieces couldn’t get any better? Well, think again.

The most recent of her planned re-records, Swift released “Red (Taylor’s Version)” Nov. 12, a week before its initial release date. The singer-songwriter is re-recording her first six albums in order to take back her masters, the catalog of all her songs, from her former record label, Big Machine. Big Machine was recently sold to music mogul Scooter Braun, who Swift has had previous issues with.

The album includes 30 songs, including the original extended tracks plus eight tracks. These new songs come “from the vault” of songs that Swift wrote for the original album, but did not include in the 2012 version. The re-release features new collaborations with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Chris Stapleton and Phoebe Bridgers.

I’m so glad these songs didn’t stay in the drafts.

Swift is re-releasing her first six albums to take back her masters from her former record company. Photo by Cosmopolitan UK via Wikimedia Commons

As a huge Phoebe Bridgers fan, I was so excited when Swift announced she would be collaborating with the indie singer-songwriter on the track “Nothing New (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault).” I expected it to be a great sad song, and that it is.

“Nothing New” describes growing up as a woman in the spotlight, the constant turnover of fame and the public’s obsession with all things new and shiny.

Set to a melodic, Bridgers-esque acoustic backdrop, Swift and Bridgers ask, “how can a person know everything at 18 and nothing at 22 and will you still want me when I’m nothing new?”

This is not a new worry for Swift. Her song “The Lucky One,” which is also on “Red,” is somewhat of an open letter to someone who escaped fame — The Lucky One. Swift, who is known for her re-creations, expressed her anxiety over the futility of fame in her 2020 Netflix documentary “Miss Americana,” saying that famous women tend to be “discarded in an elephant graveyard by the time they’re 35.”

At 31, Swift continues to defy this stereotype, even as younger artists such as Bridgers rise to fame.

Swift originally wrote the track “Babe (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” for country duo Sugarland. Swift even played the “other woman” in Sugarland’s video for the song. In her new album, Swift puts her own spin on the song she’s only performed live.

In “Babe,” Swift does what she does best and turned country into pop. The production and dreamy feel are reminiscent of Swift’s “1989” album, a fact most likely due to the influence of Jack Antanoff of Bleachers, who collaborated with Swift on many of her strongest hits.

“Babe” is not the only track that seems out-of-time with the “Red” era. “Message in a Bottle (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” and “The Very First Night (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” seem like they belong in the soundtrack for a Disney Channel original movie in the best way possible. “Red” is known for its melancholic ballads, but these songs are just plain fun.

I can’t forget to mention the 10-minute version of “All Too Well.”

Widely considered her best-written song, “All Too Well” is pure poetry. If you don’t know the story, it chronicles Swift and Gyllenhaal’s autumnal relationship, from “getting lost upstate,” to “dancin’ round the kitchen in the refrigerator light,” to him losing her, “the one real thing.” Throughout the song, the motif of Swift’s scarf, which he keeps to remember her, persists.

In a 2012 interview, Swift mentioned that the song was originally around 10 minutes, which fans definitely never forgot. After years of begging Swift to release the full version of the song, it’s finally here, and I can’t stop listening.

New verses in the 10-minute version certainly don’t hold back. Swift recognizes that Gyllenhaal was nearly a decade older. than her when they dated and continues to date younger women, reminiscing, “I was never good at telling jokes, but the punchline goes: I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age.”

She also alludes to performative feminism with the lyric, “and you were tossing me the car keys, ‘fuck the patriarchy’ key chain on the ground.”

From start to the fading outro of, “Just between us, did the love affair maim you,” the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” is lyrically superior and emotionally taxing. This song will leave you remembering it all too well.

Like many of Swift’s recent projects such as her film “Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions,” “Red (Taylor’s Version)” is set to be a multimedia experience. A short film directed by Swift for her song “All Too Well” dropped on YouTube Nov. 13, starring actors Dylan O’Brien and Sadie Sink. They deliver captivating performances as doomed lovers among an autumn background. It’s a beautiful way to illustrate a triumph of a song.

Speaking of songs that call out Gyllenhaal, “I Bet You Think About Me (feat. Chris Stapleton) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” is an absolute assault, and it’s incredible. Stapleton provides backing vocals to a scathing review of a pretentious subject who wears “organic shoes” and has a “million-dollar couch.”

For the music video of “I Bet You Think About Me,” Swift reached out to longtime friend and actor Blake Lively to direct. The video, released on Nov. 15, features Swift as a red-adorned jilted ex-lover who crashes an all-white wedding and ensues chaos and some lighthearted fun, too.

And personally, I am so proud of Swift for speaking her truth.

Swift broke the “good girl” mold put on women who rose to fame in their teenage years by fighting back against Braun, her past record label and yes, even her ex.

Illustration by (Peyton McKenzie)

This re-conception of “Red” is the album as it was supposed to be — heartbroken and bitter yet still hopelessly romantic. The jumble of songs is a perfect representation of the confusion of being in your early 20s. By returning to her life experiences from a mature standpoint, Swift not only shows her mastery as a businesswoman but also provides a nostalgic look down the rabbit hole that is her songwriting catalog.

5/5 Red scarves