Madison Palmieri ’22
Taylor Swift’s fans can certainly say they are “The Lucky One(s).”
In the past year alone, the icon has released a chart-topping album, evermore, the companion to the Grammy-winning folklore. She also released a re-recording of another one of her Grammy-winning records, 2008’s Fearless, among a myriad of other content ranging from “Wildest Dreams (Taylor’s Version)” to folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions.
Now that the air has turned colder and the autumn leaves are “falling down like pieces into place,” the time has come for another treat for fans: Red (Taylor’s Version).
Red (Taylor’s Version) is the second in a series of re-recordings of Swift’s first six albums that the artist plans to release over the course of the next couple of years in order to regain control over her early music, recorded with Big Machine Records, after Scooter Braun sold the master versions of it without Swift’s knowledge.
When Swift first announced her intent to re-record her stolen songs, fans immediately began to speculate as to the order in which she would release them. While it was no surprise that she began with mega-hit Fearless, fans were divided as to which album would come next: chronologically, Speak Now made the most sense, but 1989 fit with the time of the year projected for the next release.
Both of these guesses, however, were wrong. On Friday, June 18, Swift took to Instagram to announce that Red (Taylor’s Version) would release in November. The original release date was Nov. 19, but, to the excitement of fans, the artist gifted them with the re-recording a week early on Nov. 12.
From the first lines of album opener “State of Grace,” Swift instantly transports fans back to 2012. With slightly re-worked stylings and matured vocals, the artist’s growth in the nine years since recording the original version of the record is clear. From smash-hits such as “22,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “I Knew You Were Trouble,” and title track “Red” to fan-favorites like “Treacherous,” “The Lucky One,” and, of course, her magnum opus “All Too Well,” Swift takes listeners on a nostalgic, emotional trip down memory lane.
Notably, the album also includes new versions of existing tracks not published on the original Red. When she first wrote these songs, Swift gave one, “Better Man,” to Little Big Town; she recorded another, “Babe,” with Sugarland. Another addition to Red (Taylor’s Version) is “Ronan,” a notoriously emotional track written in honor of a young boy who died of cancer.
Although fans were delighted to see how these new versions of their “old favorite song(s)” compared to the originals, they were perhaps more so anticipating the album’s “vault” tracks. Swift wrote these songs during the original Red era, but they did not make the final version of the 2012 album. This time around, however, she invited some of her fellow artists to bring these previously-unheard songs to life.
“Nothing New,” featuring Phoebe Bridgers, is by far the most emotional of the six vault tracks. With poignant lyrics such as “Lord, what will become of me/Once I lose my novelty?” and “How can a person know everything at 18/But nothing at 22?/And will you still want me when I’m nothing new?” fans gain an intimate glimpse into a young Swift’s fears of becoming irrelevant, a theme also explored in “The Lucky One.”
Although Swift’s fears thankfully did not come true, with the artist more relevant than ever today, one line remains quite prophetic given how Swift has inspired rising stars such as Olivia Rodrigo and Conan Gray: “I know someday I’m gonna meet her/It’s like a fever dream/The kind of radiance you only have at seventeen/She’ll know the way and then she’ll say she got the map from me.” “Nothing New” is also notable for being the first Swift track to feature a female artist on an entire verse, rather than simply on backing vocals.
“Message in a Bottle” and “The Very First Night” are the two most energetic vault tracks, with an upbeat style and bubbly lyrics reminiscent of early 2010s hits such as Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” instantly bringing listeners back to the now long-gone summers of that time. Notably, “Message in a Bottle” is the first song Swift wrote with Max Martin and Shellback, with whom she partnered to create hits such as “Blank Space.”
“I Bet You Think About Me” featuring Chris Stapleton not only proves that “country Taylor” is alive and thriving in 2021, but also affirms her knack for witty critique. Swift pokes fun at her ex’s lifestyle, from his “silver-spoon gated community” to his “organic shoes and million-dollar couch.” The song’s reference to how her former flame attends “cool indie music concerts every week” is a nod to a line in “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
Another notable line is “Mr. Superior Thinkin’,” a potentially purposeful nod to “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” a vault song from Fearless (Taylor’s Version). One of the final lines of the track, “I bet you think about me when you say/’Oh my god, she’s insane, she wrote a song about me,’” is a perfect example of Swift’s knack for self-satire, as evident on tracks such as “Better Than Revenge” and “Blank Space.”
The other vault tracks, “Forever Winter” and “Run,” nicely compliment the other previously-unreleased tracks as well as the album as a whole. The former can be interpreted as forerunner to evermore’s title track, using wintery imagery to explore themes of helping someone persevere through depression and find hope. The latter, featuring Swift’s longtime friend and collaborator Ed Sheeran, sets a scene that calls to mind “the road not taken” in “‘tis the damn season,” another evermore track.
Perhaps the most anxiously-awaited track on Red (Taylor’s Version), however, was“All Too Well (10 Minute Version).” A longtime urban legend among Swift’s fans, few believed that the song actually existed, let alone that it would ever see the light of day. At 10 minutes and 13 seconds, it is the album’s longest track; as a re-imagined version of one of the artist’s most popular and beloved songs, it is the album’s biggest standout.
The version of “All Too Well” released on the original Red album back in 2012 perfectly encapsulates the whirlwind of emotions that comes with looking back on a past relationship after its magic has long faded; the “10-Minute Version” of the beloved track adds a layer of criticism and self-knowledge to the romanticized relationship described in the original version.
Indeed, whereas “All Too Well” focuses on Swift’s more positive memories of her former partner, the “10-Minute Version” isn’t afraid to shy away from the uglier aspects of their relationship. Lines such as “He’s gonna say it’s love, you never called it what it was/’Til we were dead and gone and buried,” “You kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath,” and “I’m in a new hell every time you double-cross my mind/You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine /And that made me want to die” add a deeper, darker, and more profound layer to the already heart wrenching song. The actor about whom the song is believed to be written has long incurred the wrath of Swift’s fans, but now, he may want to look into joining the witness protection program.
“All Too Well (10-Minute Version)” also features references to other Red songs. For instance, Swift paints the same scene depicted in “The Moment I Knew,” with one line describing how her father said that “It’s supposed to be fun turning twenty-one” after seeing her break down when her ex failed to show up to her birthday party. The line, “And I was never good at telling jokes but the punch line goes/I’ll get older but your lovers stay my age” references Swift’s remembrance of how her ex didn’t think she was funny in “Begin Again,” while also delivering a scathing condemnation of his tendency to prey on young women.
The 2012 version of Red was a tremendous accomplishment in and of itself. Swift’s re-imagining of this iconic album proves once again not only her sheer talent and once-in-a-generation ability to truly connect with listeners, but also her dedication and tenacity. Producing chart-topping album after chart-topping album is a feat in and of itself; producing re-recordings of these records a decade later that are just as, if not more, successful than the originals affirms Swift’s status as a true musical icon.
Indeed, Swift’s fans truly are “The Lucky One(s).” While Red (Taylor’s Version) will be celebrated for years to come, they were able to watch this iconic era in the artist’s discography “Begin Again.”