Opinions & Features Workshop (Oct 26th)

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Unpacking Taylor Swift’s new emotionally-charged album: Red (Taylor’s Version)

By Malea Nguyen, December 8 2021—

The 2012 classic, Red, was a fan-favourite — an album about an obsession that everyone became obsessed about. Since announcing the release date of Red (Taylor’s Version) back in June, I couldn’t help but emotionally prepare myself for the fiercest, most raw experience of what Swift has released so far. The anticipation in the fandom was high and yet Swift still managed to surpass our expectations on Nov. 12, essentially taking what was already a masterpiece and rebuilding it with a whole new level of lyrical and emotional mastery. Including 30 songs — the original 16 tracks, B-sides and nine from-the-vault outtakes — Red (Taylor’s Version) will take you on a rollercoaster of emotions, as we follow the singer after nine years since the original release. 

It would almost be a crime if I didn’t start by talking about the most anticipated piece yet, “All Too Well,” but make it twice as long. You might be wondering, how can the original possibly be improved and how can ten minutes not be overly redundant for a song? It was already packed full of grief and anger and without fail, this song broke my heart every time I heard the bridge. “And you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest,” is unarguably one of Swift’s best lyrics of all time — and still the climax of the new version doesn’t end there. 

Swift refuses to let us breathe after dropping that line. She continues digging into the story with no mercy, letting us in on how her previous boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal, met her dad, ruined her 21st birthday and is still holding captive of her innocent red scarf to this day. “He’s gonna say it’s love, you never called it what it was.” It’s fascinating because this version captures Swift at her core — skillfully carved one-liners, a picturesque story, immersive background vocals, literary references and of course, impactful diction choices. “The idea you had of me, who was she? / A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you.” 

One can say that the original will never be beaten, but this ten-minute version seriously holds a special place in Swift’s discography. Not only is she singing this song while owning both the lyrics and the music but she’s singing it after living through nine more years of relationships and heartbreak. It brings a new meaning to the pain we take from this song, as she emphasizes that she does “remember it all too well.” She didn’t hold back and I love her for that because just when you think the jaw-dropping moment happened, you’re soon hit with another — “And I was never good at telling jokes but the punch line goes / ‘I’ll get older but your lovers stay my age.’” I’ll leave the discussion with this lovely line, “And did the twin flame bruise paint you blue? / Just between us, did the love affair maim you, too?” 

Another thing that was highly anticipated from this re-recording was its nostalgia. My preteen self might tell you something different, but I had no idea what heartbreak meant at that time. I used to have the upbeat and iconic tracks on repeat, like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Among the majority of us, I’m sure that it’s pretty common that we couldn’t relate to the overall message back then and personally, it’s still debatable if I can relate right now. So, I focused more on nostalgia when listening to the re-recordings of these tracks. Whether it was through the fun rhythm in “Stay Stay Stay” or the catchy lyrics in “Starlight,” Swift paints an immersive experience for us. It brings me back to when I was 10 years old again, and all I knew was how to vibe along with the music. I remember it would be a good day when “Everything Has Changed” came on to the radio and to hear it again in 2021 is a souvenir, to say the least. 

The best part about nostalgia is that you can come to appreciate how these songs affected you back then and how you can use that to inspire a source of happiness today. The album came at a great time because you can play “Girl At Home” when you’re taking a break from your studies or “Holy Ground” when you need an energy boost. I don’t want to say that I’m glad Swift had her fair share of loving “in shades of wrong,” but her music is a comfort of mine, with this album being nothing less than my safe place. 

“How can a person know everything / At eighteen but nothing at twenty-two?” Taylor’s from-the-vault track with the talented Phoebe Bridgers, “Nothing New,” showcases a young adult who underestimated their youth. Taylor was about 21– 22-years-old when she originally wrote these tracks, so she found herself in a position where maturity was taking a toll on her outlook in life. 

This track especially highlights the panic you’d feel when you realize you’re pretty much an adult now –— something I’m sure a bunch of us have experienced recently or will be experiencing pretty soon. This number is hands-down my favourite from-the-vault track with Bridgers being a part of the duet since she adds something truly mesmerizing to its atmosphere. She has such a soft and kindred voice in comparison to Swift’s bright one, resulting in shiver-inducing harmonies. Imagine there are two angels on your shoulders and they’re telling you to not rush through your youth, with one who is still currently in their youth but is afraid of what’s to come, while the other has passed that time in their life and is feeling remorseful. With Bridgers being five years younger than Swift, they both flawlessly execute these roles in the song, perfectly translating the message together. “It’s a fever dream / The kind of radiance you only / Have at seventeen.” 

This paranoiac crisis is a prominent theme in a few of her other songs — the carelessness you miss from being “22,” the reality of growing up in “The Lucky One,” and, a bit of a stretch, but the realization of a broken relationship in “Treacherous.” Taylor expands on these ideas by adding simple emotions in her lyrics, which I love because it makes them fully relatable for the listeners. “And they tell you that you’re lucky / But you’re so confused / ‘Cause you don’t feel pretty, you just feel used” from “The Lucky One,” is my favourite example of this idea. Not only is it catchy but it’s simple enough for us to understand how real it is, whether we’ve experienced feeling objectified before or have seen it happen in the media. 

Something is striking about Swift’s songwriting that proves music to be an art. Her lyrics have always been “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” like what that title suggests. You can clearly picture the “mosaic broken hearts” in every breath she takes, especially with the strong accompaniment in the background. As a B-side, Swift released “State of Grace (Acoustic Version),”  which lets us focus on just how beautiful her voice is and the emotion she is trying to convey in the song. The guitar and the beat in the background, which are both calm yet add a constant heartbeat to the sound, is an amazing addition to emphasizing the idea of using music to provoke us into feeling something. 

“I Almost Do” and “The Moment I Knew” are such moving pieces, literally, as your emotions throughout the songs are meant to correlate with how the intensity builds and declines. As she starts to build, you can come to terms with how she got to that level of emotion, making the entire experience feel so linear and raw. In “Come Back… Be Here,” she starts to sound more and more desperate as she repeats the title, truly encompassing the idea of music imitating life. Literally — “​​and I break down / ‘Cause it’s not fair that you’re not around.” Even if we have never experienced what she felt, she ensures that we can feel it nonetheless. 

When she says, “thinking all love ever does / Is break and burn and end,” in “Begin Again,” she pauses after each word in the latter half, depicting someone who is taking in the experience and assessing what happened. Swift often makes use of these verbal cues in her songs as ways of inducing emotion. In the duet, “The Last Time,” Swift and musician Gary Lightbody share an exchange towards the end where they’re mirroring, “this is the last time I’m asking you,” one after another while building in intensity. This song was especially emotional for me, as I became entranced with how these two individuals were exploiting, yet comforting each other at the same time as their voices harmonized. It was so mesmerizing that I couldn’t help but start to reminisce about my own experiences. 

Another beautiful instance in this album that’s crammed with love is the one-of-a-kind “Ronan.” Swift transforms Maya Thompson’s blog about the death of her son due to cancer, into an art piece that commemorates the memories shared between Thompson and her child. It’s truly touching, being both a beautiful song and a benefit for the future direction of cancer research. “What if the miracle was even getting one moment with you?”

From-the-vault tracks — songs that were cut from the original album release, were one of the most exciting features fans were looking forward to, given the marketing hype Swift provides as she would post puzzles on her social media that fans would have to decode in order to know what the titles of the outtakes would be before their announcement. She released a total of nine from-the-vault tracks, all of which are pretty diverse from one another. They range from being a bit more on the country side, such as “I Bet You Think About Me,” to being more on the heart-break side, like in “Forever Winter.” It’s a mystery as to why Swift would deem these songs to not be good enough for the original album but the surprise lived up to its hype and there’s something for everyone. 

If you liked “Holy Ground,” you’ll definitely love “Babe” and “Message in a Bottle.” If you miss Ed Sheeran everyday like me, then I’d recommend “Run.” “Better Man,” would be a great replacement for when you’re taking a break from “Begin Again.” My personal favourites are “Forever Winter” and “The Very First Night,” since they’re both catchy, beautiful and can easily be put on repeat. Seriously, how do you stop the tears at the part when, “​​He says he doesn’t believe anything much he hears these days / I say, ‘Believe in one thing, I won’t go away.”

Nearing the end, it’s finally time to talk about the title track of this iconic album, “Red (Taylor’s Version).” This song has everything that was already discussed –— the nostalgia, being picturesque, the passion and the paranoia. With it being called, “Red,” you already know that it’s going to be fierce or “passionate as sin.” Though it’s a breakup song, I think you can genuinely hear her strength and anger when she’s singing in this re-recording because it’s nine years after the fact. 

On top of her dating experience, she dealt with the copyrights and label issue for years, along with being ridiculed by the internet after the Kanye West incident. You can imagine how much this woman has been through and what that means for her today as an inspiration to all future generations in the music career. Red (Taylor’s Version) is not only iconic for it being a remake of a classic but for it being a statement by Swift, as she makes progress in taking back her name. It can be nostalgic and painful to hear her sing these songs again, but it’s even more emotionally charged to listen to this album, knowing that she’s trying to recover the part of herself that was lost in the process during the original’s recording. 


During this year alone, she released her best albums, Folklore and Evermore, along with her first re-recording of the Fearless (Taylor’s Version) album. With this new installation, Taylor Swift is proving herself to be living in her Golden Age, with Red (Taylor’s Version) being the tip of the iceberg.


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