Album Review: “Red (Taylor’s Version)” by Taylor Swift [2021]

Today, Taylor Swift released her re-recorded version of “Red.”

When this album originally came out, it was fall of 2012, and I was just beginning my freshmen year of college. Being an avid fan of hers at the time, I know all the details behind each song. I vividly recall walking to classes with my headphones on, listening to this record.

What I’m going to do with this review, is exactly what I did for “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” — commentary on Taylor’s meaning at the time, verses commentary on my own personal reaction.

This would be Taylor’s last “country” album — although to label her as country at this point was seriously a stretch. If anything, I would say that this record leans towards indie and hipster — in a “ironic” yet “un-ironic way” … let me explain!

The culture of 2012/2013

Let us take a time machine back to 2012. This was the year of “hipster” — a movement that revolved around rebelling against the mainstream, had officially become mainstream. Let that sink in for a moment. Hipsters are people who go against the trends, who listen to vinyl instead of Spotify, who wear glasses with big and bold frames, who use mustaches as home decor. A hipster is someone who says “I was doing that before it was cool,” or “I’m only doing this to be ironic.”

2012 and 2013 was the height of hipster culture — as in, when it was cool to be uncool. “Hipster” was the modern version of a 60s “hippie” — a counterculture. A culture that goes against the mainstream had officially become mainstream — it was the peak of ironic-ness.

At this time, indie artists were topping the charts and being played on pop radio, while indie movies were blockbusters. And thus, the whole point of “indie” basically lost its touch — inevitably everyone began making fun of the movement, that originally started as a way of making fun of movements. Makes sense…?

Much of “Red” (but not all) is about a relationship Taylor had with Jake Gyllenhaal. In interviews, Taylor would describe him as (never actually saying his name, but we can all take an educated guess) a man who was fully fledged into the hipster movement. She claimed that he would tell her that her music (and all other pop music) was mindless and overrated — that “indie” music was far more superior.

Taylor took this narrative and ran with it. Much of her album “Red” is a dig at not just her ex-boyfriend, but a dig at hipster culture itself. In her first single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” the music video is based on other indie videos by filming the whole thing in one take (no edits) and incorporating dancing animals for no reason. The titles she chose for her record are extremely remnant of indie music — really long titles, really short titles, titles like “Sad Beautiful Tragic” or “Stay Stay Stay” — different styles than what you would see on a mainstream pop album. Other examples, featuring artists from alternative bands (the singer from Snow Patrol) or artists who had yet to be discovered (Ed Sheeran before he reached mainstream fame.)

She did a lot of things on this album that you would see on an indie album. But she only did it to be ironic — or did she?! You know what they say, when you make fun of something so much, it’s because you secretly admire it.

Original tracklist:

1. State of Grace

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“This is the golden age of something good, and right, and real.”

I think this song is very simple and straightforward. It’s the beginning of a relationship full of both hope and fear.

2. Red

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Like the colors in autumn so bright, just before they lose it all.”

This is about a short-lived romance that was super intense. It is devastating to lose someone, and impossible to get over someone, when they left such a distinct mark on your life.

3. Treacherous

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Nothing safe is worth the drive.”

This has to be my favorite song on the record, or one of them. “Treacherous” actually sounds like a true “indie” song. It describes a dangerous path with a soothing and calming tone to it, like walking on a tightrope without flinching. It’s like blind faith in a terrifying situation.

4. I Knew You Were Trouble

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Blew me to places I’d never been, til you put me down.”

This was released as a single in mid 2013, after Taylor was linked to Harry Styles — everyone assumed the song was about him. But this album came out before they ever met, so it was assumed to be about Jake. My guess is John Mayer because in the bridge she sings “you never loved me, or her, or anyone, or anything” — if you look back at the duet she did with him years prior, in the last line he sings, “half of my heart is the part of the man who’s never truly loved anything.” Also, John Mayer had such a painfully negative bad reputation, while Jake I believe always had a fairly clean reputation.

Anyway, this is an awesome song. Yes, this song has “dubstep” in it.

5. All Too Well

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“You call me up again just to break me like a promise. So casually cruel in the name of being honest, I’m a crumbled up piece of paper lying here, cause I remember it all too well.”

This is the most epic song on the album, even though it was never a single, never had a music video. This song just really spoke to everyone. It was written after she saw a paparazzi picture of Jake wearing her scarf that she had left at his sister’s house on one of their dates. It was a subtle signal to her that he was still thinking of her. It brought back all of their memories and inspired her to write this originally 10-minute long track, cut down to five.

This is extremely sad and heartfelt. Recalling all of the moments that caused you to fall in love with someone. Flash forward and it’s gone, but the memories remain so vivid in your head. The most heartbreaking part is that it sounds like it all fell apart because the man got scared and ran away.

6. 22

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

“This feels like a perfect night to dress up like hipsters and make fun of our exes.”

After the heaviness of “All Too Well,” this is a great way to follow. It’s fun and lighthearted. Not so much about “being” 22, but feeling 22!

7. I Almost Do

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“It takes everything in me not to call you.”

I have heard that this song is about Adam Young, after she wrote a song for him (Enchanted) in her prior album, and he responded with another song, but she never publicly acknowledged it. Maybe there was more complexity to the situation than meets the eye. It also could’ve easily been about Jake trying to get back together with her. Not that it matters who, but it is interesting to wonder…

This is about feeling torn between keeping distance between someone verses running back to them. I think it’s a great song, personally it does not stand out to me, it’s not bad though!

8. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“And you would hide away and find your peace of mind with some indie record that’s much cooler than mine.”

I think this song is supposed to be kind of funny and silly. I feel like she is making fun of her breakup, making fun of her ex, making fun of herself all at once. Let’s not forget the time she performed this at the VMAs and added a British accent to nod at Harry Styles. Yes this was written before him, which shows that this breakup anthem is universal, it can be about anyone!

9. Stay Stay Stay

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“You think that it’s funny when I’m mad, mad, mad.”

This is another song that attempts to be silly, but instead of a recurring breakup, it’s about just the opposite — making up. Cute and cheesy.

10. The Last Time (ft. Gary Lightbody)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“All those times I let you in again, just for you to go again.”

Very dark and heavy. When you finally put your foot down after someone keeps rushing in and out of your life.

11. Holy Ground

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Tonight I’m gonna dance like you were in this room, but I don’t wanna dance if I’m not dancing with you.”

It’s happy and sad at the same time. Reflecting upon the beginning of a relationship or first meeting someone and the exciting rush it came with, yet disappointed it’s all in the past.

12. Sad Beautiful Tragic

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Good girls, hopeful they’ll be, and long they will wait.”

I am trying to figure out other words for “sad” to describe this… hopeless, upsetting, miserable, empty… I only deducted a star because it’s difficult to listen through without falling apart.

13. The Lucky One

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“But you don’t feel pretty, you just feel used.”

This is definitely based on a specific person, but I don’t think we will ever know who. Basically a retelling of Britney Spears’ “Lucky” — blessed with fame and fortune yet realizing that it’s not such a blessing after all. I like the lyrics and the message, but some reduction for its obviousness. I don’t understand what’s so shocking about realizing that fame and fortune obviously comes with a price. It’s sad that this message even has to be reiterated.

14. Everything Has Changed (ft. Ed Sheeran)

“I just wanna know you better.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is just a really sweet duet and there’s not much more to it. Also, very indie sounding.

15. Starlight

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“We could get married, have ten kids, and teach them how to dream.”

Taylor was linked to a Kennedy after Jake, right before the release of “Red,” so you can certainly see how this is a story about one of his family. I’m pretty sure she even confirmed this in an interview.

Anyway, this is one of my other favorites on the album. It’s hopeful and exciting, encouraging you to dream, and makes me happy.

16. Begin Again

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“You throw your head back laughing like a little kid.”

This is a great way to conclude everything. After the rollercoaster of trying to move on from a disastrous relationship, you finally open yourself up to new love and a fresh start.

Original bonus tracks:

17. The Moment I Knew

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“What do you say when tears are streaming down your face in front of everyone you know? And what do you do when the one who means the most to you is the one who didn’t show?”

This song tells a specific story of a 21st birthday around Christmastime, trying to be happy and enjoy yourself, but falling apart because the only person you really care about never showed up.

18. Come Back… Be Here

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“This is when the feeling sinks in, I don’t wanna miss you like this.”

Really sweet, cute, wonderful song.

19. Girl At Home

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Wanna see you pick up your phone and tell her you’re coming home.”

Okay, wow, first… this new version is completely different than the original. The originally sounded like low-quality acoustics while the new one is electro and echoey. I think I prefer the new.

This is super catchy and a little funny. This is calling out a man who is trying to cheat on his partner with you. I would really, really, really like to know who this is about… probably multiple men.

20. State of Grace (acoustic)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Really beautiful version.

21. Ronan

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“I love you to the moon and back.”

While many songs on this record are sad, this is absolutely the saddest. She wrote this for Ronan, a boy who died when he was only four years old, she wrote it from the perspective of his mother. This is tragic.

From the Vault

22. Better Man

“The bravest thing I did was run.”

Taylor wrote this and gave the lyrics to a country band “Little Big Town,” so I have seen these lyrics but never heard it from Taylor herself. I think it’s a good song, nothing too extraordinary, but good. I like that her version sounds heavier and more heartfelt.

23. Nothing New (ft. Phoebe Bridgers)

“How can a person know everything at 18 and nothing at 22?”

These lyrics are interesting and I think she should’ve released this much sooner. This is an awareness that society worships youth and novelty, and that her career will inevitably reach a phase that no longer meets that standard. It’s also sad that she wrote this when she was 22 which is still such a young age — it is pretty crazy to see that at 30 her career is still so huge. She is still young, but I’m saying that 22 is even younger.

24. Babe

“We ain’t getting through this one, babe.”

Another song whose lyrics were given to someone else. I like the vibe of this. The sound is so uplifting, even though the lyrics are about finding out you were cheated on…

25. Message In a Bottle

“You could be the one that I love.”

I can see how this didn’t make the cut, because it’s very pop-sounding and her team wanted her to stick with country.

26. I Bet You Think About Me (ft. Chris Stapleton)

“When you say ‘oh my God, she’s insane, she wrote a song about me.'”

This one was unexpected. I am seeing Taylor drinking beer in a trailer park, going off about her rich and pretentious ex-boyfriend.

27. Forever Winter

“Too young to know it gets better.”

This is sweet and sounds like a Fearless-era song.

28. Run (ft. Ed Sheeran)

“Say you’ll never let em tear us apart.”

Very similar vibes to “Everything Has Changed.”

29. The Very First Night

“I wish I could fly, I’d pick you up, and we’d go back in time.”

Wow, this is very magical!

30. All Too Well (10-minute version)

Cause I remember it all, all, all
They say all’s well that ends well

But 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.

I really can’t believe this was finally reached. I still remember reading an interview right before the release of “Red,” she casually mentions that the song was originally 10 minutes before they cut it down — I thought she would have to release it. Several years past and I accepted that it would never be heard. Now here it is. Wow! Should’ve been the original! Love it! The short film will be released tonight! Ahhhh!


8 thoughts on “Album Review: “Red (Taylor’s Version)” by Taylor Swift [2021]

  1. I love the new version of Girl at Home! I agree about the first one having low quality acoustics, and it just seemed so simple. She gave it more depth and I love it! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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