‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’ Review


(Emily Stull)

By Amelia Sandgren

It’s time to pull out your scarves and fall gloves, order a Pumpkin Spice Latte, and watch the leaves fall, as Taylor Swift has transported us to fall 2012 with the re-recording of her fan-favorite album: Red.


Re-recordings: A History


Red (Taylor’s Version) is the second installment of Swift’s mission to re-record the entirety of her masters that were sold to her long-time nemesis, record executive Scooter Braun, without her knowledge back in 2019. Now belonging to private equity firm Shamrock Capital (after Braun sold the catalog in response to backlash from fans), Swift is continuing to speak out for artists’ rights to their music, most notably in her open letter to Apple Music where she urged for fair pay to smaller creatives. 

Taylor previously released her re-recording of Fearless, which showed mixed results. Fans were brought together in their excitement, and the album performed exceedingly well, immediately jumping to the top of the charts. However, it hasn’t currently diminished overall listens of the originals, and Fearless has actually increased in streams by more than two million per month. Although the original intent of the re-recordings was to de-value her masters, Swift has expressed to fans that the process of gaining back ownership of her work has been fulfilling beyond its financial implications.


From the Vault


One of the most anticipated aspects of the re-recordings for fans was the never before released songs that Swift coined “From the Vault.” These songs were withheld from the original album, or sometimes sold to other artists, during its initial release, and they did not disappoint. Hotly anticipated recordings of “Better Man” and “Babe,” which were both written by Swift, but sold to Little Big Town and Sugerland respectively, were wonderfully complemented by Swift’s turn at the vocals.

“Ronan,” originally released as a charity single that tells the tragic story of a mother losing her son to cancer, has cutting lyrics such as “You were my best four years,” that break right through any listener’s heart. Swift also featured her first inclusion of a female artist with an independent verse, the honor being justly given to Phoebe Bridgers, in “Nothing New,” which shows a young star already anticipating her eventual loss of fame as she’s replaced by newer artists. The bridge in particular evokes interest in Swift’s public relationship with young singer Olivia Rodrigo, as the lyrics go, “I know someday I’m gonna meet her/ It’s 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/ I’ll say I’m happy for her/ Then I’ll cry myself to sleep.”

Songs “Message in a Bottle” and “The Very First Night” betray Swift’s clear turn towards pop, as both use heavy synth and less acoustics than the rest of the album, sounds that will dominate the entirety of 1989. “Forever Winter” is about Swift’s friend experiencing mental illness, a serious topic she almost never mentioned in her earlier works. “I Bet You Think About Me” featuring Chris Stapleton is a full-on country jam that also has its own music video, directed by Blake Lively, which showed a mischievous Swift as she crashes Miles Teller’s wedding (in true “Speak Now” style). Finally, “Run” is the first song Swift and long-time friend Ed Sheeran wrote together; although not entirely exciting, the song is pleasant and does well to balance out the rest of the vault songs.  


All Too Well


Without a doubt, the most hotly anticipated song from Red (Taylor’s Version) was the 10- minute version of her widely acclaimed “All Too Well,” which stole the hearts of Swift’s fans when the album was originally released. “All Too Well” is a beautiful song that captures the love and excitement of a new relationship and the tragedy of when everything falls apart. It plays on themes of memories and longing to be remembered, an idea that Swift introduced in her very first single “Tim McGraw” where she hopes her high school boyfriend remembers her when he goes to college. Many consider “All Too Well” to be her deepest song lyrically and one of the best in her discography. 

During an interview in 2012, Swift revealed that “All Too Well” originated backstage on the Speak Now tour, where she riffed for more than 15 minutes about feelings over her breakup with actor Jake Gyllenhaal. For years after hearing this, fans clambered for a chance to hear the entirety of the song, and Red (Taylor’s Version) finally gave that to them. 

“All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” is exactly 10 minutes and 13 seconds long (13 being a significant number for Swift throughout her career) and the additional verses add an entirely new perspective to the listening experience. Where the original song evokes feelings of remembering a past love with difficulty because of how wonderful it was, the 10-minute version sheds a new light on the story. Instead, it paints a picture of a young girl, dating a man nine years her senior, completely out of her depth, and unable to rectify an impossible situation. Notable lines such as, “You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath,” do well to emphasize Swift’s feelings of insecurities in her relationship. Later she asks, “The idea you had of me, who was she?/ A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel/ Whose shine reflects on you,” highlighting the character she had to play around him. She also makes references back to previous songs on the album, such as “The Moment I Knew” about an experience where Gyllenhaal didn’t come to her 21st birthday in the lines, “He [Swift’s dad] watched me watch/ The front door all night, willing you/ To come and he said, ‘It’s supposed to be fun/ Turning twenty-one.’” She also calls out their large age gap repeatedly, something that wasn’t originally so present in the album, and her feelings that Gyllenhaal didn’t appreciate her humor (which was also touched on in “I Bet You Think About Me” and “Begin Again”) with 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.”

Swift also accompanied the new version of her classic by directing a short film starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien (who are the same ages of Swift and Gyllenhaal when they dated). The film depicts the heart-wrenching roller coaster of their relationship as they act out scenes that accompany the song. There is a single break in the music where Sink and O’Brien fight. You see Sink break down into tears as O’Brien dismisses her feelings and eventually convinces her she’s being overly sensitive. “Literally a moment that I don’t even f**king remember, that you’re totally holding me hostage over. It’s insane,” O’Brien said. The scene shows tragic insight into Swift and Gyllenhaal’s relationship. The age gap is also uncomfortable for viewers, as Sink gained fame playing a middle schooler on Stranger Things only a few years ago, and O’Brien has been famous since the early 2010s with Teen Wolf. The ending cuts to 13 years later where a grown Swift (now played by the singer herself) releases a book about the story. The time jump lands two years from our time, and has led to fan speculation over a potential book release from her in the near future. 

Overall, the fan experience with the newest release of Red (Taylor’s Version) was beyond expectations, and has completely cemented Swift as a once-in-a-generation talent through both her prodigious songwriting and new exploration into the world of film.