Taylor Swift’s “Red (Taylor’s Version)” Album Review

Red (Taylor’s Version) is officially here and I might be okay, but I’m not fine at all! As the official start of sad girl autumn, Taylor Swift released her highly anticipated re-recording of her 2012 album Red.

When she announced Red (Taylor’s Version) earlier in the year, I couldn’t even imagine how Taylor would be able to make this album even better, but of course she always finds a way! Only she can make an album from 2012 into one of the highly anticipated releases of the year, all of which was definitely worth the wait! Red (Taylor’s Version) is comprised of 30 songs and over a 2 hour run-time, making it her longest release yet. It features all 16 of the songs from the original track list, four of the original bonus tracks, and a stand-alone single released in 2012 titled “Ronan”. There are also nine previously unreleased songs from the vault that were never heard before, including a very special ten minute track at the end!

Taylor’s Version is the complete album, the way it was always meant to be. In her initial announcement, she wrote; “Musically and lyrically, Red resembled a heartbroken person. It was all over the place, a fractured mosaic of feelings that somehow all fit together in the end. Happy, free, confused, lonely, devastated, euphoric, wild, and tortured by memories past. Like trying on pieces of a new life, I went into the studio and experimented with different sounds and collaborators. And I’m not sure if it was pouring my thoughts into this album, hearing thousands of your voices sing the lyrics back to me in passionate solidarity, or it was simply time, but something was healed along the way.”

Just like Taylor sang years ago on her song “Fifteen”, “I’ve found time can heal most anything and you just might find who you’re supposed to be,” the story told on Red resembles something so much more now than what it did in 2012. These songs have become the anthems that connected people around the world in their shared experiences and feelings.

If you are unfamiliar with the reason why Taylor is going through the process of re-recording her first 5 albums, I explained the whole story in depth for my Fearless (Taylor’s Version) album review earlier this year. In short, after leaving her first record label Big Machine Records, she doesn’t own the rights to the original master recordings of her first five albums and never had the opportunity to buy them back. Her masters were sold in 2019 for $300 million to Scooter Braun and his company Ithica Holdings, which she said was her “worst case scenario”. She has been very vocal about the situation over the past couple of years and her intentions of re-recording all of her music, which she is able to do because she owns the lyrics and melodies since she wrote them all. In one of her open letters she wrote, “…hopefully, young artists or kids with musical dreams will read this and learn about how to better protect themselves in a negotiation. You deserve to own the art you make.” In order to gain back ownership of her early work, she is embarking on a journey of re-recording every single album and calling them “Taylor’s Version”. The first release was earlier this year with her re-recording of her iconic sophomore album, Fearless, which has proven to be a success as one of the highest-selling albums of the year. I had no idea what her next re-release would be, but I’m so happy it was Red!

Red has always been one of my favorite albums by Taylor, it was released when I was 13 years old and I have so many memories attached to this music. This was such a career-defining era for her, one that set the stage for all of her future releases. Themes from Red carried through in some way into each of her albums since then, some more noticeable than others. Albums like Folklore and Evermore in their entirety feel like they are connected to Red in so many ways. Without Red being the album that it is, I don’t even think those albums would exist. My favorite Red connection is in her song “Daylight” from her 2019 Lover album – she sings, “I used to think love would be burning red, but it’s golden like daylight”. Seeing the way she has grown in her life and in her artistry since this original 2012 release has been beautiful to see. Lyrics like that make me even happier that we get to go back and revisit her old work in such a special way.

Red was her first time experimenting with her sound outside of the country genre. She introduced a bolder pop style on this album, especially with some of the singles, which were released years before she made the full popstar transition with 1989. When I look at the original track list, there are so many songs that jump out at me as being some of the best in her entire discography. It is just as relevant as an album for me when I was 13 and now when I’m 22. I would continuously return to Red over the past nine years because it is something I could always find a new favorite song from or a lyric that connects with me in a way it hasn’t before.

At the core, this album is about love and heartbreak and all of the ups and the downs that she experienced at this point in her life when she was 21 and 22 years old. With the added vault tracks we also get more of an insight on her mindset at that time in an even more vulnerable way, especially when it comes to her dealing with growing up and struggling with her rising fame. She wrote some of her best heartbreak songs on this album, with songs like; “All Too Well”, “The Moment I Knew”, and “I Almost Do”, but some of her best love songs are featured on here too such as; “Holy Ground”, “Everything Has Changed” and “Begin Again”. This album was very experimental for her at the time and has a lot of diversity when it comes to the sound from song to song as well as her lyricism.

Red (Taylor’s Version) begins with the iconic opening track “State of Grace”. I can’t even begin to describe how much I love that song, it is such a masterpiece and perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the record. “Love is a ruthless game, unless you play it good and right” is a sentiment that carries through the entirety of Red. “State of Grace” is one of my most played Taylor songs of all time, which is definitely saying something considering how much I listen to her music! Towards the end of the album, an acoustic version of the song is included, which gives an entirely different vibe to the song, but is equally as beautiful.

Just like she did with Fearless (Taylor’s Version), she brought back most of the musicians she worked with on the original, from the band, background vocals, producers, etc. as well as her old collaborators like Ed Sheeran and Gary Lightbody. She even welcomed some new artists to feature on the vault tracks; Pheobe Bridgers, Chris Stapleton as well as another with Ed Sheeran. All four of the features are just so incredible and fit this album so perfectly.

Ed Sheeran, who was a relatively new artist at the time Red was released in 2012, is featured on two songs – the classic “Everything Has Changed” and a previously unreleased song called “Run”. Both of these songs were written the first week they met a decade ago – since then they have written so many incredible songs together throughout their long-lasting friendship. I’ve always thought that “Everything Has Changed” was such a beautiful song, but something about the harmonies and the instrumentals on Taylor’s Version takes it to another level. “Run” is a song that just feels so comforting and nostalgic, as if it was already a part of the original track list years ago. I always love Taylor and Ed’s collaborations, I look forward to what they make next together!

She brought back Gary Lightbody of the band Snow Patrol for their insanely underrated song “The Last Time”. I never understood why this song is so overlooked because it has always been one of my favorites. It reminds me a lot of her song “Exile” featuring Bon Iver, which feels like the more mature and developed version of “The Last Time”. The conversational style of songwriting that keeps building throughout this song and later with “Exile” is something that always stood out to me. With Taylor’s Version, I was blown away by how much they improved upon the original, their vocals are so much stronger and blend seamlessly together. Most of the songs on this album did stay mostly true to the original, but the small changes they made to this song particularly were a huge improvement.

Other favorites that define Red for me are; “Starlight”, “The Lucky One” and “Holy Ground”. When I think of this album, those three songs have always jumped out at me as some of the best. “Starlight” is such “a marvelous tune”, one that I have always loved and played on repeat consistently for nearly a decade. The Kennedy connection this song has reminds me a lot of “The Last Great American Dynasty” in the way it was written, very folklorian and ahead of its time in that regard. Same with “The Lucky One”, it tells such a detailed story about a starlet who had all of the fortune and fame and gave it up to find true happiness in her life in seclusion. The vivid imagery in the lyrics makes this one of the standout tracks from this album. I can definitely see this existing in the Folklore and Evermore universe, as well especially considering songs like “Dorthea” or “Right Where You Left Me” in that context.

“Holy Ground” is another highlight, one that is just so different from the rest of the album. At this point in the track list, among so many sad ballads that are lamenting a past relationship or her past self, this is a sharp contrast. “Holy Ground” is about reminiscing a relationship in a positive light and although it’s over, you can still look back on the good times and appreciate those memories. She sings, “Tonight, I’m gonna dance for all that we’ve been through.” Sandwiched between some of the saddest songs on the album like “Sad, Beautiful, Tragic” and “The Last Time”, “Holy Ground” provides a much needed break to change the tone. It’s one of the best pop songs she has ever made, in my opinion!

One of the songs I was most excited to hear Taylor’s Version of is “22”! Like I said, this song was originally released when I was 13 and for the past nine years, I think every Taylor Swift fan looked forward to being 22 just for this song. Just a few months ago I turned 22, so I really had the full experience listening to Taylor’s Version of this classic! I don’t know about you, but I’m *actually* feeling 22! Being 22 really is all about feeling happy, free, confused and lonely in the best way! I love that it was released just in time for me to celebrate all year long! She captures the feeling of this time in life perfectly.

While I would say for the most part the new version of these songs are improved upon from the original, whether it is cleaner vocals, minor production adjustments, etc. there are two songs in particular that I still do prefer the original version to; “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble”. Those are two of the biggest singles from the original release, so I really do wish I liked the re-recorded version more. The instrumentals and vocals just don’t seem as full as the originals do, it almost as if they’re missing something from the production. Also the “weee-eee” part in “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” honestly just doesn’t sound good. With these two songs I wish she incorporated some of the elements of the live versions she has performed through the years – with “I Knew You Were Trouble” specifically the style it was performed in on the Red Tour and at the Brit Awards and with “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” the pop rock version she performed at the 1989 Tour. That would’ve kept it true to the original release, while still finding a way to elevate it for Taylor’s Version.

A song that she drastically changed from the original version is what was a relatively obscure bonus track titled “Girl At Home”. Although it wasn’t something I necessarily returned to often, I didn’t mind it in the way some fans did. She ended up changing the simple country song into a hyper-pop mix. If you heard the Elvira “Love Story” or “Willow” remix, it’s basically just like that. It was definitely unexpected when I first heard that song and although it’s not the best, I like how she took the creative liberty to completely change it up from the original. One of the songs that was co-produced by Elvira Anderfjärd and Shellback that works really well with this style is one of the vault songs titled “Message In A Bottle”, it is very different from the rest of the album and would probably suit something like 1989 more, but it is a really fun and cute song.

One that I only recently discovered my love for is “Come Back, Be Here”, which was originally a bonus track on the album. Over the past few months I’ve been playing the original on repeat, which again is a testament to how well this album has aged if you can still find new favorites after all this time. Taylor’s Version is even better, I especially love the bridge; “This is falling in love in the cruelest way, This is falling for you when you are worlds away – In New York, be here, but you’re in London and I break down ’cause it’s not fair that you’re not around”.

As I mentioned before, there are nine songs featured from the vault that were previously unreleased. One is titled “Better Man”, which didn’t make the 2012 cut but was later released by Little Big Town in 2016. A similar situation happened with another vault song titled “Babe”, which was later released in 2018 by Sugarland. This is making me hope we get a solo version of the song “This is What You Came For”, released by Rihanna and Calvin Harris for a Reputation vault track!
Just like she did with Fearless (Taylor’s Version), she invited some of her newer collaborators to give these songs a new life with the production and features. Her main collaborator on both Folklore and Evermore, Aaron Dessner, is back on a few of these songs like “Nothing New” featuring Phoebe Bridgers, “Better Man”, “Run” featuring Ed Sheeran, and “I Bet You Think About Me” featuring Chris Stapleton. All of the music they have made together in just the past year has been absolutely incredible, I’m always looking forward to what they create together next!

My personal favorite vault song on this album and easily one of my favorite songs Taylor has ever written is called “Nothing New” featuring Phoebe Bridgers. She and Taylor remind me a lot of each other in that they can perfectly put complex emotions into words in such an eloquent and unique way through their music. I only just discovered the magic of Phoebe and her music in the past year, but she has quickly become one of my all time favorite lyricists for this very reason. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to hear her collaborate with Taylor on this song.

If her song “22” is all about embracing the fun aspects of this age and being “happy, free, confused and lonely in the best way”, then “Nothing New” is the complete opposite. She talks so candidly about her struggles with growing up and also with accepting the fact that she is nothing new anymore in the context of her fame. The line, “how can a person know everything at 18 and nothing at 22?” is such an incredible lyric and one that I think many young adults can relate to, especially from the female perspective. I cried the first few times I listened to it because of how deeply I connected with the message. Very few songs have been able to connect with me in such a deep way like this before, the only others I can think of off the top of my head are “Ribs” or “Liability” by Lorde and “Mirrorball” by Taylor. It takes such a talented songwriter to be able to express these emotions and shared experiences into words.

The bridge goes back and forth between Taylor and Phoebe’s vocals, “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” – which is her openly struggling with the concept of her inspiring a generation of young female artists to look up to her as role model and realizing that she doesn’t have it all figured out herself. The feeling like time is running out is prevalent in the chorus; “And I wake up in the middle of the night, It’s like I can feel time moving”, while feeling like she hasn’t really grown up, “How long will it be cute, all this crying in my room? When you can’t blame it on my youth and roll your eyes with affection”. It reminds me a lot of a lyric from one of my favorite songs by Taylor called “The Archer”, “I never grew up, it’s getting so old, help me hold onto you.”

When I heard this song, I couldn’t believe that it has stayed unreleased for so long and was cut from the original release. However the more I thought about it, if this song (or any vault song) was released in 2012, it would have been completely different than the way it is today. This makes me so grateful that it was released now for the first time, at the exact time I would be able to connect with it.

Taylor’s longtime collaborator and one of my favorite artists, Jack Antonoff, has been a prominent fixture on every album of her’s since 1989, so I love that he is able to be a part of some of her earlier work in such a special way now too. Every single song they have made together over the years are some of my favorites from her extensive discography, so I was very excited that they were working together once again on two more of my favorite vault songs. The first is “Forever Winter”, which is such a beautifully written song that has some of her best vocals on the album. It sounds almost as if it could have been a part of the 1989 era (I can’t even imagine how amazing those vault songs are going to be!)

The most anticipated song from this album that lived up to all of the hype and then some is “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)”. I didn’t know what to expect going into it, but when I found out it was produced by Jack, I knew it was going to be a magical experience. I thought that the 10 minute version would be sort of a novelty of a song that I listen to a few times and go back to only the standard version of it, but that wasn’t the case at all. I actually haven’t listened to the standard much at all because of just how much I adore the extended version. I have so many thoughts on how much of a masterpiece this song is because there is so many layers to each lyric. Every single song from Red is referenced lyrically in these 10 minutes, it is one of the best examples of her talent for songwriting and the way she can carefully craft an entire story in a single song. It gives such a deeper insight into this album in it’s entirety, every single lyric and choice she made on the initial release of this album completely makes sense now.

In her interview on the Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, she went more in depth about how this song came t be, “I showed up for rehearsals for the Speak Now World Tour, and I was really upset and sad, and everybody could tell – it was like really not fun to be around me that day. And so I started playing guitar and just kind of playing the same four chords over and over again, and the band sort of joined in, and I started ad-libbing what I was going through and what I was feeling, and it went on. The song kept building and building and building in intensity, and the song just went on for about, you know, 10 to 15 minutes of us doing this.” The song had to be cut down to around 5 minutes (which is still fairly long), because it isn’t very common for someone to release a song of that length, especially in 2012 before streaming when radio and CD sales were the most common forms of music. For years, fans have begged for her to release the full version of the song and I can’t believe that it’s finally out! When the original Red was released, “All Too Well” was never a single, or had a music video, or played on the radio – it was purely the fans that made this song into the classic it is today. I love that it is finally getting the treatment it deserves with this release, with multiple versions, a short film, and several live performances.

There are so many lyrics where my jaw literally dropped as I first listened to them and just as I thought the song was over, there was still three minutes left. I have listened to it so many times since and I am still blown away by the magic of this song. I love the original version of “All Too Well” – I fully agree with everyone who says it’s one of her best songs and she completely did justice to the Taylor’s Version of it. Actually one of my favorite lyrics she ever wrote is, “Well, maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much, But maybe this thing was a masterpiece ’til you tore it all up”. I would have been fine with just that and it still would have been one of the best songs on the album, but the 10 minute version is somehow a million times better.

It is very different from the original, the instrumental is very mellow and soft in the classic Jack Antonoff style of production, which I think actually suits the song much better. Lyrically she is much more bitter and angry at the person she is singing about and even herself to an extent, compared to her perspective of the original portraying her looking back sadly at the situation. At some points it’s as if she is ranting in a stream of consciousness because some of the lyrics are so personal in a way she has never opened up about before. Lines like, “And I was never good at tellin’ jokes, but the punch line goes, ‘I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age'” were shocking to hear for the first time and so iconic. One of my favorite lyrics is, “And there we are again when nobody had to know, you kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath, Sacred prayer and we’d swear to remember it all too well”. Another standout verse is; “You who charmed my dad with self-effacing jokes, Sippin’ coffee like you’re on a late-night show, But then he watched me watch the front door all night, willin’ you to come and he said, ‘It’s supposed to be fun turning twenty-one” puts so much perspective into the rest of the album, especially why 22 is a recurring theme throughout. There are so many lyrics that are just so incredible, I can’t even begin to list them all. It doesn’t even feel like a 10 minute song at all, which I think is what makes it really such a masterpiece. Needless to say, “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” was well worth the wait!

After releasing four albums in the span of a year and a half, Red (Taylor’s Version) is yet another stunning release from Taylor Swift. I can’t even imagine what she has coming next and I’m looking forward to whatever that may be!

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