By Arabella Ahearn
Originally released in 2012, RED was a turning point in Taylor Swift’s career, a connection between her roots in country music and her transition into pop, which was fully solidified with the release of 1989. The album is a testament to love, loss, pain, and growth. It explores nostalgia and the beauty of new starts. Her 2021 re-release RED (Taylor’s Version), a means of regaining ownership over her first six studio albums after their acquisition by Scooter Braun, saw the original 16 songs made bigger and better than before, (although the new vocals in 'We Are Never Getting Back Together' may dispute that claim), along with an additional release of B Sides and songs ‘From the Vault’, with featured artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Ed Sheeran and Snow Patrol. This album reminds me of growing up, and of change. It is an exploration of time and of moving forward.
The original 16 tracks stay true to the 2012 release of RED, with light retouches and more mature vocals that explore the innocence of youth and the evolution of pain. Swift tells stories of the heartbreaks of her youth, bridging the gap between the present and the past. She juxtaposes the joys and the aches of her early career, the ecstatic upbeat “We are never getting back together”, “I Knew You Were Trouble”, “22”, and “Stay, Stay, Stay” contrasting with the melancholy ballads of “Treacherous”, “All Too Well” and “The Lucky One” creating a suite that is able to move through time and space.
The ‘From the Vault’ tracks, (9 unreleased songs from the original RED era), are a testament, once again, to the union of past and present. 31 year old Taylor Swift sings about the trials of her early 20’s, a decade of growth and maturity evident in the power of her vocals. Perhaps the most awaited vault track “Nothing New'', (a collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers), reflects the disillusionment of youth (“I can feel time moving / How can a person know everything at eighteen and nothing at twenty two?), and the fear of losing who you are (“the kind of radiance you only have at seventeen.”) It is gloomy and alienating yet somehow universally relatable, and it is a shame it took a decade for us to be able to listen.
The star of the album however, will forever be the ten minute version of “All Too Well”. Allegedly about her 2010 relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal the song is a chronicle of the pain and loss caused by youthful naivety. The short film starring Dylan O’Brien and Sadie Sink is a masterpiece, every scene and every lyric hits home whether you have experienced a similar relationship or not. Whilst the feelings of resentment Taylor held for her relationship have faded over the years, her words are more poignant than ever (“Did the twin flame bruise paint you blue? / Just between us, did the love affair maim you too?”) While I could pull apart every scene and discuss how it reflects manipulative relationships, performative feminism, insecurity and innocence, I believe that both the song and the film should be enjoyed as whole works of art, with every nuance a testament to growth, love, and fragile optimism.
RED (Taylor's Version) is an album worth savouring. It is a testament to how far we have come, and a precursor to what comes next. I can't wait to see what that will be.
(If you haven't done so already, please, please, please, listen to RED (Taylor's Version) below. You will not regret it.)