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‘Tiis ganda’: When filters capitalize over our imperfections

We’ve inescapably built our personas on the cutthroat internet, making the world witnesses to the countless phases and trends we undergo. With the pandemic strapping us at home, we’ve been harsher in scrutinizing ourselves behind the screens.

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Screengrab from ‘Perfect Blue’ (1997)

The nausea of feeling naked without our filters on was the problem. Incomplete, vulnerable, and crisp from the eyes of the world.

Back when Instagram didn’t feel so dystopic and programmed, 11-year-old me simply joined the bandwagon of an unproblematic and wholesome feed of teenagers who were hopping onto the trend of mustache shirts, taking pictures of *supposedly* aesthetic Nutella jars, and posing with those infinity signs. 

I’m 19 now, and maybe my veteran experience on this app has turned me into the self-critical hog I am that probes into every inch of my body and face today. Simply existing even, putting emphasis on your quirkiness, beauty, and relatability was enough for your persona to be capitalized online. 

Admittedly, I am an active participant in this social realm that is parasitical on external validation and acceptance. There’s this instinctive feeling to show to the world what they need to know about me—what I am, what I’m not thanks to this dreamy yet nightmarish reality my phone has brought. People have made social media an extension of themselves: their virtues, principles, habits, among others. Those were advantageous, market-friendly to capture the internet’s expansive audience’s niche. 

One of my best-loved films is Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue. It mirrors the story of Mima Kirigoe, (Junko Iwao) who was a dejected, retired idol who falls into disillusionment with self-image and society.

We’ve inescapably built our personas on the cutthroat internet, making the world witnesses to the countless phases and trends we undergo.With the pandemic strapping us at home, we’ve been harsher in scrutinizing ourselves behind the screens.

Screengrab from ‘Perfect Blue’ (1997)

Instagram became my living testament for romanticizing some of my unexciting daily habits and ephemeral tasks into something fairylike: posting my outfits, selfies, my lunch for the day, recording my decorated notes, flatlay desk, and whatever else looked pleasant. 

But what I enjoyed the most were the app’s filters. It’s a feature for digital users to strike a pose and retouch themselves behind pre-edited edits and lenses. Just like a glowing buffet, you’re able to select a delectable array of choices made by different users catered to different people and interests. Some would improve your phone’s lighting and turn a dull scenery into a bright, saturated one. Scroll more to try on harmless frames, stickers, quizzes, and sparkles. So what makes it so innocuous?

A certain formula was stitched with societal expectations. It was all fun and games back when Snapchat filters gave us flower crowns and dog filters, until it intrusively lightened our skin into porcelain, defined our jaws into a more chiseled one, and plumped our lips. It made me realize that I had “imperfect” features which didn’t fit society’s standards—characteristics that unfortunately, I can’t quite get rid of. 

I wanted cherry blossoms on my cheeks, not a Bratz-like filter that made me completely unrecognizable! But what was stopping me from completely deleting it? 

Regardless, this virtual surgery was a convenient and enjoyable fix that got you glammed up in a second. But when we pull away from these layers, we’re abruptly distraught with our real selves. 

The toll on mental health and self-perception

Screenshots from Instagram Effect Gallery

The nausea of feeling naked without our filters on was the problem. Incomplete, vulnerable, and crisp from the eyes of the world.

Let’s unpack the spiteful truth. We’ve never really paid attention to our asymmetrical features in the first place. Not until how apps like Tiktok would jokingly pinpoint the way we walked, our smile lines (which is normal), and a whole lot more. Unaccustomed to seeing their unmirrored face, users thought this inverted Tiktok face trend made their confidence plummet. 

With over 60 million downloads, it’s irresistible to download Facetune—an app that tweaks and modifies your face and your body to your liking. “The fashion industry uses airbrush and digital enhancement to portray the ‘ideal’ female and male body. These images promote unrealistic standards that are impossible to achieve,” psychiatrist Anne Morris said.  

Feeling more comfortable with their “better” self, thanks to these filters, some opt to become a carbon copy of their virtual self. Snapchat dysmorphia is a concerning phenomenon that has driven people to consult aestheticians and surgeons to alter their appearance inspired by social media filters.  

Last year, Instagram claimed it would remove all beauty filters that promoted plastic surgery. Although many users supported this cosmetic surgery ban, the social media app has yet to thoroughly widen and apply its policies and investigate more harmful filters. 

It’s no lie that the sky-rocketing likes and shares we receive release dopamines. Studies have reinforced that these come as rewards for social appraisal and validation. But it’s alarming to see how an excess of this has resulted in depression, anxiety, and bullying among young women and adolescents in studies. 

To disassociate and neglect ourselves because we are not as perfect as others or our perfect self online is disturbing. 

Fetishization and colorism

“As a woman of color, I wish I could find a filter that doesn’t lighten my skin,” writer Morgan Jerkins shared

If you thought you could get past the concerning skin-whitening section in Philippine groceries, these virtual filters won’t simply let you through. 

The narrow nose, porcelain skin, and bright blue eyes were all features attributed to the ‘Instagram Face’ — adhering to Eurocentric and Caucasian beauty standards. To women of color, these exclusive filters have unwelcomed and whitewashed them, as its ideals only flatter light-toned people. 

“ It was as if the algorithmic tendency to flatten everything into a composite of greatest hits had resulted in a beauty ideal that favored white women capable of manufacturing a look of rootless exoticism,” Jia Tolentino critiques, slamming the biases of the Instagram industry in her piece, ‘The Age of the Instagram Face’. With this power of social media, it seems that everything can be transformed virtually with the flick of a wrist. 

https://www.instagram.com/p/CDvitOeH-Jl/?hl=en

Blackface filters are also pervasive online, with several users mocking and appropriating minorities and POC. “We are in our skin for life, not for likes,” activist Vaani Kaur wrote on Instagram, addressing the “chocoskin” filter’s vulnerability to fetishization and exoticism. 

Losing identity in the pursuit of everyone’s uniqueness and beauty 

READ  'The Best of Me': Relive the past, treasure the present, shape the future

Before the glitz and glam of the Instagram milieu, there was a quiet space for Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg thought of mirroring the Facebook community as if it were real life in 2005. In short, the portal of human beings would thrive on this social media platform. 

The Facebook CEO’s predictions are not wrong. We’ve mostly made our presence known on the internet anyway, so might as well let our selfhood live under its surveillance. 

Ergo, we are left with little to none when our quirks and individualities are exploited by the patriarchy on one hand and capitalism on the other. 

We pit against each other as shallow beings when we’ve failed to identify the true suspects — the multi-million companies and digital stock markets that have defined what works and what is beautiful, leaving us miserable under the male approval’s thumb once we fail to match the spitting image of our filters. 

Their rags-to-riches autobiographies are meant to be inspirational. But what they don’t want to break to us is how we’re pawns lining up like everyone else waiting to serve them as we optimize our imperfections while they reap from our selfhood. 

Now don’t get me wrong. Social media influencers and celebrities that just fit the golden ratio or unapologetically enjoy these filters aren’t responsible for our discomfort and insecurities. Filtered or unfiltered, it neither makes us less human nor less us. 

Body positivity and acceptance are personal journeys with oneself that take time and space. It is ridiculous for an exploitative society to dictate where our happiness will arise by telling us to instinctually optimize our flaws.

None of us owe the world anything whether we’re ready to fall into these categories, embrace, or just feel okay with our bodies. It was enough to feel and be valid and normal, rather than ironically feeling disempowered from a mainstream and unhealthy form of body positivity and myths of individual success. Some users started their own movement here by debunking media stereotypes: 

Screenshots from Tiktok

Several users on Tiktok came together to join the supportive “Bodies that look like this also look like this,” trend in which users begin to normalize their flaws and breaking fake media stereotypes — sucking in their toned abs then revealing their natural body rolls when slouched down and zooming in their unfiltered blemishes. Local Instagram gurus also joined a campaign for Women’s Month last March by posting unfiltered selfies that showed their unchanging beauty, with or without filters and make-up. 

At the end of the day, all the angles and filters made the desirable illusion of a perfect face and body.

Where to? 

Screengrab from ‘Perfect Blue’ (1997)

So is it our calling to cancel and boycott filters, users, and social media? No. The next step is to hold social media companies liable in discerning plain fun and harm-inducing filters, while strengthening concrete policies that eradicate unethical and dangerous features their users have fallen victim to. 

But more importantly, it starts with us killing two birds with one stone. We should not equate our ideal online facade — the number of likes we receive — as the basis of our self-worth. 

If you’re like me, an active user on the gram who habitually compares her uninspired life to the ‘better’ lives of others, maybe it’s time to modify your algorithm by rethinking what you only want to see on your feed. Don’t stop yourself from using these entertaining filters, but beware of damaging features you might want to uninstall and the toxic influencers you might need to unfollow. 

Social media is meant to be an inclusive and shared avenue when we can’t be physically there for one another. Trends will always emerge so the FOMO will always linger, and it’s inevitable. 

Allot some headspace and give yourself a break from the crazy trails of social media once in a while. Eventually, you’ll find authentic and inner empowerment not in the translucent faces of these filters and lenses, but from yourself. 

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Let your unfiltered feelings flow with ‘The Purple Project’

Delve into their introspective project that fosters safe spaces for emotional health by dropping meaningful messages, joining collaborations, and copping cute apparel.  

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Photo courtesy of Hiatus Manila

For an eventful world that doesn’t seem to pause, we can’t help but sometimes want calmness to descend. In this pandemic, we tend to dilute our feelings to the side, churning down the thoughts and emotions of what we truly want to convey. 

Gazes, playlists, love languages, quality time, you name it. The mundane and spontaneous are enough to affirm us that it is okay to simply feel and take a deep breath. Akin to the color purple, consisting of different variations and tones, it tells us that our feelings can radiate in dreamy lilacs or to darker shades of solitude, making us completely valid and capable of feeling. And this is the culture of care Hiatus Manila’s The Purple Project devotes itself to. 

The Purple Project aims to echo unsaid feelings, value self-care, and reach out to those in need by evoking meaningful connections. Delve into their introspective project that fosters safe spaces for emotional health by dropping meaningful messages, joining collaborations, and copping cute apparel by referring to the mechanics: 

  1. They will be using a Google Form where the audience can drop their purple thoughts (which should be done anonymously) and they will be sharing them weekly.  
  2. They will also be posting short videos of tips and advice on how to take better care of themselves in collaboration with other artists/influencers. 
  3. Most importantly, the proceeds from this project will be allotted in establishing a foundation to provide materials/needs to target communities/partners.

In their previous projects, #HiatusCares and #ThePurpleProject, participants were encouraged to take part and post film photos that they wanted to share, especially what they miss and what they felt (e.g. missing friends and face-to-face classes). 

Photo courtesy of Hiatus Manila

But that’s not it! Get your chance to cop the “Mean It” shirts and hoodies, which contain words shared by those who participated in The Purple Thoughts drop box. Proceeds of this project will be used for donations to chosen charity.

You can also visit their Instagram: @hiatus.mnl for more updates. 

Mikaela Gabrielle de Castro
Blogs Editor, Blogs Writer | + posts

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#PpopRising: 6 P-Pop groups worth listening to

As a response to the prevalent phenomenon of K-pop, there has been a fueled interest in the renaissance of sensational P-pop groups. But which of them are worth listening to?

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Artwork by Mikaela Gabrielle de Castro/TomasinoWeb

Let’s get local! From the legendary APO Hiking Society to the best-selling Philippine female group of all time, SexBomb Girls, we are no strangers when it comes to local music groups. Why? It’s because we love singing, particularly songs that touch our pathos. Truth be told, our country could even become synonymous with karaoke. And it wouldn’t be long, let alone shocking, if there comes a time a Filipino will be born with a silver mic. 

But nowadays, the Korean music industry continues to dominate our domestic airwaves. Just looking on Twitter, it’s a no-brainer that many K-pop fans are also Filipinos. So as a response to this prevalent phenomenon, there has been a fueled interest in the renaissance of sensational P-pop groups. But which of them are worth listening to?

To give you an idea about our emerging P-pop acts, here are six groups that are uncontrollably rising in the local scene.

1. BGYO

Photo courtesy of Instagram/bgyo_ph

Following the classic adage, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” it’s also the same for BGYO. Trained under Filipino and Korean mentors for two years to become idols, it was a long time coming for members Gelo, Akira, JL, Mikki, and Nate. Pronounced as “B-G-Y-O,” the all-male quintet’s arrival to the local music scene seems like an advent.

Obviously, expectations are high and the pressure is real, but they didn’t disappoint. Less than a year since their debut, BGYO proves that they’re unstoppable. 

Albeit rookies, they successfully tapped the international arena after dropping their debut album, The Light, last October. After charting in several countries, it is safe to say that they are on track with their goal to deliver empowerment and inspiration. My favorite from the album is ‘When I’m With You,’ as it reminds me of a laid-back One Direction song. 

That’s why it also seems fitting that BGYO’s fandom is called ACEs. Like the playing card, they are becoming a symbol of high quality and excellence. Not only do they offer an infusion of pop and electro-dance in their songs, but this five-member boy group also has a high sense of youthful fashion that I bet many influencers could learn a thing or two thereof.

No wonder it’s easier to pronounce their name as bagyo — a fitting mistake that makes sense because they’re poised to be the baddest storm of them all. 

2. BINI

Photo courtesy of Instagram/bini_ph

Being the sister group of BGYO in Star Hunt Academy, the irresistible girl group BINI first appeared in public with their captivating rendition of Ryan Cayabyab’s nostalgic novelty song,Da Coconut Nut.’ And of course, there’s no doubt that their fanbase, called Bloom, would grow upon watching their first-ever music video. But frankly, it’s not a walk in the park for members Aiah, Colet, Maloi, Gwen, Stacey, Mikha, Jhoanna, and Sheena.

Together with BGYO, BINI has been working hard over the past two years. So for them, coming on stage together is more than a dream come true. Eventually, they debuted with a rather familiar song, ‘Born to Win,’ which gives me an early 2010s electro-pop vibe. But don’t let that stop you from listening to them. 

Indeed, I stand corrected upon listening to BINI’s debut album with the same name. ‘Born to Win’ contains bops, from the funky ‘Golden Arrow,’ to the euphoric ‘Kapit Lang’—all of which you can tune in all day long, all year long. With their charming voices and flawless dance moves, they are definitely worthy of numerous praises. 

Similar to their brother group, Born to Win is a testament to BINI’s future aspirations of global fame. In fact, the sibling groups recently had their first online concert, ‘One Dream,’ last Nov. 6 and 7. And perhaps, there are more concerts to come for the girls of BINI.

3. ALAMAT

Photo courtesy of Twitter/Official_ALAMAT

Want to stan a group that is extremely proud to represent their Filipino roots? Say no more.

Multilingual group ALAMAT loves to experiment with their singles. Starting their journey with debut single, ‘kbye,’ the eight-member act absolutely understood the assignment. Combining several Filipino languages in a catchy breakup song is like virtually visiting the different regions of the country.

ALAMAT comprises of Taneo, Mo, Tomas, R-ji, Valfer, Alas, Gami, and Jao. Each one of them is a representation of our deep and immemorial Filipino culture. The group’s distinctive sense of style, which is derived from traditional Filipino influences, has been their brand.

Daring to be unique and legendary, ALAMAT will pull off anything up their sleeve, even if that means getting out of their comfort zone. And that is visually evident in the music video for their single, ‘kasmala,’ which is a hot take on discrimination towards Filipinos.

Moving to their latest single, ALAMAT’s sentimental take on the 2011 Chavacano hit ‘Porque,’ originally sung by Maldita, is also a feast for the ears. A trip down memory lane, these extraordinary boys mix lo-fi together with traditional Filipino instruments in a way to declare to the world how versatile they are. Might as well add it on your study playlist!

4. LITZ

Photo courtesy of Twitter/official_litz

There’s a new girl (group) in town, and they’re ready to shine!

Within a few days after releasing their pre-debut single, ‘Natataranta,’ LITZ already accumulated more than 250,000 views and 25,000 likes on its music video. A JaDine fan would know that LITZ’s single is actually a cover of James Reid’s song in the 2014 teen romcom film Diary ng Panget. But what, or rather, who prepared them to be ready?

It was no other than celebrated choreographer Teacher Georcelle, the founder of the dance company G-Force and who was also the one who coined the group’s name. If you’re unfamiliar with her, she’s basically the mastermind behind the iconic choreography of Sarah Geronimo’s ‘Tala,’ the 2015 record-breaking hit that became a dance craze after resurfacing on TikTok.

With that kind of expertise, members Ashtine, Heart, Fatima, Bianca, and Yumi definitely learned from the best. And needless to say, it manifested in their praiseworthy performance of ‘Natataranta.’

Unfortunately, if you’re asking when they are going to release their official debut single, there’s no specific date yet. On a positive note, you can always check out LITZ’s social media accounts

5. 4TH IMPACT

Photo courtesy of Twitter/4thImpactMusic

Perhaps the most mature act on the list, one should not brush off a group like 4th Impact. Being in the global music scene for six strong years, the all-female quartet deserves more appreciation from Gen-Z.

Although the group was formed at the suggestion of their aunt nearly two decades ago, it was only in 2015 when sisters Almira, Irene, Mylene, and Celina reached the spotlight after competing in X Factor UK where they finished fifth place. Currently, the most streamed video in the history of the British show, 4th Impact’s audition video covering Jessie J’s ‘Bang Bang’ has already over 180 million views.

Soon afterward, their performances were highly anticipated worldwide during the X Factor Live Tour. Over the next four years, the girls’ calendar was jam-packed with live tours and shows all over the world. And in 2020, 4th Impact released their first original song, ‘K(no)w More.’ Accompanied by their powerful vocals, their latest single screams attagirl—an encouragement to get out of that toxic relationship. 

Today, the four sisters focus more on their online engagement with their fans, particularly on TikTok and KUMU, where they won the Celebrity of the Year for the 2020 KUMU Special Awards. With that, I’m confident to say that their future will further slay, so get ready for it!

6. SB19

Photo courtesy of Twitter/SB19Official

Saving the best for the last, if you’re still reading this article and you haven’t listened yet to SB19, you’re missing out big time. A year before all of us were forced to stay home, SB19 got their deserving big break in 2019 after netizens crazed over the group’s synchronized dancing in their second single ‘Go Up.’

But before emerging in the scene, SB19 admitted that they almost decided to disband and give up their dreams. Sadly, this is the heartbreaking reality in the Philippine music industry, where musicians and artists alike have to cling to big names in order to survive the dog-eat-dog world of entertainment. 

Since then, members Josh, Pablo, Stell, Ken and Justin continuously spread their influence with titles that shows their versatility and multiple talents in songwriting, singing, and dancing. And these characteristics are still greatly displayed in their extended play, ‘Pagsibol.’ With tracks like ‘What?,’ ‘Bazinga,’ and ‘Mapa,’ we all know that they have yet to reach their peak.

Even though they’re last on this list, they’re certainly the first in many things. Just this May, the group was nominated for the Billboard Music Awards’ Top Social Artist along with huge international names like Ariana Grande and Seventeen. Fast forward to October, the group was also nominated for the Best Southeast Asia Act at the 2021 MTV Europe Music Awards.

Among all contemporary P-pop groups, SB19 is currently the most streamed artist on Spotify. Personally, I believe it’s destiny, not luck, that the boys landed on newspapers and on the minds of the Filipino youth. And it’s becoming a reality that they are now paving the way for future generations of P-pop groups.

Majority of these local acts debuted amid the pandemic. Albeit unfortunate, it’s in our hands, as listeners and patrons of good music, to introduce their songs beyond the local scene. 

Supporting our local music is the first step in appreciating our very own acts. P-pop groups, from BINI to ALAMAT to SB19, have so much to offer and all of them are just waiting for us to hear them. And it’s still a challenge that some people continue to call them baduy.

This isn’t trying to overshadow K-pop and show spite towards South Korean idols. Rather, this is #PpopRising, and quoting the wise words of SB19: “Yeah we gonna go up.”

Kurt Alec Mira
Blogs Writer | + posts
READ  'The Best of Me': Relive the past, treasure the present, shape the future

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‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’ is a memoir of the heartbreak woes we kept like an oath

‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’ serves as Swift’s letter to her younger self, presenting a person who has grown, matured, and overcome the tribulations that shaped her fears and stripped off her self-agency.

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Photo courtesy of Taylor Swift’s official Instagram

Circa 2014, Taylor Swift announced her partnership with ice-cream brand Selecta Cornetto to promote the Asian leg of her Red tour. Along with the limited edition black forest and raspberry ice cream wrapped in the album’s logo, fans were given the chance to win a pair of tour tickets, signed merch, or even perform as an opening act. 

It was, of course, any Swiftie’s dream to see her in the flesh. While I was not blessed with the natural gift of performing, I did have a knack for devouring anything sweet. Long story short, the majority of my allowance during eighth grade was spent on frequent trips to 7-11 to buy a 20-peso ice cream cone. I cannot vividly recall how many lids I collected and how much sugar I consumed, but sadly, it was not enough to nab a concert ticket or merch. Needless to say, Red was the Taylor Swift album that had me in a chokehold. 

Heeding to the plea of her beloved fans, Miss Americana Taylor Swift dropped Red (Taylor’s Version) on Friday, Nov. 12. The 30-track album marks the second rerecording of her masters following an ownership dispute with her previous label in 2019. Since its release, Swift’s version broke two Spotify records in one day. Its perfect score from Rolling Stone also makes Red (Taylor’s Version) the first Swift album and the 21st album of this century to receive such accolade. 

For an album that influenced my impulsive buys (which I hold no shame for), it’s more than gratifying to see and hear it come alive again after nine years—but this time, with a hint of freedom. 

Recreating the autumn of 2012

If there were words to describe the fall of 2012, it would be a grande nonfat caramel latte with two shots of Jake Gyllenhaal, a drizzle of London heartbreak, and a red scarf on the side. But as a good friend of mine said, “There are no words to describe Red, only tears.” 

Most of the tracks on the old version capitalized on acoustic and electric guitars, percussion, strings, mandolins, harmonicas, and acoustic drums—a signature Swift sound that we’ve all audibly missed. Red (2012) was already laced with excruciating pain and rage, but the crisp instrumentals, additional reverb, and ethereal harmonies, and background vocals in Red (Taylor’s Version) made those emotions more poignant. 

‘State of Grace (Taylor’s Version),’ ‘Red (Taylor’s Version),’ and ‘22 (Taylor’s Version)’ has more amplified acoustics and punchier bass, while ‘Girl At Home (Taylor’s Version)’ gets its own Mia Thermopolis makeover thanks to Elvira Anderfjärd’s pop and electronic touch. Contrastingly, some instrumentals are also toned down in a few songs. In ‘All Too Well (Taylor’s Version),’ the electric guitar between verses is softer, somehow mellowing a rather heart-rending track. 

Besides the emotional realism depicted in each song, Red (2012) was noteworthy for pioneering Swift’s collaborations with other artists in her succeeding albums. 

Even after almost a decade, the sweet and gentle timbre of Ed Sheeran and Swift’s vocals persevered. ‘Everything Has Changed (Taylor’s Version)’ gives us a more mature sound about what seemingly feels like a Flipped love story. Rather than our exes or TOTGAs, it leaves us to reminisce about the times we’ve shared with the Juli Baker or Bryce Loski of our lives.

As dreamy as Sheeran’s feature may be, her collaboration with Gary Lightbody in ‘The Last Time (Taylor’s Version)’ is gut-wrenching enough to deserve its own 10-minute version or short film. This prelude to folklore’s ‘exile’ cuts deeper with its soft yet melancholic verse between two lovers at a breaking point in their relationship. The tension between the dialogue of Swift and Lightbody accentuates the uncertainty and fragility one feels when placed in the same spot. 

Sheeran and Lightbody definitely understood the assignment of how a rerecording should be done. But if there was anyone who outsold the previous version, it was Swift herself. 

In all 30 tracks, Swift delves into her psyche to convey the burning sensation of a “twin flame bruise” or how saying hello risked another goodbye. With every sigh she exclaims and breath she holds between verses, the intensity of the emotions augments, giving us an agonizing taste of what that blow to the chest felt like 10 years ago.

Swift’s vocals in this rerecording are evidently more resonant and have more power, almost abandoning the strain and grit of her country era. Despite being strikingly similar to the previous version, the changes in her vocal tone and inflection help give the rerecording its own character. And so, Red (Taylor’s Version) serves as Swift’s letter to her younger self, presenting a person who has grown, matured, and overcome the tribulations that shaped her fears and stripped off her self-agency.

Sincerely, Taylor from the future

As on Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Swift sought the help of pop masterminds Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff in the production of this album’s vault tracks. Joining the team was Swedish producer Elvira Anderfjärd, who once worked on a remix of ‘Love Story (Taylor’s Version).’ The difference in their music style clearly showed, as songs either fitted the epithet of Red or of other Swift albums. 

The OG Swifties would know by heart that ‘Better Man’ and ‘Babe’ didn’t make the cut in 2012, and were instead given to Little Big Town and Sugarland, respectively. Thanks to Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun’s treachery, we finally got to hear Swift’s rendition of these two tracks. 

Dessner pays homage to Swift’s country roots, utilizing a variety of acoustic and folk instruments in ‘Better Man (Taylor’s Version)’ and ‘I Bet You Think About Me (Taylor’s Version).’ With its indie-folk genre, ‘Nothing New (Taylor’s Version)’ could pass as either a folklore track or a record of Phoebe Bridgers herself. Meanwhile, ‘Run (Taylor’s Version)’ revisits Sheeran’s mellow sound in + (Plus) and Divide—one which I’ve personally longed for. 

Antonoff keeps it classic with pop, percussive guitars in ‘Babe (Taylor’s Version)’ and ‘Forever Winter (Taylor’s Version).’ With the coveted ‘All Too Well (10 Minute Version),’ the Bleachers lead singer whips a 1989 ‘Clean’-esque production with a dash of folklore and Lorde’s Solar Power

2010s pop and Barbie aesthetic fills ‘Message in a Bottle (Taylor’s Version)’ as Swift goes experimental. Anderfjärd’s work on the track ties well more with 1989’s core, and as something that frankly deserves a Carly Rae Jepsen feature. 

While the vault tracks each had a unique color, the context of Swift’s lyrics was still grounded on the tear-inducing nuances of young love encapsulated in Red. 

Swift belts out the sorrows and regrets of a love that’s gone to waste in ‘Better Man (Taylor’s Version)’ and ‘Forever Winter (Taylor’s Version).’ She then reels in the reality of an inevitable heartbreak in ‘The Very First Night (Taylor’s Version)’ and ‘Babe (Taylor’s Version).’

But of all the vault tracks, ‘Nothing New (Taylor’s Version)’ was the most universal—that is, it spoke not only to those who have been victimized by Cupid but also to those who struggled with the growing pains of adulthood. 

At the end of the first verse, Swift asks, “Lord, what will become of me / Once I’ve lost my novelty?” The soul-crushing “How did I go from growing up to breaking down?” snowballs into a slough of despond as the chorus reaches its climax: “How can a person know everything / At 18, but nothing at 22?”

As children, we were forged to be dreamers who envisioned ourselves accomplishing great things, or so we thought. Transitioning to adulthood is wading through raging floodwaters of tears, anxieties, and endless dilemmas. It’s perhaps the most vulnerable and volatile phase of living—one day you’re a free butterfly, but the next day your wings either get cut or you simply get tired of flying. 

Some of us easily get back on our feet, but the rest endure cycles of lethargy. As Swift puts it in the chorus, you stare at the ceiling with what seems like your nth bottle of liquid courage and wonder if people would still value you as a non-entity just as much as a dreamer. 

Swift’s lyricism in the vault tracks proves that her poetry can translate as an anthem of heartbreak woes for the broken or existential fears and mundane realities for the non-romantics. 

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

Every second of ‘All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)’ was a hard punch to the solar plexus, but we knew there was always more to the story we screamed like an anthem of unity. The 10-minute version strips further to its core and gives us the most visceral pain of an unrequited turned toxic love affair—an experience that we’ve both yearned and dreaded. 

Swift’s unabridged retelling in the track and short film recalls a short-lived autumn romance that was taken for granted. Through her metaphoric lyricism and the female gaze, the audience and listeners are privy to her innermost thoughts and emotional turmoil of being suffocated for “three months in the grave.”

The first line immediately paints their love story as a disaster waiting to happen. “I walked through the door with you, the air was cold” is an antithesis to love supposedly being a warm feeling. Swift then uses the scarf she left as the focal point in their story, which is later conveyed in the film as the bitter aftertaste of overfamiliarity in relationships. 

 

Screengrab from YouTube/Taylor Swift

The exposition of the tragedy continues as Swift highlights the hypocrisy of her former flame’s “F*ck the patriarchy” keychain and his disrespectful behavior towards her. In an age where feminism is celebrated, there are a good few who establish genuine support for the equality of the sexes. Yet, there is also a handful who use feminist values as a facade to mask their impertinence and misogyny. These performative feminists march around with women empowerment on their chest for the sake of being seen as politically correct. They only show up when it’s convenient for them or when silence will put them in a bad light. This performativity merely touches on the superficial issues and instead exacerbates the root causes. 

Red flags are waving left and right, yet the couple still finds themselves back in each other’s arms. “Cause there we are again in the middle of the night / We’re dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light,” Swift recalls. Initially, this line seems to describe a sentimental memory that will make you go ‘aww.’ However, the film clarifies the context by juxtaposing the actors with contrasting hues to show the rift that had already torn open despite their countless reconciliations. The girl is illuminated by the golden hue from the window, signifying how she was still enamored of him; whereas the guy stands against the background of cold blue light, reflecting the emptiness he felt. 

Screengrab from YouTube/Taylor Swift

Building on the climax, Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well is quoted in the third verse. In contrast to how Swift used it in ‘Lover,’ the idiom is given a different meaning in the track. “They say all’s well that ends well, but I’m in a new Hell” strongly denotes that cutting ties with one another was not as easy as letting bygones be bygones. Swift makes this more prominent with Pablo Neruda’s “Love is so short, forgetting is so long” in the short film.

Ultimately, Swift reveals that the collapse of their relationship was rooted in the unequal dynamic of their relationship primarily driven by their age difference. “You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine,” she writes in the third verse. Their stark age gap is cleverly reinforced in the film through the casting of Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink and Teen Wolf’s Dylan O’Brien. Since we were so used to seeing Sink as a child in the TV show, putting her in one frame with a fully grown man was undeniably unsettlinga concern that the public merely shrugged off 10 years ago.

It’s no secret that some men (and women) prefer to date those in their early 20s because of their relative immaturity. At first, Swift’s ex places her under the false pretense that she gets the upper hand. But as their story unfolds, it was evident that he was the only one on the pedestal, the only one in control. Deviating from the original chorus, she cathartically exclaims, “You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath” to recount how the one-sided secrecy of their love affair was a catalyst to their fallout. The infamous kitchen fight scene in the film further manifests the precariousness of this unequal dynamic with her ex’s blatant gaslighting and belittling remarks.

Screengrab from YouTube/Taylor Swift

Women who are intentionally victimized by these types of men are consigned to the ingénue, which Swift mentions in one of her vault tracks. The ingénue is more often than not restricted to her essence of being a young, idealist, innocent, and naive woman (In Filipino culture, this could be embodied by Maria Clara). Swift alludes to this aspect of cultural misogyny through the line, “The idea you had of me, who was she? / A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you,” implying that her former lover only saw her for her fawn-eyed innocence and as an accessory that made him revel in his conceitedness. He further adds insult to injury by seemingly charming her father, but couldn’t be bothered to show up on her 21st birthdayan occasion that was supposed to be memorable. 

The denouement of ‘All Too Well’ evokes the aftermath of the storm. Swift denotes that, indeed, old habits die hard: “And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punch line goes / “I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age.”” In the next line, “From when your Brooklyn broke my skin and bones / I’m a soldier who’s returning half her weight,” she alludes to the skin and bones lyric she penned in ‘Treacherous (Taylor’s Version)’ to describe the essence of a human being. So, this is simply her way of letting us grasp how detrimental the relationship was for her well-being to the point that it shattered her core. She closes the chapter by remembering how it feels to be alive even after being buried six feet underground by something that was never real.

Screengrab from YouTube/Taylor Swift

As great as other Swift tracks may be, I would go as far as to say that ‘All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)’ is her magnum opus. It seems like a deja entendu because it is. Not only does it give us more context of their soul-piercing romance, but also broadens our understanding of human behavior by emphasizing the importance of basic human decency and doing the bare minimum. More importantly, it reminds us to never settle for less. We enter relationships not to find someone to complete us, but instead to find someone who will complement us. So that even when the ship sinks, the pain would leave you whole, not hollow. And for that, we have Taylor to partly thank. 

Reclaiming what has always been ours

“Red is about to be mine again, but it has always been ours,” Swift wrote in a tweet on the day Red (Taylor’s Version) was released. In an interview with Seth Myers, she happily expressed that anything with “(Taylor’s Version)” next to it is finally hers. And rightfully so. 

The success of Swift’s versions surpassing that of the previous is not only a reflection of her loyal fanbase, it’s poetic justice. With all the numbers and figures Swift’s rerecordings (including Fearless (Taylor’s Version)) have achieved, the pop hitmaker is well on her way to regain back what she has lost at the hands of greedy businessmen but at an even greater scale. 

From its production, writing, to its visualization, Red (Taylor’s Version) stands the test of time. Preeminently, it is a testament of Swift’s courage and determination as an artist and as a woman in the music industry, and we’re more than excited about the path she’s about to take next. It’s Taylor’s world, and we’re just living in it. 

I’m personally betting on 1989 (Taylor’s Version), but who knows? For now, wrap that red scarf around your neck and stream Red (Taylor’s Version)

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