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

9 min read‘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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Published over 2 years ago on November 19, 2021

by TomasinoWeb

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Photo courtesy of Taylor Swift’s official Instagram

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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

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

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 unsettling—a 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

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 birthday—an 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

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).

All Too Well (10 Minute Version)

Red Scarf

Red TV

Taylor Swift

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