By Hanna Ellington
I was 13 years old when Taylor Swift released Red, a 16-track album in which Swift navigates the complicated dynamics of love and loss. Through her experiences of questioning self-worth, the joys of young adorations, and the aftermath of ill-fated relationships, Swift’s second re-recorded album delivers universal themes and necessary advice to those growing up alongside the songwriter. Now, at 22 years old, I am once again immersed in Swift’s universe, masterfully updated with Red (Taylor’s Version).
The album feels like a visit from a forgotten friend. It delivers ever-poignant advice with a matured perspective, evoking universal themes of heartbreak and change. Concentrated on the intensity and grandeur of love affairs, Swift masterfully encapsulates the emotional intensity paired with growing pains, taking a beyond-her-years and poetic approach to the age-old search for one’s place in the world.
Red, her fourth studio album originally released in 2012, marked Swift’s pivot from her country music origins into the pop sphere, swirling elements of pop hits, country ballads, indie rock, all while making it uniquely her own. In her newest take, Swift sharpens her vocals and refines the musical production to create a fuller-sounding, updated version of her youthful, girlish album. The differences between the old and new versions are subtle, yet the most notable overall change is apparent in Swift’s tone—her age and lower register give new life to the tracks, allowing them to age alongside Swift.
Diverse in its range, Red (Taylor’s Version) covers every nuance of an individual coming of age, showcased in the emotional roller coaster of charming, giddy pop tunes and poetic, melancholic ballads. Expressive and animated anthems like “Red,” “22,” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” contrast sorrowful tracks like “Treacherous,” “I Almost Do,” and “Sad Beautiful Tragic”—all of which are also renamed with (Taylor’s Version). The 30-track album closes with the highly anticipated extended version of “All Too Well,” arguably one of the greatest songs in Swift’s repertoire.
Nearly doubled in runtime, Swift and co-writer Liz Rose unearth previously slashed verses to add achingly sorrowful details to the already heartbreaking narrative. Paired with an emotional short film starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien, the slow-burning song takes listeners on the journey of being swept up in head-over-heels love to the crash-and-burn aftermath of a doomed romance. While the song loses its climactic point from the original version, the updated track is a long-form lament with something for everyone to find solace in.
Adding nine unreleased songs—her ‘From The Vault’ additions that did not make it onto the original album—Swift expands on the album’s original narratives to grapple with being forgotten and alienated amid change. On “Nothing New (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault),” Swift brings in Phoebe Bridgers to discuss the complexities of growing up, tenderly stated in the lyrics “How can a person know everything at eighteen / And nothing at twenty-two?” This chorus deftly encapsulates the trepidation of growing up, something present on my mind as I transition into my newest phase of life.
While some new songs grace the album, others are new in the sense of being sung by Swift. Originally recorded by groups Little Big Town and Sugarland, respectively, Swift reclaims songs “Better Man” and “Babe” and makes them her own. The sentiment of reclaiming her work is a driving force of the album, the second of six albums set to be re-recorded to regain control of her catalog after record executive Scooter Braun sold her master recordings.
Though every song on the album is not a standout smash hit (there are 30, after all), the overall sentiment of revisiting one’s past to propel oneself into the future is important takeaway from the re-recorded album. I am now the same age Swift was when she released Red—22 years old—with an entirely different outlook on life than I had at 13. I have grown up listening to the tales and lessons gifted by Swift, and though most of these songs are not new, their meanings and teachings take on an entirely new meaning in my current stage of life. I cannot wait to see where she guides me next.
Hanna Ellington (she/her) is a writer, social media specialist, and student pursuing her M.A. in Global Media Industries at King’s College London. She adores Fleetwood Mac and Formula 1, is passionate about women’s rights and representation, and can currently be found discovering the best corners of England.
Photos by Beth Garrabrant