When Taylor Swift announced her plan to re-record her first six records in their entirety, many in the industry questioned whether she ever even would and whether it would be worth it. Label heads told Rolling Stone it wouldn’t work, and the cause of it all, Scooter Braun, reportedly told his investors there is no way she’d follow through. However, hell hath no fury and all that.
With the arrival of Fearless (Taylor’s Version) in April, her plan seemingly came into focus. The record was successful, emulating the songs many grew up with near-perfectly and adding some fun little extras that had been cut from the record in the form of the “(From The Vault)” tracks. For Swift, it gave her power over her music. For fans, It provided a walk down memory lane to the album that saw Swift’s breakthrough. However, with the arrival of Red (Taylor’s Version), perhaps only Swift could see the true benefit of re-recording her early music.
A different energy surrounds the release of Swift’s second re-recorded effort. While Fearless had its day in the sun, Swift’s fourth album Red was largely overshadowed by Swift’s celebrity upon its initial release. The record marked a lot of firsts: her first foray into pop, her first number one circle, and the first time the media had drowned out the music. In early 2012, many were not convinced that Swift’s Red was the masterpiece her fans claimed it to be; they saw it as too in-cohesive, momentarily childish, and then mature in the same breath. The media storm surrounding Swift’s love-life reached a fever pitch at the same time, leading the record to largely be dismissed as a record made by some broken-hearted 22-year-old girl who couldn’t decide if she wanted to make country or pop music.
Hindsight is 20/20 and with time, Red has slowly but surely been paid its dues. Pitchfork retroactively gave it a 9, finally reviewing it almost a decade after its release, and many publications ranked it among the very best of the 2010s, with many finally admitting that it was actually pretty great all along. However, as Taylor’s version arrives, the true advantage of re-releasing Red becomes clear. Almost 10 years after Red was drowned out by the noise that surrounded her, Swift gets to fully re-contextualize the conversation surrounding what many regard as her finest album ever. The opportunity offers some of Swift’s finest and most experimental music a second chance to shine, forcing critics to face the brilliance of songs like ‘All Too Well’, ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’, ‘State of Grace’, ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’.
While on Fearless (Taylor’s Version), the “From The Vault” tracks offered some new material for the fans, on Red (Taylor’s Version), it offers Swift the opportunity to unearth additional examples of how even at 22, Swift was operating on a whole other level to her peers as a songwriter with songs like ‘Better Man’, ‘Nothing New’, and ‘I Bet You Think About Me’ leaving you wondering just how they ended up on the cutting room floor. And, of course, what would Red be without the legend that is the elusive 10-minute version of ‘All Too Well’.
The shining gem of the original recording, the new, expanded version of ‘All Too Well’ is perhaps the most self-indulgent piece of self-crafted Swiftian lore, and yet it miraculously lives up to the hype. Though not every lyric may have been penned 10 years ago, the latest version offers lyrics that will surely go down in history as some of her finest (“You kept me like secret/but I kept you like an oath”, “Just between us/did the love affair maim you too?”), operating as a 10-minute reminder that Swift was (and is) by far and away the finest songwriter of her generation.
Swift has always so wonderfully walked that line between pop-star and singer-songwriter. So few musicians have a discography that contains a Fearless, a 1989, and a Folklore. However, Red was where she first walked that line, and perhaps where she walked it best. The record wasn’t incohesive, rather a masterfully conceptualized look at how messy and un-uniform your early 20s are, full of epic highs and terrible lows that lull and flow like any given run of tracks on Red.
Perhaps if it had been released initially in a world where stars like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo can be regarded as some of the best musicians in the world, this re-contextualization wouldn’t be necessary. But, in 2012, very few were ready to admit Red‘s brilliance, and even fewer even understood it. Now, in 2021, a classic is re-contextualized and regarded as it should have been all those years ago. Stripped is the bias of age and gender (well almost). Instead, those who lamented her are now forced to admit they were wrong. Some may say Swift’s re-recordings are vengeful or even greedy, but at the end of the day, she is simply taking ownership of what she always deserved to control; her music itself and the context that surrounds it.