By Olivia Ruiz
Defying all expectations, Taylor Swift’s nine-year-old re-recording of her country/pop album Red has broken several streaming records, garnering over 340 million streams in less than a week of its release.
Swift first announced she was going to re-record her first six studio albums after her former record label, Big Machine Records, sold her entire catalog to music mogul Scooter Bruan; as a result, many fans, including myself, were left wondering what this decision would mean for the songs we had grown to love. As happy as fans were to have our favorite singer reclaim control over her life’s work, we were still concerned about how Swift planned to remake songs released upwards of ten to thirteen years ago. The release of the singer’s first re-recorded country album, Fearless, tallied over 50 million streams on the first day of its release, making it evident that the re-recordings could not only achieve mass commercial success but appealed to fans because it allowed them to travel back in time with their favorite artist. However, there was significantly more anticipation for Red (Taylor’s Version) from fans because of the revolutionary way the album mixed country, rock, and pop, rendering it impossible to imagine Swift’s current discography without it.
Red, originally released on October 22nd, 2012, was Swift’s fourth studio album. Although she was already launched into the spotlight because of her hit songs “You Belong With Me,” “Love Story,” and “Mean,” Red served as a transformational shift in both Swift’s sound and songwriting. Marking her crossover from country to pop, Swift encapsulated her post-adolescent journey of joy, confusion, heartbreak, and rediscovery in completely new genres. The fourth lead single of the album “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” became Swift’s first number-one single. In the sixth year of her career, she reached new levels of stardom through an album that captured a myriad of emotions, narrating the difficult but inevitable transition from adolescence into womanhood.
On June 18th of this year, Swift abruptly announced through an Instagram post that she would soon release her next re-recorded album, Red (Taylor’s Version), on November 19th. She later moved the release date up by a week to November 12th, making fans even more excited. The announcement, coming only two months following the re-release of her sophomore album Fearless, made it clear that Swift was ready to reclaim one of her most intimate and admired albums.
In her official announcement, Swift stated, “Musically and lyrically, ‘Red’ resembled a heartbroken person. It was all over the place, a fractured mosaic of feelings that somehow all fit together at the end.” Years later, Swift has gifted fans the opportunity to revisit a chapter of her life in its rawest form, evoking the familiar sense of euphoria, devastation, and heartache fans first experienced almost a decade ago.
When I first listened to Red at my local summer day camp in 2013, I had no conception of the heartbreak, love, and loss that served as the recurring themes of the explosively bold album. Yet, I was so captivated by the more upbeat songs of the album like “22” and its underlying message of cherishing one’s youth, which to a nine-year-old me, provided a sense of comfort during the transition into my preteen years.
I still recall ransacking my mother’s closet until I found a pair of red sunglasses and a black hat that matched Swift’s iconic look from the “22” music video; spending hours jumping around in my matching outfit trying to copy Swift’s dance moves from the music video off of my first-generation iPad. It is these fond memories that shaped my youth and ultimate love for Swift’s music. Even with the album’s continual theme of heartbreak, I could only associate it with the pure bliss and nostalgia it once brought me, making Red (Taylor’s Version) extremely meaningful for a now seventeen-year-old fan. In the re-release of this bold, scarlet album, Swift has captured the essence of the beloved 2012 album while intertwining fans’ past memories with entirely new ones.
Perhaps the most anticipated component of the re-recording is finally hearing the nine omitted songs from the album, dubbed as “From The Vault” tracks. All originally written for Red but pared down before its release, Swift has returned to these songs and recorded them, narrating her past experiences with her current vocals. One of my favorite vault tracks has immediately become “Nothing New” featuring Phoebe Bridgers, a heartfelt acoustic ballad that offers a glimpse into a once 22-year-old Swift’s fear of being an obsolete female artist. The collaboration has surpassed all of my expectations, as Swift has fused the angelic vocals of Bridger’s with her own, producing a song that serves as a duet between two female artists who share the same abiding fear.
However, the most notable part of the album is undoubtedly the 10-minute version of “All Too Well.” In an interview with Seth Myers, the night before Red (Taylor’s Version) was released, Swift reflected on how the fans have transformed the meaning of the song for her: “Somehow the fans just turned it into ‘the song’ from this album. I used to get so sad when I would sing it that I could barely get through the song. And then, over time, I realized the fans were just, like, screaming the words back at me so loudly that it made it a very joyful experience for me to sing this song. It has been a joyful thing for me to sing, I play it all the time in concert.”
This song is unique to the fandom because it was chosen by fans and, in some ways, strays away from what is considered to be a typical fan favorite: it was never a single, never got a music video, and is one of the longest songs of Swift’s discography, timed at five minutes and twenty-nine seconds. Even so, “All Too Well” tells the story of a failed relationship and the pain of piecing oneself back together, now regarded as Swift’s most vulnerable and well-written song.
The 10-minute version of “All Too Well” captures the anger and agony fans originally connected to, while the new lyrics cultivate a conversation between Swift’s current self and past: “I’ll get older but your lovers stay my age,” she sings, alleging to her nine-year age gap between her and former partner, Jake Gyllenhaal. The 10-minute version of “All Too Well” is an unfiltered expression of the heartbreak and sorrow Swift experienced all those years ago, making the entirety of the re-recorded album so special for fans. The 10-minute version of “All Too Well” also most recently debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the longest No. 1 song in history, a title previously held by Don McLean’s “American Pie” for almost fifty years.
Swift also wrote, directed, and starred in All Too Well: The Short Film alongside Stranger Things actress Sadie Sink and Teen Wolf actor Dylan O’Brien. At the premiere of the film, Swift told The Associated Press that she created the film to give back to her supporters, “This is all about what the fans have turned this song into. It was never a single, never had a video, it never had a visual element to it, but they pretty much created their own imaginary cinematic universe for it, so this is just me following through on what they started and what they told me they wanted.”
I had the opportunity to see an advance screening of the short film, and the energy within the theater was nothing short of lively. Surrounding me were hundreds of fans across all generations, some traveling from as far as Dallas, Texas, to watch the song finally being brought to life on the big screen. When the lights finally began to dim, and the thunderous applause began, it was clear that the film was more than just a visualization of a fan favorite song; it was a moment that invoked self-reflection. The film allowed fans to witness Swift’s growth over the past nine years, ultimately reminding them of their own.
Red (Taylor’s Version) is a transformative experience for fans and allows us to rethink the ways music can so beautifully unite the past with the present. I owe some of my greatest childhood memories to Swift, so I am beyond excited to see what new ones I will make with her version of Red.