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Red Like We Never Knew: Taylor Swift Finishes the Story on Her Terms

Swift imbues the beloved autumn album with new life with tracks from the vault and an expanded "All Too Well"

Red Taylor's Version
Taylor Swift, photo by Beth Garrabrant
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    Think, for a moment, about the fall of 2012. Nearly a decade ago now, it feels remarkably far away — at least it does for this writer, who had just moved to Nashville and still sort of thought Taylor Swift would be super easy to bump into at Frothy Monkey or climbing the Percy Warner steps.

    2012 probably feels like a different time for Taylor Swift, too. This was only her fourth studio album, arriving off the heels of Speak Now, an album Swift approached with the intention of proving herself as a solo songwriter.

    Towards the beginning of Red’s assembly, Swift says that she was starting to feel too formulaic — her solution was found in surrounding herself with collaborators and musicians who could help her step outside of the box she was building. Now, it’s easy to look back and see where Red falls in Swift’s evolution. The country roots are there, but it’s a pop album at the end of the day.

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    There’s a special kind of joy that’s been surrounding the releases of Taylor’s Versions. It’s a mix of nostalgia and celebration, a reclamation of work and a reminder of how far Swift (and any of her listeners) have come. This release has felt like an event, one not felt too often in the music industry these days. There was no time other than late autumn that would’ve made sense for this drop — so grab your scarves, make some tea, and settle in for Red (Taylor’s Version).


    Everything Has Changed

    It’s important to remember that the point of Taylor’s Versions is for them to sound almost identical to the originals, providing a listening alternative rather than a remix or reinterpretation of a track. Taylor wants people to listen to Taylor’s Versions, after all.

    There’s a major exception here in the form of “Girl At Home,” which is reshaped and mixed in a completely new way. Not to read too much into things (it’s hard not to with Swift, though!), but perhaps it’s Taylor’s indication that she’s okay with letting the original go. This version is a step up for the b-side.

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    Red has aged fairly well overall, even some of the lighter fare. “22” will always be inescapable whenever certain birthday parties roll around, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is still catchy, and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” is explosive fun. “Begin Again,” a gentle standout then and now, suits Swift’s improved vocals best.

    That’s really the most noticeable difference otherwise — present-day Taylor stayed in her lower range for the vast majority of folklore and evermore and truly never sounded better. While many tracks on Red are much more dynamic, like the anthemic “State of Grace,” it’s clear that Swift’s vocal ability has grown in this past decade as much as her songwriting skills or poetic persona. On that note, “State of Grace (Acoustic)” is wonderful, and, not to get greedy when this mammoth collection has only just dropped, but…imagine “Treacherous (Acoustic Version).”

    From The Vault

    Red (Taylor’s Version) is enormous, two hours and ten minutes long, an entire Marvel movie of an album. Even so, there are undoubtedly tracks that didn’t make it in — there always are, when it comes to songwriters of Swift’s caliber. The tracks from the vault here are stronger than those chosen for Fearless (Taylor’s Version).

    “Nothing New,” in particular, is devastating, honest, and somehow comforting, making it the perfect track for a Phoebe Bridgers feature. “Lord, what will become of me, once I’ve lost my novelty?” they ask together, and there’s something powerful about Swift singing the words she wrote a decade ago when we all know the answer. Even though she is “nothing new” now, she’s arguably more beloved than ever, seemingly comfortable with who she is and what she believes. 22-year old Taylor would be encouraged to see who she becomes.

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    “Everybody loves an ingenue,” says Bridgers, just a bit younger than Swift and still in her tragic-comic-indie-darling-breakout era. Remarkably, this song marks the first time a woman has ever have featured on a Taylor Swift song. That’s right — across nine albums and hundreds of songs, it was Miss Bridgers who was able to make it happen, and it sounds amazing. In February, Bridgers fired off a seemingly innocuous, quippy tweet that reads, “Can’t believe I am the first woman ever.” Prophetic? Maybe so.

    Other vault highlights include the tender “Ronan,” Swift’s version of “Better Man” (originally popularized by Little Big Town) and “Run” featuring Ed Sheeran. Is it the newness, or is “Run” perhaps the best Swift x Sheeran collab to date? Meanwhile, Chris Stapleton, soulful country king himself, makes a welcome appearance on “I Bet You Think About Me,” in which Country Taylor is alive and well.

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