Sad Beautiful Magic: “Red (Taylor’s Version)”


Guardian Staff

In Taylor Swift’s “Red (Taylor’s Version),” old and new songs alike imbue a nine-year-old album with a fresh perspective on growing up and breaking down.

Just in time for “autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place,” Taylor Swift has released the re-recording of her album “Red” on Nov. 12. The 2012 album was her first fully pop album. Released in the aftermath of a difficult high-profile breakup, “Red” is a story about love, losing it, and finding a new beginning after heartbreak. It is one of the most personal of Taylor Swift’s works, focusing on real moments and the emotions she felt within them. In the re-recording, Swift has revisited this time in her life and come out with a more mature, self-aware, and picturesque version of an album that was already arguably a masterpiece.

Swift’s intention behind re-recording her songs is to regain ownership of the music she has already created. So many tracks on “Red (Taylor’s Version)” sound incredibly similar to their predecessors. Songs like “Red,” “I Almost Do,” and “Begin Again” stick to the script with nothing outstandingly new in their vocal performances, instrumental backings, or even tonal inflections. In other re-recordings, Swift’s voice has matured and she sings with a more well-rounded perspective. In songs like “Sad Beautiful Tragic” and “The Moment I Knew,” Swift is given an opportunity to look back on moments in her life with a fuller understanding of the subject matter she wrote nine years ago. It is one thing to sing about heartbreak in the moment, and an entirely different one to sing those songs after experiencing so much more loss, hardship, love, and success.

Sometimes, though, naïvety is needed for authenticity. Certain songs capture the youthfulness of Taylor Swift at a particular time in her career. One song inferior to the original is “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” It sounds forced and loses the vindictive power it had when it was first released. Some songs are not made for re-recording because they lose their flair over the years. Similarly, the re-recorded “22” is off-putting. Swift is a 31-year-old woman singing about being 22, and the genuine excitement she had at that age does not translate, especially in the chorus. Not every song was designed to transcend the era of the early 2010’s, but the goal of this album is not solely to top charts with new hits. It is a revisiting of the songs people once loved, and a recovery of work that means a lot to Taylor Swift and her fans.

However, there is more to listen to than just the original tracklist of “Red.” On top of re-recording her old catalogue, Swift is also releasing “from the vault” tracks that have been stored away since the album was first written and recorded. It is unfathomable how she kept these songs to herself for nearly a decade, but they have been an exciting and surprising addition to the re-recording process. Of the nine songs from the vault, a few have been getting more attention than others. “Message in a Bottle” is a pop-synth dance track that is undeniably a fun song, but is too shallow for an album full of emotional moments. More apt is “Nothing New,” a sad, ruminating piece featuring Phoebe Bridgers. This song includes the lyricism expected from “Red.” The album feels encapsulated in a single line when the two artists sing, “How did I go from growing up to breaking down?” In balance with this powerfully-poignant song, of course, there must also be a diss track — a slot filled by “I Bet You Think About Me.” Featuring Chris Stapleton and a few harmonicas, this song is catchy, snappy, and has already been made into a music video starring Miles Teller. It is a fun track because of its hilarious callouts, but also because it is a return to the beloved pop-country sound of Swift’s previous albums.

The re-recordings offer the perfect opportunity to celebrate these bygone sounds, memories, and even specific songs once dearly loved. So, finally, the red cherry on top of the sundae, the bookend of the album: “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version) (10 Minute Version).” This rendition is an upgrade to a song already widely regarded as one of Swift’s best. The ten-minute version doubles the intensity and storytelling of a heartbreaking breakup. Every moment is mapped out, from the hope she felt in the beginning: “And I was thinking on the drive down, any time now, he’s gonna say it’s love,” to the horrible, crushing pain of “You call me up again just to break me like a promise.” It is difficult to be so vulnerable in front of anyone, but Swift’s openness to the entire world is what makes this album special: within the excruciating sadness of this album is a girl, and while she may be finding a new beginning, her fans get to share in that journey.

It is unfortunate, the lengths Taylor Swift has had to go to to reclaim ownership of her music, but it has offered a unique opportunity for her to “Begin Again.” Swift and her fans now have the chance to revisit the old favorites they remember “All Too Well,” presented in a new light. It is a fun time to be a Taylor Swift fan, and if you are not one, it is never too late to start with the “Sad Beautiful Tragic” re-recording of “Red.”

Grade: A-
Artist: Taylor Swift
Release Date: Nov. 12, 2021

Image courtesy of Bandwagon Asia.