“Musically and lyrically, Red resembled a heartbroken person,” wrote Taylor Swift in an introduction to the album’s upcoming re-recording, posted alongside its official announcement last June. The launch will mark the second of her re-releases following the infamous business deal in which her former label sold the master recordings of her first six works without her consent.
After the sale was announced in 2019, Swift’s fans were outraged. Enjoying her previous records now meant indirectly supporting her wrongdoers. Not to mention the notion that Swift’s life’s work, created by virtue of her own raw emotions and experiences, was now in the hands of those who had no interest in it beyond making a profit.
Soon after, however, Swift announced plans to recreate her entire catalogue up to that point, distinguishing them with the marker of “Taylor’s Version.” The first of these releases dropped earlier this year, with the honor going to her breakout album, 2008’s Fearless. Despite not being her debut, Fearless was widely recognized as the singer’s official entry into superstardom.
Just two months later, Swift declared that the second of these re-recordings would be a new version of her fourth album, Red. Instantly, fans’ initial excitement was profoundly exacerbated.
Red’s first release in October of 2012 marked a turning point in Swift’s career. Her priorly released three albums each grew and expanded upon each other, while still firmly dwelling in the realm of the country genre; with Red, Swift began to push her sound in new, unfamiliar directions.
Tracks such as “22” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” saw Swift working with notable pop producers Max Martin and Shellback. Together, the collaboration crafted the catchiest, most upbeat production of her career thus far. “State of Grace” similarly marked the embrace of a more mature, alt-rock sound.
At the time, many listeners argued that the album lacked cohesion because of this wide sonic expanse. In reality, this effect was completely intentional. In Swift’s own words, Red “was all over the place, a fractured mosaic of feelings that somehow all fit together in the end.” The seemingly random narrative of emotions drawn by the tracklist (who else gets whiplash when “All Too Well” transitions to “22”?) deliberately depicts the ever-changing, ruthlessly fluctuating emotions of a breakup’s aftermath. Given the album’s level of raw honesty, the relationship that fans have with it is particularly intimate.
The album is often recognized as her magnum opus, primarily due to its narrative lyrical content. The imagery-laden atmosphere of the album builds within the listener with each song. No better demonstration of this concept exists than in the track “All Too Well.”
In the years since Red’s release, “All Too Well” has risen from deep-cut status to recognition as the pinnacle of Swift’s songwriting. The track’s deeply specific lyrics, referencing everything from the scarf that a former lover kept after their breakup, to the late-night dances they shared in the light of an open refrigerator, pack the acute emotional punch that Swift is known and loved for. It comes as no surprise that the re-recording of the track is one of the most highly anticipated on the tracklist.
The build-up to Red (Taylor’s Version)’s release also provides fans with a chance to revisit the mythology surrounding the album; a prime example of this is the long-speculated ten minute version of “All Too Well.” Swift first teased the existence of this extended cut during the first Red era. Throughout the years since, fans have begged for an official release. After a while, it seemed that the elusive track was to ultimately fall into the realm of musical folklore (no pun intended). However, the number has finally found a home amidst the re-recording’s 30-song tracklist.
Swift has also announced plans to release an accompanying short film for the piece. Set to be released alongside the album, “All Too Well: The Short Film” will star Sadie Sink, Dylan O’Brien, and Swift herself. She will likewise be acting as writer and director of the film. These kinds of personalized surprises exemplify Swift’s intimate connection with her fans, and her dedication to pleasing them.
Additional songs to be officially released for the first time with the album include Swift’s renditions of “Better Man” and “Babe.” These tracks were written during Red’s creation, but eventually given to country groups Little Big Town and Sugarland respectively. With so much history surrounding the album, preparation for the re-release is necessary.
Fans should start by revisiting some of Swift’s other eight albums, particularly evermore, her autumn/winter-themed 2020 record. Swift has described Red as an “autumn heartbreak album,” so in many ways, the two works are thematically linked. When finally listening to the release, building the perfect atmosphere is also important: this means candles, cozy blankets, and some sort of warm, autumnal drink (anyone familiar with the hidden messages in Red’s lyric booklet will know that a maple latte is the perfect choice).
More importantly, listeners should simply remind themselves of why these re-recordings are so groundbreaking. A critical element of Swift’s fanbase is their tendency to develop theories surrounding her work. Much of the speculation surrounding the re-releases is that Swift may surprise fans with remixed versions of her old tracks, or by including surprise featured artists. Truthfully, doing so would undermine the purpose of her initiative.
Swift is not trying to improve upon her old albums: she is reclaiming work that is rightfully hers. These albums form a roadmap of her past, and thus do not need to be changed. The act of re-releasing six albums is a monumental undertaking, and is certain to leave a deep imprint on the music industry. It goes without saying that it will also cement Swift’s legacy as being, somehow, even more respectable than before.
Listening with this knowledge is all that is needed for the ultimate Red experience. Swift is known for continuously surprising audiences with her releases, but one thing that is consistently certain is that she knows how to avoid disappointing her fans. Red (Taylor’s Version) will undoubtedly raise the stakes of this tradition even further.