It felt like only yesterday that, after years of listening to solo Taylor Swift songs instead of whole albums, I decided to sync up 2012’s Red in its entirety; it swept me away. In the early stages of her career, Taylor Swift tiptoed on a thin wire, which split conventions of pop and country and never left a sense of cohesion. Her music had this essence that evoked connectivity; she was the nerd; the shy outcast, the one who felt like her place in this world was with the stars, delivering messages that allowed many fans to evolve with her. And as we grew with her, we were there to understand her words and the ethereal production that hits you with a jab here, and a punch there, whenever Taylor Swift let herself be free of the mental constraints, which eventually gave us an absolute pop-banger with “I Knew You Were Trouble” while mesmerizing in other ways, whether it be the lyrics or the orchestration of instruments within the confines of the production.
As it was with Fearless (Taylor’s Version), the re-recordings of Red (Taylor’s Version) are definitively different from the originals, minimally changing a few notes to give each song brevity when contrasting both works. Red has the looseness that engulfs the flow of serotonin within us, giving listeners a sense of relatability as they filter through innate emotional outcries that barely scratches the surface of our reality. Instead, Red (Taylor’s Version), like Fearless (Taylor’s Version), offers a different perspective through complex layers Taylor Swift and Christopher Rowe apply to the previous production. It allows it to keep the same fragrance that attracted us to the original body of work, with the differences aligning with Taylor’s style today, specifically with the song from the vault. On the other side, Red (Taylor’s Version) is as much as mosaic as the original recordings, as Taylor bellowed her heartbreak into a vast array of styles, most of which suited her naturally.
In essence, Red (Taylor’s Version) is more polished and better mixed; the hiccups come from a change in age, reflective in her voice, as some of her signature and youthful-fun chuckles/laughs don’t feel as innocently fun. Fortunately, it doesn’t hinder the powerhouse impact Red (Taylor’s Version) brings to the table, like the elevated string production on her Country-Folk-Pop leveled variations. It hit me as soon as the first few strings began playing on “State Of Grace (Taylor’s Version)” – the seismic percussion weighs with the same gravitas as it did on Red; however, the bravado from the electric guitar boosts its arena-rock-core. In 2012, the Taylor Swift tinted headphones were real, and her voice didn’t contain that dynamic oomph to fit the heavy notes with the song goes rock. It’s effervescent throughout, weighing in on these heavier components, like the pop-rock anthem “Red (Taylor’s Version),” where Taylor truly captures our ears.
Throughout Red (Taylor’s Version), there are small elements that perfectly embolden the differences of the re-recordings beyond Taylor Swift’s matured voice. The central pop songs don’t necessarily have the heart that Taylor had at a time, and songs like “We’re Never Getting Back Together (Taylor’s Version),” where it lacks the innocence that made it fun; she was glowing with booming emotions, and now it’s there and more reflective, without disturbing the 130-minute journey this album is. And it may be hyperbolic to say, with the consistent streak of releases from Taylor after Lover, that Red (Taylor’s Version) is worth every minute. It never cuts ties with the infectious details that warped our minds, like “I Knew You Were Trouble (Taylor’s Version),” where the beat drop struts more subtly, and it’s okay that the pop-centric songs aren’t that showy this time around.
The modest attention to the hyper-stylized pop songs allows Taylor Swift to shine with others like “Starlight” and “Stay Stay Stay,” whose vibrance comes with Taylor’s eagerness to record and the fun the exhumes from her vocals and the subtleness of the backing vocals. And instead of getting these glossy electronic sounds, synths, all before the dubstep-like drop hits in “I Knew You Were Trouble (Taylor’s Version),” we get these focused pop-songs that play with tempos and beats. It is like “Stay Stay Stay,” which has been an undisputed heavy rotation song from Red, and Red (Taylor’s Version) subdues the poppy-bubbly nature of her vocals, and there’s a different cadence to it. It’s unlike other pop songs on the album, with its fun-fast-paced tempo that blends varying strings, infectiously reeling you back in.
A lot of these songs, like “Starlight,” “Stay Stay Stay,” and “State Of Grace,” shoot to new levels, becoming better than the original. You can say similarly about the softer, slower Country/Rock songs, as they highlight the maturity of Taylor Swift’s songwriting like on “Begin Again” and “Sad Beautiful Tragic.” The former creates this larger than life setting to immerse yourself in as you’re placed in Taylor’s shoes, singing about that transitional shock from realizing her new love is an opposite composite of her last love; the latter speaks on love with dualities beneath words and actions and equating them sad beautiful tragic. Within the vault, we are reminded of this as Taylor covers songs she has co-written, like “Better Man” by Little Big Town and “Babe” by Sugarland, originally featuring Taylor as well.
Closing Red (Taylor’s Version), the songs from the vault are radiant, infectious, and a bit too much Ed Sheeran. Unlike “Everything Has Changed,” “Run” doesn’t captivate you like the others, with a direct ballad that wears thin further along it goes. But her duets with Phoebe Bridgers and Chris Stapleton offer more than “Run,” with each song containing a beautiful synchronization of performances from both artists, especially Chris Stapleton, who blends his tenor beautifully with Taylor’s light-lyric-soprano. However, “Message In A Bottle (Taylor’s Version)” and “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version) (10 Minutes Version)” are what immediately captivated me to hit that repeat button multiple times. The latter is what fans have been anticipating, as the original is lauded as Taylor’s best, and deservingly so. It’s the apex of Taylor – the way she can elevate levels of trivial detail into an emotionally complex and wrenching story about heartache. The 10-minute version isn’t an improvement, but it has a resounding impact the more it progresses. It beautifully closes the album building her landmark in our lives, delivering constant tears flowing down my eyes.
It’s not wild to say or think that Red (Taylor’s Version) is better than the original, as it encapsulates the varying feelings that flow through Taylor’s mind during its creation. Betrothed by her feelings, it builds upon character, giving us a tender and fractured look into her mind as she dealt through her emotions and heartache. All 130 minutes, we’re against the ropes, feeling our highs and lows in beautiful synchronization from start to finish.