Liner Notes: Taylor Swift begins again with “Red (Taylor’s Version)”


Graphic by Angeli Mittal

Taylor Swift herself has described “Red” as “musically and lyrically” resembling a heartbroken person.

Isabelle Sarraf, Swiftie in Chief

Fall 2012: that pre-teen awkwardness associated with seventh grade, J-14 and Tiger Beat posters of celebrities plastered on childhood bedroom walls and Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” blaring from car speakers.

This weekend, Swift’s fans got to dress up like hipsters, eat breakfast at midnight and relive that era with the release of “Red (Taylor’s Version),” a re-recording of her fourth studio album, “Red.” The record marked a transitional period in Swift’s career through its exploration of several musical genres, combining her country roots with pop, electronic and rock flairs. 

Swift is on a journey to re-record her first six albums and reclaim her masters catalogue, and this is the second installation of that undertaking. “Red (Taylor’s Version)” was released Friday, following “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” which she dropped in April. 

This album’s tracklist is — to take a line from Swift’s lyrics — happy, free, confusing and lonely in the best way. Swift herself has described “Red” as “musically and lyrically” resembling a heartbroken person. But that doesn’t mean the album is all sad songs. On the contrary, Swift often jumps from heart-wrenching, stripped-down songs like “Sad Beautiful Tragic” to upbeat jams like “The Lucky One.” The intentional back-and-forth mimics the enigmatic nature of heartbreak, “a fractured mosaic of feelings that somehow all fit together in the end.” 

“Red (Taylor’s Version)” cements the fact that Swift’s strength as a musician has always lied with her songwriting. Her “From the Vault” tracks — songs she wrote for the original Red album that were ultimately cut — dive deeper into heartbreak in its rawest form. Similar to “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” the Vault features some of Swift’s best collaborations to date, including a Phoebe Bridgers duet in “Nothing New” and Chris Stapleton’s background vocals in country banger “I Bet You Think About Me.” 

My favorite Vault track on the album has to be “Better Man.” Originally written for the 2012 “Red” album, “Better Man” found a home with country band Little Big Town, serving as the lead single for their 2017 album “The Breaker.” Fans had previously only heard her perform the song a handful of times live acoustically — only the real ones know about “Better Man (Live at the Bluebird Cafe).” 

“Better Man (Taylor’s Version)” is a fresh breath of air amid a country-pop album that loses some of the original album’s country flair. The song is Swift’s intimate reflection on a toxic and abusive relationship. Without a band to flesh out the vocals, Swift’s version of the song allows her signature harmonies to shine through. Coupled with Aaron Dessner’s ambient production, “Better Man” shines as one of the most lyrically poignant songs on this 30-track album — and, arguably, her entire discography.

This album review couldn’t be complete without discussing “All Too Well,” which many fans consider to be Swift’s magnum opus. I could probably write a dissertation about “All Too Well (10 Minute Version),” but the addition to the track that stuck with me the most is its entirely new third verse. 

Some of the best lyrics on “Red (Taylor’s Version)” are the ones that mirror some of her more recent albums, which, retrospectively, make them hit even harder. Ever so Shakesperian, Swift plays on words in “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” with “They say all’s well that ends well, but I’m in a new Hell.” She deftly parallels the bridge of “Lover” from her 2019 album of the same name, which includes the line, “All’s well that ends well to end up with you,” giving the love song a new meaning.

There’s a reason the 10-minute version of a song written about a decade ago is now topping the charts: Swift’s dexterously sharp lyricism coupled with the vulnerability and hopelessness of heartbreak make for a head-banging album closer you can’t help but stream on repeat. 

Between Swift’s nine studio albums and two re-recordings, we’ll be remembering the “Red” era all too well.

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Twitter: @isabellesarraf

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