Loving ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’: A refined re-recording retains raw emotion

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Taylor Swift’s recent release may be titled after her signature color, red,  but the artist’s latest remastering of her records is musical gold. (Definitely not clever wordplay worthy of Swift’s lyrical skill, but she is known to appreciate puns!) With nine never-released songs “from the vault,” a star-studded short film for “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” and an eventual music video for “I Bet You Think About Me (feat. Chris Stapleton) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” directed by the lovely Blake Lively, “Red (Taylor’s Version)” was all I wanted and more. The re-recorded songs offer a nuanced sound that perfectly captures the melancholy of a mature Swift looking back on a time of raw, red emotion. This sound creates cohesion among the versatile album, which features pop experimentation with “22 (Taylor’s Version)” and “Holy Ground (Taylor’s Version)”; slow ballads with “Sad Beautiful Tragic (Taylor’s Version)” and “The Last Time (Taylor’s Version)”; and classic country with songs she had originally written for other artists: “Better Man (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” and “Babe (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault).” The songs from the vault, numerous as they may be, seem indispensable to the rest of the album. With the supplementary content Swift is providing with her revival of “Red” — aptly released in autumn — such as her infamous “Easter eggs,” the short film and music video, I feel like the lucky one.  

One would think listening to a re-recorded album to be repetitive, but Swift allows herself and listeners to rediscover the meaning behind the music, revisit the emotion behind the lyrics and redefine how they relate to the songs. I was a fledgling Swiftie when “Red” originally came out, and it is refreshing to rock out to “I Knew You Were Trouble (Taylor’s Version)” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together (Taylor’s Version)” now, as opposed to scoff at them as “out-of-character” for Swift as I may have in 2012. As Swift explained on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” when she was publicizing “Red” almost ten years ago, she cried in between interviews because of how emotionally viscerally the songs were to her during such a tumultuous time. Now, Swift enjoys revisiting the sentimental songs at a happier point in her life. 

I could go on and on about all 26 songs, but I’ll stick to a few of the vault songs. (See my favorites from the original album, which are back and better than ever on this version, below.) “The Very First Night (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” is a surprise favorite from the vault, sounding cheery without being too saccharine. Hearing indie singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers featured on one of Swift’s songs in my favorite Swift album is probably the best part of “Red (Taylor’s Version),” besides “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault).” Their voices, ringing sweet, clear and the perfect amount of sorrowful, meld melodically for a unique, well-crafted track about youth and value as a modern woman. 

“How can a person know everything at 18/But nothing at 22?” Bridgers and Swift croon nostalgically, heartbreakingly during the bridge. 

“I Bet You Think About Me (feat. Chris Stapleton) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” is a more upbeat feature track, leaning more into the singer’s country experience and sounding like a soul sister to “Speak Now,” as the music video features a befuddled Miles Teller haunted by the ghost of Taylor Swift during his wedding to another woman. “Babe (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” is another fun country track I thoroughly enjoyed, maybe even more so than the version performed by Sugarland. Swift’s “Better Man (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” is brighter than the original performed by Little Big Town, but still perfectly captures the wistful lamenting in the lyrics.  

Besides being part of the general reclaiming of Swift’s music, her “versions” also allow the artist to cater her eras to what she knows her fans want. For example, in her recent appearance on “Late Night with Seth Myers,” Swift lets fans know she pays attention to which songs they think should have been singles or have a music video, one of those being “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault).” The longer version of the critically acclaimed song wasn’t initially released because it was declared to be “too long” for the radio. After the release of “Red,” the song became a fan and critic favorite, catapulting to popularity despite not being a single off of the album or having an accompanying music video. Swift remedied the lack of such with the release of the 10 minute version and the accompanying short film starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien. And despite industry expectations, the song has been wildly successful; according to the Guinness World Records, the track broke the record for the longest song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, surpassing Don McLean’s “American Pie.” 

The artist and studio album have also racked up more awards in the two weeks since the release of “Red (Taylor’s Version).” Additionally declared by the Guinness World Records, Swift broke her own record for the most simultaneous US Hot 100 entries by a female, with 26. Previously, the record was 18 tracks, from her 2019 studio album “Lover.” With the 26 songs appearing on the hot 100 and marking the most simultaneous US Hot 100 new entries, “Red (Taylor’s Version)” further makes music history. 

After the singer-songwriter re-recorded and re-released her original second album, “Fearless (Taylor’s Version’s),” fans clamored to discover which of her other albums owned by other recording labels she would give the Taylor treatment. Swift’s lead-up to the release of “Red (Taylor’s Version)” on Nov. 12 generated even more excitement than “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” in April 2021, as many critics and fans declare the 2012 original to contain some of the artist’s best songs — Rolling Stone ranks “All Too Well” No. 1 out of her complete discography. If anyone was going to improve upon a masterpiece, I knew it would be Swift. 

Rating: 13/5 (but to be serious: 5/5) 

Add to your playlist: “All Too Well (Ten Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version),” “Nothing New (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault),” “Babe (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault),” “I Bet You Think About Me (feat. Chris Stapleton) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault),” “The Very First Night (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault),” “State of Grace (Taylor’s Version),” “Holy Ground (Taylor’s Version),” “The Last Time (Taylor’s Version),” “I Almost Do (Taylor’s Version),” “Come Back…Be Here (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” 

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