Taylor’s Version of ‘Red’ Scathes

Blake McMillan

“Which song on Red was the hardest to write emotionally?” George Stephanopoulos asked across from country-turned-pop star Taylor Swift. ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Togetherplayed through the studio. Two months prior, the ear worm track became her first number one on the Billboard Hot 100; she now has seven. Like a sixties queen, Swift wore bold red lipstick — a nod to the album she arrived to promote, but the tribute will become a Swift staple, part of her many traditions and superstitions (any fan will also associate 13s, cats, cardigans, and the entire month of August with her). On October 22, 2012, in a morning newsroom, she is preparing to release an album that will change country music. “Oh, ‘All Too Well’,” she answered. “It took me a long time to filter through everything I wanted to put in the song. It started out being a ten minute song, which you can’t put on an album.”

If you have scrolled through your social media feeds and news articles unscathed from the Red flames of listeners everywhere, then you’ll be the last person on earth to know that yes, you can put a ten minute track on an album.

When Taylor Swift’s 2012 album Red arrived, in a primary color she began to bridge two genres in one sound. Swift, famous for country songs that were played on country and pop radio, was beginning to make songs that were now blends of both genres. It was a move that many artists followed suit and still mimic today; turn on country radio and chances are you will hear strings and twangy accents overlaid by synths, beat, or pop elements. ‘Red’ transformed the landscape of country and saw Swift begin to mature from teenager to 22 year old. Now, in 2021, it is the next installment of Swift’s plan to re-record her back catalogue of ‘stolen music’. It is Red (Taylor’s Version).

As a Swiftie myself, I type this draft to my co-editor at font size 13 for luck, no doubt. We were treated to the nostalgic country re-recording of Fearless (Taylor’s Version) in April of this year, but after being fed twin escapism alternative albums (July 2020’s folklore and December 2020’s evermore), spoiled fans everywhere were left ready for the next album.

Here, Swift returns in full force. Where a youthful 2012 render of the 20-something happy, free, confused, heartbroken starlet wasn’t belting, 2021 Swift comes in swinging. From the opener, those drums and strings of ‘State of Grace (Taylor’s Version)’ sound crisp and left me shouting at the belting she brings to the chorus. A version I had never had access to, she makes a point that she couldn’t before: “So you were never a saint, and I loved in shades of wrong / We learn to live with the pain, mosaic broken hearts / But this love is brave and wild.” I sat in my dorm, my friends gathered around a HomePod that played. And with her wailing of ‘brave and wild’, the feral friend arrived as I gripped the shoulder of my neighbor, jaw on the floor. This was only track one.

The real star here, however, is Swift’s masterpiece ‘All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)’. The track arrived in 2012 and over time, became a cult classic, her magnum opus. This is not bias, this is fact, this is Bible. Critics and fandom alike acknowledge the status it holds in her discography. Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield has maintained it as the number one Taylor Swift song ever since his list has come out. Updating it routinely, after nine albums and two re-records featuring ‘From the Vault’ tracks, it humorously has become a scroll for the ages, amassing 199 songs. And in the music world, if Rob Sheffield says it… it’s partly wrong, but in this instance, the man has taste. TLDR, ‘All Too Well’ is that bitch.

The track details the fragments of a relationship that can only be formed by memories, a missing scarf serving as both a centerpiece and plot device. Almost a decade since that Stephanopoulos interview, the mystery of the ‘All Too Well’ extended cut has been the subject of Swift internet memes and Twitter chatter for a very long time now. The 10 minute version has begged the question ‘Where is it,’ for far too long. With the chance to revisit songs, pulling drafted pieces (calling them ‘From the Vault’), Swift pulled through.

In all of its cataclysmic glory, ‘All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (From the Vault) (Taylor’s Version)’ lives up to all the hype. Upon first listen, you’ll be entranced to sing along, only for Swift to go off-course at the second verse. “I was thinking on the drive down / Anytime now, he’s gonna say it’s love / You never called it what it was.” A new chorus and extended bridge, alongside a gut-wrenching outro, the song hurts in new shades of (how can I resist?) burning red. The accompanying short film features Sadie Sink (Stranger Things) and Dylan O’Brien (Maze Runner, Love and Monsters) in a masterclass on how to fall in and out of love, and bring millions of viewers along on the ride.

Other new additions are ‘From the Vault’. ‘Nothing New’ features singer Phoebe Bridgers. Together, the pair question what we are at the turn of adulthood, and our mistakes are highlighted in the real world. Swift also completely reworked ‘Girl at Home’, a skippable 2012 song from the deluxe version of Red. The guitar solo that never found its footing is a dance floor mix on this release.

Hype hurdled towards Swifties everywhere quickly. The popstar in recent years has operated with almost no promotion, but on the week of release appeared on late night talk shows,  Saturday Night Live, and a screening of the ‘All Too Well’ short film. Then, suddenly, the entire world was crying to a ten minute song. Stripped of flaws, welcoming new sounds, and letting loose old pains held away for nearly a decade, Red burns brighter in this iteration. Finally, Taylor Swift and her fans both get to watch the success of her version begin again.