Originally written and published by me for Spectrum Culture.
If there was ever anyone who doubted Taylor Swift’s capacity to re-record her first six studio albums—whose masters were unceremoniously bought by Scooter Braun in 2019—the powerhouse musician has certainly proved them wrong by now. The subsequent reissues, released under their original titles followed by “Taylor’s Version,” have been met with much fanfare from her fiercely loyal supporters and pop culture junkies alike, eager to hear reimagined versions of songs that have largely defined the lives of a generation of fans. But where Fearless (Taylor’s Version) was underwhelming, her re-record of Red has certainly reminded listeners not only why the album remains possibly her best, but how much its deeply introspective and emotional tracks still resonate nearly a decade since the original.
While the sale of Swift’s back catalog sparked a cultural conversation surrounding the debate of physical vs. intellectual property, few have stopped long enough to acknowledge the immense amount of talent and dedication it requires to re-record a pop discography that has long since transferred from Swift’s imagination to the hearts of its listeners. Red has always resonated in this particular sort of way. From the moment it was released in 2012, teens who came of age on Tumblr had their virtual personalities changed forever. Moreover, it confirmed what critics had predicted of the country pop singer’s chart to fame: that while her roots might have remained in country, she was a pop star, and a good one at that.
But what occurred outside of the youthful demographic to which most mainstream pop is marketed was nothing short of perpetual slut-shaming and a neverending quest for answers about which famous males were the subject of Red’s track listing. By the time 1989 would arrive two years later, Swift had taken to writing about beef with other pop stars rather than her love life in a desperate attempt for the spotlight to shift. And we all saw how that worked out.
Nonetheless, Red remained her magnum opus even after her descent into full-fledged pop albums, and the difference on its re-record is the confidence and ease through which Swift’s vocals move through its songs. There was an innocence and hints of embarrassed chuckles on the original record that would be impossible to replicate in her thirties that Swift approaches now with a “smile because it happened” type of gratitude. Where she failed at recapturing her teeny bopper self on her re-record of Fearless it seems as though that would be a more appropriate title for Red (Taylor’s Version): in re-recording some of her most emotionally fraught offerings, she somehow delivers even more powerful versions from a different phase of life.
Indeed, multiple new versions of old songs find themselves much better on the re-record, including—but not limited to—“Stay Stay Stay,” “Starlight,” “The Moment I Knew,” and “Girl At Home.” In addition to re-recording her previous albums, Swift has also taken it upon herself to include previously unreleased tracks “from the vault” that were intended for the albums in question, bringing Red (Taylor’s Version) to an overwhelming total of 30 tracks. Out of much filler that was presumably cut from the original for a reason we do find, however, arguably the re-record’s strongest track in the form of “Message In A Bottle.” The dance-pop contribution that sounds like a cross between the Red and 1989 eras encapsulates the pop aspirations that the singer was wrestling with at the time but, once again, from a new perspective. And no re-record of Red would be complete in the hearts of admirers without the legendary but never-before-heard 10-minute original version of “All Too Well,” which ultimately reads like an unfiltered scrapbook entry that will only enchant Swift diehards.
Although the main purpose behind Swift’s re-records was never to generate attention or sales but rather reclaim artistic property of her own work, the singer has nevertheless showcased the value in returning to older and perhaps unfinished versions of ourselves and offering new insight and wisdom after some much needed distance—especially for the excess of feelings on Red. It remains to be seen whether the remainder of her reissues will be as sonically strong or resonate as passionately, but just the efforts themselves has shown that Swift has undoubtedly earned her place as one of the strongest musicians in pop.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Red (Taylor’s Version): “Stay Stay Stay,” “Starlight,” “Begin Again,” “The Moment I Knew,” “Come Back…Be Here,” “Girl At Home,” “Message in a Bottle,” and “The Very First Night”