“Red (Taylor’s Version)” somehow improves on Taylor Swift’s best album


Courtesy of Taylor Swift (Twitter)

“Red (Taylor’s Version)” is a metamorphosis of a classic and cherished album.

Shreyas Banerjee, Life Editor

There is no denying it: “Red” is Taylor Swift’s best album and one of the best albums of the last decade. Though the 2020 dual releases of “folklore” and “evermore” give it a run for its money and also introduced me to Taylor Swift’s work, “Red” stands alone in its artistry and songwriting, perfecting the art of the breakup album. Encapsulating all the varied feelings that come at the end of a relationship, “Red” is a portrait in time of a girl who just had her heart broken, and it captures this experience in such a vivid way that no one can resist its appeal.

Beyond that, “Red” marked a major transition in Swift’s career. In her fourth album, the country music superstar completely surprised the entire media landscape, breaking away from the genre that made her famous to make an album that fused several genres, including pop, rock and even electro-folk. The lead single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” shocked the world with its electro-pop beat. “I Knew You Were Trouble” had a dubstep drop, while the titular “Red” was a combination of classic Taylor elements, with banjos and guitars, but also a driving groove unlike her previous work. While her music is often dismissed as simply songs about her exes, Swift’s masterful songwriting was on full display throughout “Red.” “All Too Well” is her best song, synthesizing all the different emotions found throughout “Red” into a statement of remembrance and heartbreak. There are few songs by any artist that manage to touch on those emotions as effectively.

So how exactly do you improve on a masterpiece? Why even do it in the first place?

The saga of Swift’s re-recordings dates back to the sale of her original back catalog without her knowledge by manager Scooter Braun, a man Swift has had a conflict-filled relationship with. As such, Swift is re-recording her first six albums in order to get full ownership of her material, all while advocating for a shift in how the music industry treats its artists. The process started with the re-recording of her second album, “Fearless,” with “Taylor’s Version” having come out this April. Along with new versions of her old songs, with Swift’s older vocals being the only giveaway that they are indeed new, the album contained various “songs from the vault,” which didn’t make the cut when the album was originally released. 

Similarly, “Red (Taylor’s Version)” contains an expanded tracklist, with 30 songs, including the song she has been promoting the most—an expanded 10-minute version of “All Too Well.” While the original version was a perfect encapsulation of the sadness and loneliness that can come with a breakup as one looks back at the ups and downs of their relationship, the new version features more spite, anger and even more heartbreak. Extra lyrics about even more anecdotes from the relationship, as well as more of Swift’s thoughts on how they made her feel, make the new version a whole new reflection on memories from long ago. This general nostalgia pervades all the tracks in the album, as Swift’s raw emotions from the time of the original recording have long passed, leaving a new sense of wistfulness and sentimentality.

Other songs from the vault include “Nothing New,” a new collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers all about growing up, and “Run,” a new duet with Ed Sheeran. My favorite new track is probably “Message in a Bottle,” a peppy tune with a very catchy hook. The song was the first to be co-written by producer Max Martin, who also produced a number of hit singles on “Red,” helping her transition from country to pop in spectacular fashion.

Unfortunately, Max Martin did not return for this new version, making some of the production not quite as good as the original. Particularly, the vocals seem oddly mixed at times, with certain vocal tracks at times too far in the stereo background and at other times way too clear, such as with the “We-eeee” hook in “We Are Never Getting Back Together.” But some minor quibbles aside, this new version of “Red” expands on the classic in a meaningful way, making the unimprovable somehow even better. While re-recording may seem like a cynical, money-making move, this series of “Taylor’s Version” albums shine a spotlight on just how far she’s come and how far she still has to go. Taylor is just hitting her prime, and there is no knowing what will come next from her.