We Remember It All Too Well
Almost a decade after releasing the original album, Taylor Swift gifted the world Red (Taylor’s Version), a beacon of nostalgia and empowerment for college students. This album is the second in her project of re-recording each of her original albums she does not own the rights to. It follows Fearless (Taylor’s Version), which was released in April.
Swift explained the motivation behind her re-records on Late Night With Seth Meyers: “There was something that happened years ago where I made it very clear that I wanted to be able to buy my music. That opportunity was not given to me, and it was sold to somebody else. So I just figured I was the one who made this music first, I can just make it again.” After a deal with Republic Records in 2018, Swift owns all the new music she releases and re-records. This means she retains control over that music and she will receive profits from the Spotify streams. The re-records attempt to redirect the revenue stream back towards her and away from the investment firm that bought the original masters. Some fans have taken to calling this music “ethically sourced Taylor.”
With straightened hair and red lipstick, the original release of Red marked Swift’s first foray into pop. She wrote it at 22, after leaving her teenage years and already delving deep into stardom. The album is a cacophony of sounds and emotions, embodying the feelings of falling in and out of love during autumn in the early 2010s. It’s the devastation of heartbreak and the hope of a new relationship all mixed together with consistency found in the poignancy of her lyrics rather than genre. She renders every emotion in painstaking detail, making her songs feel personal and intimate.
Senior Melia Harlan, whose favorite Taylor Swift album has always been Red, noted, “The thing that is so beautiful about Taylor Swift’s songwriting is she writes with such remarkable specificity. She will tell you times, places, dates, locations, people’s names. And even though she’s talking in a hyper-specific way about her own experience, it feels so relatable.” In Red you can feel her raw emotions—her pain, her joy, her loneliness—and in turn feel that catharsis yourself.
Her lyrical genius and the timing of her recordings make this album special specifically for young people. Today’s college students were in middle school during the original album’s release. Now, these same fans are the age Swift was when she initially wrote these songs. They’ve grown into the themes of this album, having experienced a formative period of growing up. As much as young fans loved sob-screaming “Sad Beautiful Tragic” at age twelve, they had no concept of the pain caused by the “distance, timing, breakdown, fighting” she writes about on the bridge.
Junior Katelyn Young, who is currently co-teaching the Experimental College class Taylor Swift Feminism with fellow junior and friend Aleksia Kleine, expressed this same sentiment felt by many longtime Swifties. She said, “Now that I’m older, I think I’ve personally gone through a lot and grown up in a way that I can appreciate the album a lot more now and all the things that she went through and that she said. It’s one of those things that regardless of whether I’ve been through it, I know someone who’s been through whatever Taylor is talking about.” Swift’s skilled lyricism carries much of the weight in fostering these connections to her music.
The power of Swift’s songwriting and her business decision to re-record intertwine to create an album release that embodies the experience of growing up and standing up for oneself. Swift is reclaiming not only her music, but her past. Melinda Latour, Rumsey Family Assistant Professor in the Humanities and Arts at Tufts, said, “Re-recording in this later stage of her life is an assertion of agency, of reclaiming something that she feels was unfairly taken from her. And I think [she is] rightly angry about that. Doing it in this way actually adds layers of intimacy.”
This intimacy comes through her transparent desire to own her work, but also through the uncensored Swift that we hear on some of the “From The Vault” tracks. Swift wrote these tracks at the time of Red‘s original recording but they ended up being cut from the original album. In Harlan’s words, they are “little time capsule thoughts and memories and feelings from when she was 22.”
“All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” provides us with sharper and more personal details of a crumbling relationship compared to the original. Harlan said, “With the rerelease and in all the additional material, she’s given us a much more realistic and dark picture [of her relationship] and shed a lot more light on the gaslighting and [her ex-boyfriend] not taking her seriously.” Swift also included more mature lyrics specifically pointing to a serious age difference. As Lindsay Zoladz wrote in the New York Times, “‘All Too Well’ is also, quite poignantly, about a young woman’s attempt to find retroactive equilibrium in a relationship that was based on a power imbalance that she was not at first able to perceive.” Now, instead of crying while performing as she did when this song first came out, Swift is smirking for the camera. The new “All Too Well” invites young women in particular to reflect on the toxic relationships they witness or experience and proves that these broken hearts will heal.
In “Nothing New (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault),” we hear a more vulnerable Swift meditating on fame as a young woman. Her chorus asks, “How can a person know everything at 18 but nothing at 22? And will you still want me when I’m nothing new?” This feeling of thinking you know everything when you’re young and then growing up and realizing that thought was a complete fantasy expands beyond the specific context of fame. College students too can reflect on the misguided confidence they had as graduating high schoolers.
These topics were not discussed during the album’s first release. The deeper lessons found in the original songs were buried under a public focus on the inconsistency in genre and the attempt to identify the ex-lovers and new lovers she wrote about. Klein said, “When people get to class every day and we’re talking about Taylor Swift and gender, they want to talk about the new album. They want to talk about expectations placed on young women… and they want to talk about age differences in relationships and how that can play out in terms of gender and inequalities.”
We listen to Swift singing her old songs as a 31-year-old knowing full well that the world has not tired of her. Society may have forced her to reinvent herself over and over to stay relevant, but she is arguably more relevant now than she has ever been. She’s showing us that broken hearts heal, that women and artists deserve respect for and ownership over their work—and having a marvelous time while she’s at it. Red (Taylor’s Version) is more than simply going back and listening to an album ten years later. As Latour said, “[She’s] encouraging fans to listen to this new version. And in fact, not to wish ultimately for the old one, but to actually experience it as a kind of growing up, as a fight for one’s own personal autonomy that can feel even more meaningful than the replication of the past.” May we all, when possible, exclusively listen to ethically sourced Taylor.