Almost a full decade after the original, Taylor Swift has reclaimed ownership of her music with the release of “Red (Taylor’s Version)” (2021). The album, which contains rerecordings of the songs from the 2012 album and six new “from the vault” songs, broke the record for the most-streamed album in a day by a female artist in Spotify history, previously held by Swift’s “Folklore” (2020).
Having listened and re-listened and listened again to this work over the years, hearing the subtle changes was comparable to having to slam on the brakes while driving. Swift changing the original slide in “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” from “we-EEE” to a straight, sustained “we” felt like a sacrilegious offense. Her voice is noticeably more mature, grounded and resistant to the bubbly energy of some of the original songs. Not so subtly, some tracks are entirely reworked: “Girl At Home” sounds as if it could have been pulled from “1989” (2014), the most pop album of her catalog.
As depicted in the “All Too Well” short film, the trees change colors; the snow washes away the fallen spectrum of autumn leaves; time passes. Undergraduate students now are the same age Swift was when she wrote the work, many experiencing heartbreak, ignoring glaring red flags and watching lovers slip away. At age 10, “Red” was the first album whose release I counted down the days to, and it was the first album I fell in love with. With a decade worth of streaming these songs, every note, key change, fade and emphasis embedded within the original music is ingrained in my mind.
As alarming as the changes may feel at first, they give the art new meaning. With additional lyrics, shifting sound and new songs, Swift is giving herself and listeners a chance to reflect on what has changed since 2012. Nostalgia is often experienced as an affectionate longing for the past. Now, we have the opportunity to confront history and reevaluate it with a decade of new life. This rectification of memories is Swift’s call for listeners to fuse our lives with her art.
Ownership, both in legal and narrative terms, is the basis for the album. In the work new to listeners, including the 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” Swift writes with intense specificity: the scarf her ex still keeps in his drawer, the twin-sized bed, the “f— the patriarchy” keychain left on the ground after a fight.
In a comment to the New York Times, Swift said of “All Too Well (10-minute version) (Taylor’s version),” “It was about something very personal to me. It was very hard to perform it live. Now for me, honestly, this song is 100 percent about us and for you.”
Although these references are intimately hers, the detailed portraits are pervasive and universal. While Swift is now the official owner of her music, we are all joining her on the time machine to the past. With us, we are bringing back the knowledge of the future that enlightens our reencounter with the work.
Like most of the art Swift makes, these explosive expressions were not released without criticism of it being an exaggerated melodrama. Society has always aimed to regulate female emotions, especially those surrounding issues it has viewed to be frivolous, like Swift’s relationships. She’s faced these criticisms before and willingly chose to amplify the theatricalism. Now, led by Swift with confidence, listeners can embrace both the old and new emotions that these songs evoke.