Red (Taylor’s Version) redefines heartbreak

Review Column

Brooke J. Freundschuh and Emma Tanner

 On Nov. 12, Taylor Swift released “Red (Taylor’s Version),” the second album she has re-released in order to gain ownership of her work. The Flor-Ala’s managing editor, Brooke Freundschuh and writer, Emma Tanner, both lifelong fans, discuss and review the album, including its 10 brand new tracks “from the vault.”

Brooke: I’ve been a fan of Taylor since I was six-years-old. When “Red” first released in 2012, I was in a brief period in which I refused to listen to her, because she was dating Harry Styles, which she could not do, because I, at 12-years-old, was obviously destined to marry him myself. However, I was quickly reminded that her music meant the world to me and gave “Red” a chance. I fell in love. The writing was beautiful. “The Lucky One” and “Starlight” were so glamorous. “All Too Well” instantly became my favorite song, and has remained so for nearly a decade. It has comforted me for the thousands of times I’ve listened over the years, and was the soundtrack to my freshman year heartbreak. Until the release of “folklore,” “Red” was my favorite album by Swift. 

Emma: My mom raised me on Taylor Swift. Whether it be singing to songs from “Fearless” or screaming along to “Speak Now,” my childhood memories coincide with Swift’s discography. I even sang “Tim McGraw” from her debut album at my first grade talent show — it was the first song I learned all the words to. Her songs nursed me through my first melodramatic high school breakup. “Red” was the first album I owned myself (on CD, of course). I had been anticipating its release for months and made my grandmother buy it for me as we were Christmas shopping. As a 9-year-old, I didn’t fully grasp what a poignant lyrical masterpiece “Red” truly was. I would religiously watch and sing along to her heartbreaking Grammy performance of “All Too Well”, not even realizing how much that song would mean to me as an adult. “Red” quickly became my favorite album by Swift. Even now, it is only equal to “evermore” for me. 

Brooke: It’s so fun to hear you say that “Red” was the first CD you ever owned, because “Fearless” was mine! I still go to the store to buy her new albums every time one releases, and this one was no exception. From the first listen, I was immediately blown away by how her voice has matured in a way that adds quality to the performance without changing the authenticity of the song. That one note in “State of Grace” speaks for itself. (You know the one.)

Emma: I had been so excited for this specific release just to see how her matured voice would sound with it! “State of Grace” was the perfect mix of new and old Taylor, and that note really is amazing. My personal favorite of the original tracks has to be “Sad Beautiful Tragic.” Her old version had a lot of raw emotion behind it, but the performance of it on the re-release really shows how much she has matured as a singer. I was also just as blown away by her two duets as I was the first time. Ed Sheeran and Gary Lightbody did an amazing job on their part. They still compliment her voice wonderfully.

Brooke: I think that’s one of the best parts about her re-recording her work: seeing how the artists she has collaborated with have grown as well. I was shocked by how much better both Ed and Taylor sound on Taylor’s version of “Everything has Changed.” It’s emotional for them to re-collaborate on it again, too, because in 10 years, everything has changed for them, both in their personal lives and professional careers, yet, they are still making music together. I’ve always been partial to “Holy Ground,” and I think it has to be my favorite Taylor’s version from the original track list. It was interesting to see how the production, especially on the original bonus tracks, differs with the re-release.

Emma: I love that you mentioned the production of the bonus songs. “Girl at Home” got an entirely new production which has made me love it even more than I originally did. For a lot of fans, myself included, the vault tracks really stole the show. Taylor brought in three amazing artists to collaborate with (my personal favorite is Phoebe Bridgers) and gave us so many more songs to fall in love with. I’ve been listening to the vault tracks more than the original track list at this point. They’re infectiously catchy and extremely relatable. 

Brooke: I agree. “Nothing New” is an amazing song, and is another that is bittersweet and emotional to listen to, knowing that she wrote it a decade ago, asking if she’d still be loved when she wasn’t as young as she was then, an anxiety that’s also addressed on “The Lucky One.” Ten years later, not only does she still have the attention of her fans, but she is successfully remaking her old work. “I Bet You Think About Me,” although repetitive of lines in other songs, is fantastic, and I love the country twang in her voice as she sings. I’m obsessed with how she says “Beverly Hills.” The video, directed by Blake Lively, is brilliant. Taylor sitting at the kid’s table because she was told she was too young is genius. 

I remember the first time I heard “Better Man” by Little Big Town when I was 16. I was strongly against country music at this time, but I adored that song. It wasn’t for another year that I knew Taylor wrote it, proving that she’s one of my favorite songwriters. Finally hearing her sing it is a magical experience.

Emma: I felt the same about country music, too! Taylor was the only exception and the other country songs I liked were written by her. “Babe” was another song I was excited to hear her perform solo, since it was originally performed by Sugarland and only featured her. It had a different sound from the original that I couldn’t help but love. I also agree with your comparison of “The Lucky One” and “Nothing New.” Hearing her express the anxiety that she had at 22 is gut-wrenching. Knowing that even now, ten years later, her work is still beloved is so wonderful. The music video for “I Bet You Think About Me” is wickedly funny. I’ve watched it on loop since it came out. Blake Lively is an amazing director, and her wit shined through. I love that you mentioned the significance of her sitting at the children’s table, and I also love the symbolism of her being the only spot of red in a completely white room. 

Don’t even get me started on her release of the 10 minute version of “All Too Well” that came from the vault. It managed to exceed the already high expectations I had of the song. Jack Antonoff’s production of the song added a lot, too. It changed “All Too Well” from a song of heartbreak to a song of reflection on an unhealthy relationship. The new verses and bridge created such a bittersweet masterpiece. She truly revealed all aspects of the relationship, building a whirlwind romance only to tear it down before us. Even without experiencing a breakup like that firsthand, anyone can feel what she felt when writing it. I literally cried listening to it for the first time and fought back tears during the short film that was released alongside it. That’s what an efficient writer she is. 

Brooke: When I was a freshman at UNA, I went through a breakup that has always reminded me of “All Too Well,” but with the addition of the new verses in the 10 minute version and the story portrayed in the short film, it feels like it was made for me. However, I know thousands, if not millions of other people feel this way about the song, which is what makes it the masterpiece it is. I’ve been in love with this song for nine years, but now, hearing the entire song, the way it was written originally, it’s like seeing the other half of the picture or reading the rest of the book. Casting Sadie Sink, who is only 19, made the film stand out even more. 

Emma: I totally agree about the casting. It paints a picture of what Taylor felt at that age. Sadie played the role magnificently. It was agonizing to watch her in “The Reeling” section of the short film. It’s something many other people relate to. Having to build yourself up after a breakup is definitely the worst part of losing someone like that. Taylor did an amazing job in her directorial debut, and all I have seen for it is praise. I really hope she continues to pursue projects like this, because I would definitely watch anything else from her.

Brooke: Me too! “Dear John (Taylor’s Version)” the short film, anyone?

Emma: Or perhaps “Last Kiss (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version).”

Brooke: “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” was nostalgic, but the songs on that album reflect how youthful she was at the time. “Red (Taylor’s Version)” proves that this record withstands the test of time and is the ultimate album to be re-recorded. I would give it six out of five stars if I could. 

Emma: “Red (Taylor’s Version)” has become an instant classic in its own right. I can’t wait to see what else she does with her discography. She really has outdone herself and, as a longtime fan, I am extremely proud. “Red (Taylor’s Version)” is my favorite album now.