In October of 2012, Taylor Swift released her fourth studio album “Red,” — an album that bursts with vitality and fervent energy with a bittersweet edge. Now, almost a decade later, Swift has released a remastered version of this fiery record, guaranteed to drive even the toughest of listeners to shed a tear or two.
You might be wondering why she is re-recording albums after so many years. Aside from this album, she also released her version of “Fearless” on April 9 of this year. If you haven’t been keeping up with the Taylor Swift versus Scooter Braun debacle, then you might want to take a seat for this one.
In 2018, Swift made the decision to leave Big Machine Records, the Nashville-based independent record studio that launched her music career, to switch to Republic Records and Universal Music Group, according to Parade.com, an entertainment news site. She was under the impression that she would leave the old label on good terms and even thanked the record founder Scott Borchetta for believing in her and her potential. A year later, she announced that she would be re-recording her first six albums due to ownership disputes.
The dispute began in 2018 when Swift’s contract with the label expired and Borchetta sold everything to record executive and investor Scott Samuel or “Scooter” Braun. Scooter is best known for his work with Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato and Justin Bieber. His company Ithaca Holdings LLC purchased Big Machine Records and all of its music assets for well over $300 million, with Swift’s records accounting for about $140 million. This included everything from her debut self-titled album in 2006 to her “Reputation” album in 2017. Seventeen months later, Ithaca sold Swift’s Big Machine masters to a private equity company called Shamrock Holdings for over $300 million, and possibly as much as $450 million, as stated on Variety.com and Entertainment Weekly.
Swift stated in a Twitter post that she tirelessly begged for her music back after it was sold off to another buyer without her knowledge, but was hopelessly shrugged off. Eventually, a manipulative approach to a compromise was voiced: she could sign back on to Big Machine and earn back one old album for each new album she released.
Ultimately, Swift discovered a loophole. If she were to re-record her first five albums she would gain the full rights back and the full profits for them. Unfortunately, she has to delay the re-recording of “Reputation” until November 2022 due to the rules of her contract stating that “albums couldn’t be re-recorded until two years after the expiration of the agreement or five years after the initial release,” as explained by capitalfm.com. It’s likely that we won’t see an official release until 2023.
It’s a genius move, considering how much this will devalue her original tracks. Not only has she been recreating all of her old songs and taking us all down memory lane, she’s also been releasing previously unreleased tracks labeled as “from the vault” on her album. It serves as a kind of incentive to purchase these new albums without feeling like you’re buying something you already have.
Now that we’ve spilled the tea, let’s discuss the album itself, starting with the vault tracks.
I’ll admit that some of these songs might take some getting used to. I’m not super keen on the country genre and although this album isn’t entirely within that genre, some of these tracks are a bit more strongly influenced than others. “Better Man” — which was also recorded and sung by the country band Little Big Town — is an example of this. I love how the instrumentals in the chorus almost sound like chiming bells, adding a touch of beautiful melancholy. But otherwise, it sounds like a stereotypical country song, and a bit too repetitive for my taste. Don’t get me wrong though — I love Swift’s old songs because they hold a sort of happy nostalgia for me. I’m not at that point with this song yet.
“Nothing New,” featuring Phoebe Bridgers, is as soothing as a cup of chamomile tea on a rainy day. It makes me want to listen to more songs by her, even if they aren’t quite the same vibe.
“Message in a Bottle” is a bubblegum pop song for sure, but I’m not ashamed to admit that it might be my favorite. The vocals are vibrant, polished and perfectly paired with light and bouncy drum beats. It’s definitely reminiscent of songs used in Hallmark movies.
“The Very First Night” also fits into the sugary pop genre but it works perfectly for the album because it's complementary to songs like “22” and “Stay Stay Stay”. They encompass the idea of cherishing the moment and this is all about cherishing the past moments.
“I Bet You Think About Me” is a song I’m surprised to say I enjoy. It has that country flair, but I hear some previous song influences in this one, even if it wasn’t intentional. The verses sound similar to “I Almost Do” from “Red” and I also hear stylistic similarities to “Never Grow Up” and “Mean” from “Speak Now” (2010). The lyricism is stunning and carefully crafted, with Taylor and Chris Stapleton singing about their exes and how said exes might still be pining after them. After reading this, please check out the music video directed by Blake Lively.
As far as the recreations go, they are the equivalent of a slightly better-looking twin.
Aside from Swift’s voice maturing, getting stronger and richer in tone, her level of expression seems to be slightly subdued, which is to be expected since the events of this album are from a distant past. She seems to be taking a more reflective and pensive approach.
As far as the tracks go, “All Too Well,” — the ultimate sad girl track— has Swift reminiscing about her relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal in vivid detail, based on fan speculation. I’ve always loved that song, especially for the line in the bridge that might be one of the best lines Taylor’s ever sung: “You called me up again just to break me like a promise. So casually cruel in the name of being honest.” It always gives me shivers.
But apparently, my definition of vivid detail is not the same as Taylor’s, because she released a ten minute version with even more detail. I’m always a bit wary about longer songs because of my goldfish-like attention span, but this did not feel like 10 minutes at all. It flowed together perfectly and kept up the momentum the entire time. I was on the edge of my seat. Despite being sad about the song itself, I laughed a little at the line “I’ll get older but your lovers stay my age.” Check out the short film for this song, starring Sadie Sink, Dylan O’Brien and obviously Taylor Swift.
“Girl At Home” is a track with a noticeable change. The original version is more subdued, aka minimal production — just a girl, her acoustic guitar and a simple beat. The remake is more reliant on electronic accompaniment and reverb heavy vocals.
As far as song selection goes, “Ronan,” a song honoring a four-year-old boy who died of cancer, found a place in the album, despite previously being released as a single. The song is soft and sorrowful, sounding like a lullaby. I applaud Swift for her unflinching ability to always find the right words to say in a moment where many would be speechless.
Overall, “Red (Taylor’s Version)” was a flawless recreation of an already flawless album, complete with unreleased tracks, epic duet ballads, acoustic demos and even complete changes in genre as “Girl At Home” went from country to pop. Swift isn’t afraid to push boundaries to get what she believes she deserves, and her music is just as passionate and charismatic as she is.
Follow Lauren Johns on Twitter, @lje2017
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