Taylor Swift is a key player in music industry engineering. She led some of the most pivotal events and discussions regarding the business of songwriting and Intellectual Property over the last few years. She argued for better payment for songwriters from streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify. Most recently, she battled to earn her masters back after music entrepreneur Scooter Braun bought them.
This last event led Swift to record new versions of her old albums and songs so that she could generate new masters that this time she owns. Red (Taylor’s Version) (2021) is the re-recording of Red (2012). It also features songs that weren’t on the original album.
When the original Red was released, Swift wasn’t as business savvy as she is today. That doesn’t mean she didn’t have business sense, nor did it mean that Red didn’t spark questions from the public: is she leaving country music for real? Or does she think this can pass as country music? Does she want to be a pop star? Or has she really been such a great songwriter all this time and it just went unnoticed?
To fans, of course, Swift’s ability to create catchy songs with lyrical depth is no surprise. These two aspects of her creative genius are taken to new heights in Red (Taylor’s Version). Swift brings some of her best lyrics to date and ventures into songs that are even more pop by design, such as encompassing dubstep in tracks like “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “22”.
Regardless of how her songs are arranged, Swift’s proficiency is with the words, melodies, and chords. She is, first and foremost, a songwriter, and a storyteller — these talents have always been at the heart of her artistry. How these skills translate into different genres (country, pop) is a matter of form and context rather than substance.
In pop songwriting, a critical process of creating an appealing song is choosing the right chords. Chord progressions like those of “I Knew You Were Trouble”, “All Too Well”, “Come Back… Be Here” can carry a song almost by itself. (It’s no coincidence they are among the most used chord progressions in pop music). Swift lays the groundwork of her songs with good chords in Red (Taylor’s Version), but she also enhances the songs’ power with catchy lyrics and melodies (“You fooound me / You fooound me / You fooound me-e-e-e-“).
Red (Taylor’s Version) also marks a turning point in the public perception of Swift as a lyricist. In her first albums, her diary-like lyricism was overlooked as the product of mere teenage angst. With Red the original, many looked at Swift as someone who’s not only good at pouring her heart out but also at creating poetry. The vulnerability and specificity in her lyrics, combined with her gift for metaphors, make her music authentic, relatable, and undeniably well-crafted.
That transition from “teenage idol writing about boys” to “serious singer-songwriter” would still take years to complete in the public eye. But with songs like “Begin Again”, “All Too Well”, and “I Almost Do”, Swift’s gift becomes nearly impossible to ignore. This isn’t just a young woman using art to cry through because her heart is broken. It’s the other way around: this is an artist making art about her heartbreak.
For all these reasons, Red was a decisive point in Swift’s career. It confirmed many of the assumptions made about her at the time and brought new elements to the understanding of her as a woman and artist. Yes, she was fully embracing her status as a pop star at the time and yes, she was aiming for a more commercial sound. She wrote about her love life back then – as one hell of a songwriter – and she was getting better at it.
Red (Taylor’s Version) honors this work all over again. The album also immortalizes Swift’s songwriting catalog as it features songs she wrote for other artists, like the beautiful “Better Man”, recorded by the country band Little Big Town in 2017.
By placing together some of her new version classics together with new songs, Swift is celebrating her evolving artistry. And she’s not celebrating alone: the album features collaborators Gary Lightbody, Ed Sheeran, Phoebe Bridgers, and Chris Stapleton.
Lyric-wise, the songs in Red (Taylor’s Version) still shine just like before. After all, there’s no expiration date for lyrics like “Every time I don’t, I almost do” (from “I Almost Do”), or “And I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to” (from “All Too Well”).
There’s a victorious feeling in Red (Taylor’s Version). It’s not just Swift’s victory over businessmen profiting from her music without giving her due share. It’s also the victory of a woman in her 30s looking back at her 22-year-self and seeing that the artistic decisions she made at the time paid.
Red (Taylor’s Version) stays mostly true to the original arrangements, except for an additional, acoustic version of “State of Grace”. “Girl at Home (Taylor’s Version)” is perhaps the one in which her now empowered attitude shatters the glow of the coy, sweeter original version – it adds a new layer to the lyrics.
In the iconic bridge of “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)”, Swift sounds more aggressive when she sings “Maybe I ask for too much” than in the original recording. But how could she not? The very fact that this new recording exists is proof that Swift got tired of being led into thinking she doesn’t have the right to want what she wants.
Red (Taylor’s Version) feels like two albums in one. That such a long play, which even ends with a ten-minute-long track is bearable and enjoyable, says a lot about the compelling artist that Swift is. It’s a powerful statement by a pop artist standing in a unique position in pop culture.
Red (Taylor’s Version) is both an Intellectual Property strategy tool and a prolepsis of the status that Red will uphold in the future. Instead of commemorative, anniversary editions or posthumous albums, Swift fans can enjoy Swift’s evolving discography, and especially Red (Taylor’s Version) with access to rare material.
As Red 2012 was a watershed, years from now, music fans will look back to the release of Red (Taylor’s Version) and think: “It was rare, I was there.”