Returning to Red

Returning to Red

‘I once believed love would be burning red, but it’s golden like daylight.’ So sings the American singer songwriter Taylor Swift in the closing track to her 2019 album Lover. To the ordinary listener, this lyric is of little significance, but, for followers of Swift’s career, this line resonates with the artist’s growth to personal and musical maturity. 

Since the 2012 release of the album Red – Swift’s fourth studio album – Taylor Swift’s artistic identity has undergone a series of radical changes. Red consolidates the singer’s career as a country phenomenon while simultaneously pre-empting Swift’s progression into a pioneer of contemporary pop. Having conquered the popular genre, Swift’s most recent albums, Folklore and Evermore, indicate the singer-songwriter’s startling shift into the world of indie-folk, representing another stylistic turn in Swift’s musical career. 

Yet, for Taylor Swift, imagining a new musical future involves ‘a detour back to the past.’ Last week, Taylor Swift began the twenty-two-week countdown to the re-release of Red. Two years ago, Swift broke a thirteen-year contract with Big Machine Records following the company’s sale of the singer-songwriter’s masters. Since then, Swift has embarked on a mission to re-record the six studio albums owned by Big Machine, releasing copy-cat versions of her previous hits. 

Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is replete with subtle changes that indicate the thirty-one-year-old artist’s development as a songstress. 

In April, Swift’s re-record of Fearless became the best-selling album of 2021, making it the most successful country album in six years. To the casual listener, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is indistinguishable from its 2008 counterpart. For Swift’s obsessives, on the other hand, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is replete with subtle changes that indicate the thirty-one-year-old artist’s development as a songstress. 

Just days after the release of Fearless (Taylor’s Version), fans began to speculate over which re-recorded album would follow: would Swift backtrack and release her debut album, progress to the demonstrably dramatic Speak Now, jump to the Grammy winning 1989, or return to Red – a firm favourite with fans but the musical skeleton at the back of Swift’s artistic closet? Ever a lover of inertia, Taylor chose to toy with her fans, allowing Disney to release a snippet of the track ‘Wildest Dreams’ from the re-recorded 1989 album in their trailer to Spirit Untamed.  

This was enough to convince Swift fanatics that 1989 (Taylor’s Version) would follow hot on Fearless’ heels. Tuesday’s news that Red would, again, precede 1989 consequently came as a crashing shock; ‘like driving a new Maserati down a dead end street.

Red will be a difficult album for Swift to return to. The musical collection failed to secure the Album of the Year award at the 2013 Grammys due to its tonally confusing fusion of country tunes and pop tracks. The thundering drums that open the first track, ‘State of Grace’, give way to the electric grinds of the chart-topping ‘I Knew You Were Trouble.’ The style shifts again across Red’s later half, as Swift retreats to mimic the soft acoustics of her earlier music.

In her announcement of Red’s re-release, Swift herself seems to acknowledge the stylistic inconsistencies of her fourth studio album, admitting that Red was ‘all over the place, a fractured mosaic of feelings that somehow all fit together in the end. Happy, free, confused, lonely, devastated, euphoric, wild, and tortured by memories past.’ 

Recording Red, Swift writes, was ‘like trying on pieces of a new life, I went into the studio and experimented with different sounds and collaborators.’ ‘I just couldn’t stop writing’, she continues, revealing that as many as thirty songs ‘were meant to go on Red. And hey, one of them is even ten minutes long.’ 

‘All Too Well’ is regarded by many to be the greatest song, both lyrically and musically, that Swift has ever penned.

It is this final revelation that has left Swift’s followers burning scarlet with excitement. Here, Swift is referring to the fifth, longest, and most powerful track on Red: the soft rock power ballad ‘All Too Well.’ Though never released as a single, ‘All Too Well’ is regarded by many to be the greatest song, both lyrically and musically, that Swift has ever penned. ‘All Too Well’ ‘was born out of catharsis and venting’, says Swift in her Netflix special Reputation: The Stadium Tour. The five minute track exists as a sheared outpouring of romantic pain, however, Swift and collaborator Liz Rose were forced ‘to filter through everything I wanted to put in the song’ and cut five minutes off its run time. 

 ‘All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)’ seems sure to site a refusal of musical convention and an in-depth return to Swift’s artistic past. Similarly, the re-release of Red promises to provide Swift with the opportunity to return, as a mature and increasingly autonomous musician, to her most turmoiled and most treasured album. Red (Taylor’s Version), which will be released on 19 November 2021 – the birthday of Scooter Braun, who holds the masters to the original album – looks set to scorch the musical scene.

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