What Revisiting Taylor Swift’s ‘Red’ 9 Years Later Taught Me About Myself

"Red" by Taylor Swift
Photo: Courtesy of Republic Records. Adobe. Design: Cierra Miller/STYLECASTER.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve become born again as a Taylor Swift fan. Anyone who stalks my Spotify Friend Activity can tell you as much. In between mental breakdowns at the library and silently scrolling on TikTok at 2 a.m., the blondie’s discography has been on repeat. More specifically, the newly-released Red (Taylor’s Version). In this house, we don’t give our coins to Scooter Braun!

I had a 10-step plan to mentally prepare for the re-release, which mostly consisted of buying Ben & Jerry’s and reminiscing on the original album. Sonically, the first version of Red continues to be one of Swift’s best—signature, raw lyricism layered with a new, unique pop sound unlike anything she had done at the time. Red (Taylor’s Version) continues to deliver upon the original’s sense of vulnerability with added vocal control and intimate tracks never seen before. “Nothing New,” featuring indie princess Phoebe Bridgers, is one of the few times a female artist has had a guest verse on a studio project (and it definitely ripped me apart!) while a reimagined version of “Girl At Home,” far outshines the country-inspired 2013 deluxe track. All of this is to say, my 2022 Spotify Wrapped is going to be a bit embarrassing with the amount of Red (Taylor’s Version) tracks in my top ten. 

But here’s the thing: I’ve always been a Swiftie. My bedroom walls were decorated with Tiger Beat and J-14 photoshoots of the singer. I brought my Wonderstruck perfume to school each morning to obnoxiously spray it everywhere only to get scolded by my teachers. I wanted to learn how to play the guitar so I could swing my mane back and forth like she did in the concert video compilations I watched on YouTube. As the kids say, I was Swiftpilled from an early age. 

Red (Taylor’s Version)

"Red (Taylor's Version"

Image: Courtesy of Republic Records.

The original Red came out during my peak angst years. It was 2012 and I was a melodramatic middle schooler who thought her life was a romantic comedy, as we all do when we’re 13. The morning car rides of my 8th-grade year were filled with blasting the album on my iPod Touch, looking out the window, main character style. I had just gone through my first breakup a few months earlier where a boy broke my heart under the school stairwell. The details weren’t important, nor was the fact that we probably only dated for three weeks max. What was important was that Taylor felt like she climbed into my bedroom while I was sleeping, ripped a page from my fuzzy diary, and layered my life story over pop-beats and dramatic guitar riffs. It was real. It was honest. And hey, maybe I didn’t relate to every single lyric on the original version of “All Too Well,” but the feelings were the same. 

Red marked a change in my life, from a girl who hadn’t had her first kiss to a tween crying in the backseat of her sister’s car. The album was the first real heartbreak music I listened to and truly experienced, unlike the women who had come before me who had TLC or JoJo. Taylor, although she had no idea who I was, became my best friend and the best friend of so many other young girls emerging into the “real” world—one that doesn’t always have fairytale endings. 

Taylor, although she had no idea who I was, became my best friend.

And so, the relationships in my life came and went. But the grand love affairs were eclipsed to the specific soundtrack of Taylor’s music. There was the high school boyfriend who didn’t show up to my photography exhibit, prompting me to blast “The Moment I Knew” for weeks. The messy, toxic entanglement in a new city set to “Holy Ground.” The nights getting ready to “22” with my best friends before a night on the town for someone’s birthday dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. There were fleeting glances from crushes set to “State of Grace,” only to scream-cry the lyrics to “I Knew You Were Trouble” with my roommate. You know, all just girly things. 

For an album so influential to my young adult life, you could imagine the crippling fear I had when Swift’s re-recorded version was announced earlier this year. I was at the height of my budding career, in a stable, nearly five-year relationship, and finishing up my last semester of college. I knew I wasn’t going to relate to every single word as I did when I was that crying middle schooler, but I’ve always been a sucker for nostalgia. Was Red (Taylor’s Version) going to destroy my life? Probably. Would it be fun? Yes! 

In a self-fulfilling prophecy, after an interesting turn of events, it looked like I would be relating to Taylor’s Version after all. Pre-post-grad depression set in, my relationship had run its course, and the loss of my teenage sparkle hit me like a ton of bricks. Safe to say that the 10-minute explicit version of “All Too Well” hit very different, along with the rest of the re-recorded songs that consumed every waking moment of my teenage years. 

There are a few artists that can validate the feelings of young women without dumbing down their problems.

Of course, every moment in most of our lives are marked by albums and tracks. For me, it always came back to Red. Whether at 13 or nearly 23, a decade of heartbreak, frustration, overwhelming joy found itself tied to an album largely inspired by Jake Gyllenhaal, a man who rarely showers. But, larger than that, Red, and Red (Taylor’s Version), was always, and continues to be, a celebration of youth. There are a few artists that can validate the feelings of young women without dumbing down their problems, and rather, acknowledging the pain built into the female experience.

So, when Swift and Bridgers said, “How could anyone know anything at 18 but nothing at 22,’ on the newly-released “Nothing New,” I felt that. Reflecting on Red’s lasting impact in my life, and the men that it brought with it, feels like the right thing to do before heading off into the big, bad, scary world of corporate America. Now, we wait for the 20-minute version of “Dear John,” from the imminent release of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)

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