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Don’t You Dream Impossible Things?: Revisiting Taylor Swift’s Red in 2021

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

In October 2012, I was in the midst of my first year at university, struggling with being away from home, receiving a diagnosis for general anxiety disorder, trying to understand how essays worked. And then – perhaps because we see meaning where we want to, or perhaps because Taylor Swift is actually an oracle – Red, Swift’s fourth studio album, was released and I found a defining record to hang on to.

Red is the continuation of a coming-of-age that began with 2010’s Speak Now; a move from teenage dreams and romanticism of love to the harsh realities of love and adult life. While some of it doesn’t always ring true – I doubt that, regardless of her lyrics, Swift has ever not paid her rent or been worried about being able to afford the train home – Swift’s journey to grow up alongside her fans is one that still rings clear and earnest.

Earlier this month, Swift released Red (Taylor’s Version), as part of a project to re-release her 6 albums recorded at Big Machine Records. It is now her highest rated album, scoring 92 out of 100 on Metacritic; on release it became the most-streamed album in a single day by a female artist on Spotify. An album that received some criticism on its original release – for comparison, the 2012 edition has a Metacritic score of 77 – Red has gone through a transformation from often overlooked to acclaimed darling.

Taylor’s Version is heavily expanded at 30 songs and needs four records for the vinyl edition. 20 songs represent the ‘original’ deluxe edition tracklist from 2012 and are largely faithful reconstructions of the originals. Like the re-release of Fearless (Taylor’s Version) earlier this year, the production benefits from the voice of an older Swift – her enunciation is improved and she stretches to the higher notes on songs like State of Grace without strain in her voice – but that doesn’t take away from the emotion or energy of the songs, which feel in many ways like a just-opened time capsule. 

Red is an album of excruciating sadness and immeasurable joy, and reliving those extremes is an almost mythical experience. The transitions from ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ to ‘All Too Well’ to ‘22’ is as much a rollercoaster now as it was in 2012, as is the jump from ‘Stay Stay Stay’ to the ‘The Last Time’, from ‘Holy Ground’ to ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’. With each song Swift weaves a story that many of us know so well; the highs of new love, the lows of a break up, the dreams of a Friday night with your closest friends. 

The real draw for many fans? The final 10 songs – ‘new’ releases, not heard before or not previously recorded by Swift. These often work incredibly well: ‘Run’, the first song Swift wrote with Ed Sheeran, is mystical and soft; ‘The Very First Night’ is a country-pop fever dream; ‘Nothing New’ with Phoebe Bridgers is prophetic and heartbreaking. 

There are a few almost misses: ‘Babe’ and ‘Better Man’, previously recorded by other artists, sound like demos rather than final tracks. ‘I Bet You Think About Me’ relegates country legend Chris Stapleton to backing vocals and while a fun track, it’s often gloating lyrics don’t make for easy repeated listenings. They are Swift tracks though, and her abundant talent still shines through.

There is a clear masterpiece in ‘All Too Well (Taylor’s Version) (10 minute version)’, the last track on the album. The extended song has a mythical status in the Swift universe, as legendary as the scarf in its opening lines. Often classed as Swift’s best song, the re-released version has again been hailed by critics and is the longest song to have reached number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. It deserves the acclaim it has received and more, with Swift’s additional lyrics bringing new anger and sorrow to her desolate view of a love gone wrong. Well worth a nine year wait, the extended version of a much beloved song (as well as the Sad Girl Autumn version Swift released a week later) cement Red (Taylor’s Version) as an album worthy of the highest praise.

‘Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralysed by it,’ sings Swift in the bridge of ‘All Too Well’. Revisiting Red in 2012 has given me my own sense of those words; just as in 2012, I’m back at university after quitting my job and starting fresh. So much life has happened in the 9 years since the album’s release but there is a calming symmetry in being able to sit, listen again, and feel the same connection and love for these songs as I did almost a decade ago. Like Swift, I’ve moved on from trying to find the old version of myself, but Red (Taylor’s Version) has a welcome place in the new world.

Sophie is a Psychology conversion student, adjusting back to uni life and finding time to read again. She’s interested in good books, good music, and finding out how to live a life less stressed. You can find her book reviews on instagram at sophieloureadsbooks and her other writing at sophieloureadsbooks.com.
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