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Confession: Red was never one of my favorite albums from Taylor Swift. I enjoyed the hits and maybe a song here or there, but it was never high on my list of favorites. I always preferred the childhood classics like Fearless or the middle school era 1989 or my all-time favorite Reputation. I never understood why Red was such an end-all-be-all for Swifties. However, now that I have the ten-minute version of “All Too Well” and the vault songs, I have officially fallen in love with Taylor’s heartbreak masterpiece. 

I spent almost all of the winter break listening to Taylor’s Version of the 2012 fan favorite. It also helped me get through the finish line of my very rough fall semester. This version finally gave Swifties the full picture. The full story. 

“All Too Well” is THE song from the album. It’s the song that pulls the story of the entire album. While other songs like “I Bet You Think About Me” and “The Moment I Knew” go more into detail about specific moments in “All Too Well”, “All Too Well” is very much the centerpiece of the album.

“State of Grace” is a great opening to the album. It’s a disclaimer of some sort, like a caution or rating explainer at the beginning of a movie. It’s like a warning, like how the narrator in 500 Days of Summer made it clear to the audience that the rom-com was not a love story. With lyrics like “We fall in love ’til it hurts or bleeds, or fades in time, and I never saw you coming, and I’ll never be the same,” “So you were never a saint, and I’ve loved in shades of wrong. We learn to live with the pain. Mosaic broken hearts, but this love is brave and wild” and “Love is a ruthless game unless you play it good and right,” and “These are the hands of fate. You’re my Achilles heel. This is the golden age of something good and right and real.” It declares that while their love story was epic, it was also doomed.

If “State of Grace” is the cautionary warning of the album, that makes the second track “Red” act like the album’s prologue. Similar to Benvolio’s opening monologue in Romeo and Juliet, it tells the listener that it is about heartbreak and tragedy, not love and happiness despite the catchy lyrics and fun beats. This is proven in the song’s opening lines “Loving him is like driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street. Faster than the wind, passionate as sin, ending so suddenly. Loving him is like trying to change your mind once you’re already flying through the free fall. Like the colors in autumn, so bright, just before they lose it all.” 

The third track, “Treacherous,” talks about a very manipulative romantic relationship. How someone is trained to want the manipulation, crave it even, even when they know it’s toxic. This is from the perspective of being in the middle of the relationship described in “All Too Well.” She knows it is toxic, but she still can’t get enough. With lines like “And I’d be smart to walk away, but you’re quicksand,” it’s clear that the person knew they deserved better, but wanted this person’s love so badly that they suffered through the pain. Besides “All Too Well,” this just might be one of the most tragic songs on the album, lyrically.

The next track, “I Knew You Were Trouble,” is about expressing regret and pain over the events in both “Treacherous” and “All Too Well.” It’s almost the exact opposite of “Treacherous” melodically and lyrically. The song makes this very clear its first few lines: “Once upon a time, a few mistakes ago. I was in your sights, you got me alone. You found me, you found me, you found me. I guess you didn’t care, and I guess I liked that, and when I fell hard, you took a step back, without me, without me, without me. And he’s long gone when he’s next to me, And I realize the blame is on me.”

Track six, “22,” is the only song on the album without a romantic theme. The story of “All Too Well” takes place in the character’s twenties. In this song, Taylor perfectly encapsulates what it is like to be that age, through lines like “We’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same. It’s miserable and magical.” This refreshing song is needed after being bombarded voluntarily with tragic love themes in the first five songs of the album.

In “I Almost Do” we go back to Taylor’s romantic narrative. At this moment, we are post-breakup. Taylor’s character is having a really tough time with it. They knew it was toxic, but they wanted the best for them. Some of them regret breaking up, but they know what’s best. This song showcases the complicated emotions of breaking up from a love gone bad but was also true and passionate. This is shown in lines like “And I just wanna tell you. It takes everything in me not to call you. And I wish I could run to you. And I hope you know that every time I don’t, I almost do,” and “I bet you think I either moved on or hate you ’cause each time you reach out there’s no reply. I bet it never ever occurred to you that I can’t say ‘Hello’ to you and risk another goodbye.”

“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” one of the most iconic songs from the album, shows that Taylor’s character has moved on. They have come to terms with the relationship and their emotions surrounding it, but mostly, they have realized that they do in fact deserve better. After all, the song isn’t called “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” it’s called “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

In Taylor’s catchy track nine, “Stay Stay Stay,” we go back to the middle of the relationship. Possibly their first big blow-up fight. However, it has very manipulative undertones, juxtaposing its perky, fun beat and tone. Lyrics like “You think that it’s funny when I’m mad” and “You took the time to memorize me. My fears, my hopes, and my dreams. I just like hanging out with you all the time. All those times that you didn’t leave, it’s been occurring to me, I’d like to hang out with you for my whole life.” Furthermore showing how truly toxic this relationship was. 

Similar to “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “The Last Time” deals with the complex emotions of a break up from a toxic, yet epic love. Throughout the song, there is a push and pull of the two characters wanting to get back together and wanting this conversation to be their last, making it far more heartbreaking than “WANEGBT.” With lyrics like “You find yourself at my door just like all those times before. You wear your best apology, but I was there to watch you leave and all the times I let you in just for you to go again. Disappear when you come back. Everything is better,” the complex emotions of a breakup you know is for good reasons are displayed in eternally relatable, yet undeniably tragic. 

The song “Holy Ground” asks sort of a picture in a memory book. It’s about nostalgia and reminiscing about a past relationship, showing that Taylor’s character has moved on. It’s specific and visual with its imagery like drinking coffee, getting a new dress, the bustling noises of New York City and dancing. However, it also demonstrates that this relationship is still on the person’s mind. It’s an afterthought, but still thought about as they have shown in lyrics like “And I guess we fell apart in the usual way and the story’s got dust on every page, but sometimes I wonder how you think about it now and I see your face in every crowd.”

In deep cut “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” Taylor’s character now realizes how toxic the love affair really was. While it had its beautiful moments, at the end of the day it was a sad one and it ended in tragedy. With lyrics like “And time is taking its sweet time erasing you, and you’ve got your demons and darling they all look like me,” and “Kiss me, try to fix it. Could you just try to listen? Hang up, give up, for the life of us, we can’t get back,” they are both upset about how the affair makes them feel in hindsight, but also accepting of its beauty both in its existence and its tragic end, shown through lines like “In dreams, I meet you in warm conversation. We both wake in lonely beds in different cities.”

“The Lucky One,” probably my personal favorite song on the original album, begins Taylor’s sub-narrative also demonstrated in the vault track “Nothing New.” It expresses Taylor’s fear of her fame, relevancy and adoration going away. In this specific song, she compares her fame journey to that of one of her idols, possibly Carole King. In the song, Taylor’s character moves to Los Angeles in hopes of gaining fame and fortune. Her idea is to establish an image of a ‘60s queen and make it big. She goes to her idol’s show and is mesmerized and inspired. Later, Taylor’s character has made it. Her life is filled with limos and traveling to luxurious locations. However, she feels very unfulfilled. Meanwhile, her idol has gone off the radar. They took their money from their art and left the industry. Taylor’s character is beginning to question what she really wants from her life. Probably the most iconic line from this song that demonstrates that is “They say you bought a bunch of land somewhere, chose the Rose Garden over Madison Square and it took some time, but I understand it now.”

“Everything Has Changed” begins the sub-narrative of Taylor’s character starting to date and put themselves out there again after their toxic love affair. They meet someone and immediately find a spark with them, shown in lines like “Cause all I know is we said, ‘Hello’ and your eyes look like coming home.” It is also interesting because in this song she collaborates with Ed Sheeran, who shows the other person’s perspective in the song, with lines like “And all I feel in my stomach is butterflies. The beautiful kind, makin’ up for lost time,” expressing that the other person is also getting back into dating and also feels the spark.

For those who don’t know, Taylor dated Connor Kennedy, of THE Kennedys. This means she was a sort of a Jackie O, Carolyn Bessette for one point in time. “Starlight” is about seeing a picture of Bobby Kennedy and his wife Ethel dancing from 1945. She was so amazed by it that she decided to write a song about it. This song could also be interpreted as Taylor’s character finding hope in love again, with lines like “Don’t you see the starlight, starlight. Don’t you dream impossible things.”

“Begin Again” ends this epic break-up album with Taylor’s character starting anew. They are going on their first successful date after the tragic love affair. They are in the very, very beginnings of a new relationship. In comparison to the toxicity of her past lover, this lover is a gentleman. Instead of carelessly throwing car keys and not laughing at her jokes, this guy pulls out the chair for her and throws his head back laughing at her jokes. It’s refreshing for her. She finally meets a guy who is worthy of her. This is shown through lyrics like “Walked in, expecting you’d be late, but you got here early and you stand and wave, I walk to you. You pull my chair out and help me in and you don’t know how nice that is, but I do. And you throw your head back laughing like a little kid. I think it’s strange that you think I’m funny ’cause he never did.

“The Moment I Knew” brings more depth and detail to a plot point in “All Too Well” when they don’t show up for their 21st birthday. The simplicity and pain of this devastating moment are detailed through what the character was wearing to a dream sequence of what would happen if they actually showed up. Through lyrics like “And it was like slow motion, standing there in my party dress, in red lipstick with no one to impress,” and “You should’ve been there. Should’ve burst through the door with that ‘Baby, I’m right here’ smile.”

“Come Back…Be Here” is similar to “Stay, Stay, Stay,” just with a more melancholy tone. It continues the album-wide narrative of taking place in New York, shown through lyrics like “Taxi cabs and busy streets that never bring you back to me. I can’t help but wish you took me with you,” and “I guess you’re in New York today. I don’t wanna need you this way. Come back, be here.” It also continues the narrative that both characters haven’t completely cut each other off, being that they hear things about their whereabouts, either from both being in the public eye (i.e. the theory of this album being mostly about Taylor’s romance with Jake Gyllenhaal) or the fact that they have mutual friends. 

“Girl At Home” is a completely new narrative that has an undertone of cheating, from either Taylor’s partner or potential partner, with lyrics like “​​Don’t look at me, you got a girl at home and everybody knows that. I don’t even know her, but I feel a responsibility to do what’s upstanding and right.” However, it also reveals Taylor’s tendency to always do the right thing and always be a good girl, which Taylor details even further in her Miss Americana Netflix documentary.

“Better Man” is another heartbreaking song about realizing you are better off not in a relationship with a person you are still in love with. Taylor is explaining that it didn’t have to end that way, if only he was a better man. Lyrics like “I know I’m probably better off on my own than lovin’ a man who didn’t know what he had when he had it and I see the permanent damage you did to me. Never again, I just wish I could forget when it was magic,” “I wish it wasn’t 4 a.m., standing in the mirror saying to myself, ‘You know you had to do itI know the bravest thing I ever did was run,” and “Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I can feel you again, but I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man,” expresses the characters complicated feeling of the breakup in a more sympathetic and wishful sense.

“Nothing New” is another song with the sub-narrative of Taylor’s fear of losing relevance and adoration. This time, she fears being replaced. This was written at the beginning of the media’s turn of her. It also talks about a new artist coming along and idolizing her and therefore replacing her saying “she got the map from me,” which is even eerier with Olivia Rodrigo’s rise to fame this past year. It’s the exact opposite of “The Lucky One’s” narrative, but still with the same feelings and fears. This fear is showcased in lyrics like “Lord, what will become of me once I’ve lost my novelty?” “How can a person know everything at 18 but nothing at 22?” and “I know someday I’m gonna meet her, it’s a fever dream. The kind of radiance you only have at 17. She’ll know the way, and then she’ll say she got the map from me. I’ll say I’m happy for her, then I’ll cry myself to sleep.”

“Babe” is a great song. However, it makes sense that it was a vault song and not on the original album. This is because it is very similar both thematically and even lyrically to “The Last Time,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “Stay Stay Stay,” “All Too Well,” and “Come Back…Be Here.”

“I Bet You Think About Me” sort of puts a twist on every song on Red. Instead of Taylor’s character reminiscing, depressed and emotional, she has moved on. She’s in a good place and she sees from a distance her ex’s life, and she believes that a part of him still hasn’t moved on. She almost taunts him with a bait and switch, calling him out on things like his rich upbringing, upper-crust circle, organic shoes, indie concerts and an expensive couch. It’s a very satisfying song after hearing about the toxicity Taylor’s character has gone through, especially through the lyric “I bet you think about me when you say ‘Oh my god, she’s insane, she wrote a song about me,’ I bet you think about me.”

“Forever Winter” shows Taylor’s character viewing her ex’s life from a distance. How he drinks and laughs and solves puzzles. However, she also notes that when she dated him she was young and naive. She thought it would be forever summer when they are together and forever winter broken up, but as we know, Taylor’s character is better off. It’s a deceitfully smart concept. 

“Run” is another song that goes into a narrative from “All Too Well” more specifically. It parallels the storylines in “All Too Well” of skipping town and tossing Taylor’s character the car keys through lyrics like “Give me the keys, I’ll bring the car back around. We shouldn’t be in this town and my so-called friends, they don’t know. I’d drive away before I let you go.”

“The Very First Night” is another song that involves reminiscing and nostalgia. It is perky and fun and a fan favorite. It details polaroid pictures and hallway chases. However, it’s another song that ties to “All Too Well,” although in a less in-depth sense. This song also references dancing in the kitchen like the dancing in the refrigerator light lyric from “All Too Well.”

And finally, the ten-minute version of “All Too Well” (I didn’t include that bite-size version for obvious reasons) a.k.a. Taylor’s masterpiece. This is when the album finally comes together. We hear about them falling in love, the manipulation, the constant push and pull, the breakup, the aftermath, the growing up and moving on all in one song, and all are themes dealt with more in-depth on every other song on the album.

“The Very First Night,” “Holy Ground” and “Starlight” tell the tale of them falling In Love. The manipulation is a constant theme in the album through “State of Grace” and “Treacherous.” The push and pull in this ~treacherous~ relationship is described in “Stay Stay Stay,” “I Almost Do,” “Come Back…Be Here,” “The Moment I Knew,” “Run” and “Forever Winter.” The breakup itself is showcased in “Girl At Home,” “Babe,” “The Last Time,” and, obviously, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” The complex feelings post-breakup are detailed in “Better Man,” “Sad Beautiful Tragic” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Growing up plays into “The Lucky One,” “22,” and “Nothing New.” And then moving on expressed in “Begin Again,” “Everything Has Changed” and even hilariously in “I Bet You Think About Me.” All of these songs’ messages are showcased in “All Too Well.”

“Your sweet disposition, and my wide-eyed gaze, We’re singing in the car, getting lost upstate, Autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place, And I can picture it after all these days,” expresses the feeling of new love and falling in love, while they quickly jar off to more melancholy lyrics like “And I know it’s long gone and that magic’s not here no more, And I might be okay but I’m not fine at all,” and “‘Til we were dead and gone and buried, Check the pulse and come back swearing it’s the same, After three months in the grave, And then you wondered where it went to as I reached for you, But all I felt was shame and you held my lifeless frame.” Then the manipulation starts, shown through lyrics like “And there we are again when nobody had to know, You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath, Sacred prayer and we’d swear to remember it all too well.” The push and pull is tragically one of the most beautiful images Taylor creates with lyrics like “‘Cause there we are again in the middle of the night, We’re dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light,” “And you call me up again just to break me like a promise, So casually cruel in the name of being honest, I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here,” “They say all’s well that ends well, but I’m in a new Hell, Every time you double-cross my mind” “Not weeping in a party bathroom, Some actress asking me what happened, you, That’s what happened, you” and “You who charmed my dad with self-effacing jokes, Sipping coffee like you’re on a late-night show.” The breakup is illustrated when Taylor sings “Well, maybe we got lost in translation, Maybe I asked for too much, But maybe this thing was a masterpiece, ’til you tore it all up,” and “You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine, And that made me want to die.” Lyrics like “The idea you had of me, who was she? A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you,” “‘Cause there we are again when I loved you so, Back before you lost the one real thing you’ve ever known,” “I’m a soldier who’s returning half her weight,” and “After plaid shirt days and nights when you made me your own, Now you mail back my things and I walk home alone, But you keep my old scarf from that very first week, ‘Cause it reminds you of innocence and it smells like me,” showcase the aftermath of the breakup. Taylor uses lyrics like “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it, I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it,” and “But then he watched me watch the front door all night, willing you to come, And he said, “It’s supposed to be fun turning twenty-one,” to show her growing up. And finally lyrics like “And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punch line goes, “I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age,” and “And did the twin flame bruise paint you blue? Just between us, did the love affair maim you, too?”

“All Too Well” also connects to other Taylor Swift songs. The lyric “”They say all’s well that ends well, but I’m in a new Hell” parallels Taylor’s lyric in “Lover”: “All’s well that ends well to end up with you.” See? It’s like how everything came back to Katherine in The Vampire Diaries (a show that is also a weird connection to Taylor Swift, but that’s for another article), everything comes back to “All Too Well” on the Red Album. It’s a masterpiece inside of a masterpiece. It’s the north star. It’s the sun. It’s the nucleus. In the world of Taylor’s discography, it’s what everything spins around.

Hello! My name is Sami Gotskind! I am a Theatre Performance major, Journalism minor from Chicago, and I am a writer for both Her Campus KU and Her Campus National! I love film, TV, fashion, pop culture, history, music, and feminism. You could describe me as an old soul, an avid Euphoria fan, a self-proclaimed fashionista, a Swiftie, an Audrey Hepburn-Blair Waldorf fanatic, a future New Yorker, and a Gossip Girl historian. Look out for me on your TV screens in the near future! Thank you for reading my articles!
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