The year is 2012. I am 12 years old. I arrive home from a trip to Target with my mom and brother and walk up the stairs to my room, CD in hand. The CD is Red by Taylor Swift, purchased with my allowance after listening to the previews of each song on iTunes for a week. (It was the era of digital music, but I liked buying CDs for the lyric booklets. Still do.) I sit on my rug, put the CD in my stereo and hit play. I stay in that spot for hours as I listen to my favorite album for the first time. I remember hanging on to every melodious word as I stayed huddled up in my room all weekend while the rain that indicated Hurricane Sandy was coming poured down outside. I remember a giddy excitement and starry-eyed admiration for Taylor Swift that I knew would never end.
To me, Red represents so much more than a collection of songs. It is the soundtrack to car rides and dance parties in my room, the lyrics I copied from memory onto loose-leaf during classes, the lullaby that puts me to sleep, the musical safe space I can return to whenever I want. So one can imagine the immense excitement I felt at the prospect of listening to it for the first time again.
Now it is 2021. I am a junior in college and hanging out in my room, jittery with anticipation for Red (Taylor’s Version) to come out at midnight. A heavy rain storm swirls outside as I watch the minutes tick by and haphazardly paint my nails scarlet. Finally, finally midnight arrives and I press ‘purchase’ on my phone. I lay back on my head, headphones secure and hit play, buzzing with joy as I hear the beginning notes of “State of Grace” flood my ears. I allow lyrics I’ve treasured for nine years, like “love is a ruthless game unless you play it good and right” and “nothing safe is worth the drive” to wash over me. I finally hear the original, 10-minute long version of “All Too Well,” Swift’s magnum opus, and the couplet “There we are again when nobody had to know/ You kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath” stuns me. I thought the song couldn’t possibly have gotten more vulnerable and lyrically brilliant, but Swift’s pointed asking of “just between us, did the love affair maim you too?” proved me extremely wrong.
For die-hard Swifties such as myself, the second half of this album is already familiar: some of the tracks were included on the Target deluxe edition years before, while others like “Better Man” and “Babe” were given to country bands Little Big Town and Sugarland, respectively. “Ronan,” a ballad written with approval about a fan’s son who died of neuroblastoma, was a charity single for Stand Up to Cancer 2012 and is considered one of Swift’s most moving songs. The other tracks, dubbed “From the Vault” in parentheses, are the ones that were left on the cutting room floor. But hearing each and every one of these old and new bonus tracks is a brand new type of joy. Swift’s anguished delivery of “you push my love away like it was some kind of loaded gun” gives “Better Man” the Swiftian element that it needed. The new version of “Girl At Home,” where Swift calls out someone’s boyfriend who flirts with other women, turns it from a country-pop banger into a sleek pop moment that wouldn’t be out of place on 1989. These songs also reveal the sassier side of Swift’s lyrical abilities, from declaring “it would be a fine proposition, if I was a stupid girl” to the man in the aforementioned song, to sneering about her ex’s “organic shoes and (his) million dollar couch” on “I Bet You Think About Me (feat. Chris Stapleton)”.
Listening to Red (Taylor’s Version) is a loaded and nostalgic experience, and not just because of the poignant songs. This is the second album that Swift has gained ownership of in the process of rerecording her first 6 studio albums. It is heartwarming to see her performing and speaking happily about an album written during, as Swift puts it, “a sad time” in her life. An especially touching and meta moment on the album comes through during her duet with the phenomenal up-and-coming indie rock star Phoebe Bridgers. Swift wistfully asks her 2012 and 2021 listeners, “will you still want me when I’m nothing new?” Yes, Taylor. Yes I will.