Taylor Swift: Red (Taylor's Version) (Republic) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, February 27th, 2024  

Taylor Swift

Red (Taylor’s Version)


Dec 02, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Don’t meddle with a masterpiece they say. But what happens when someone peddles your masterpiece? When someone you have zero respect for buys and sells your work and could continue to profit from it for many years to come? This is essentially what happened to Taylor Swift when the masters to her early albums released on Big Machine were sold without her having any say in the matter. Music mogul and former Kanye West manager Scooter Braun had bought Big Machine in 2019 and with it the rights to the master recordings of Taylor Swift’s first six studio albums. A situation Swift called her “worst-case scenario.” Then in October 2020, he subsequently sold the masters, videos and all artwork to Shamrock Holdings, an American private equity firm. Swift has labelled him a “bully” and “the definition of toxic male privilege in our industry.” Furthermore Swift claimed she was told if she wished to bid on the ownership of her masters she would be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement that forbade her from making any negative future public comments pertaining to Braun, an offer she quite rightly refused.

Rather than see a grown man who calls himself Scooter and others profit from her work, Swift set about re-recording her early albums. Red was her fourth studio album and one which many critics claim to be amongst her very best work, it’s also her second re-recording (hence the bracketed Taylor’s Version in the title) in an attempt to wrestle back control over her music and reclaim her musical legacy. As well as the original 16 tracks re-recorded it comes replete with a plethora of additional material that didn’t make the original final cut labelled “From The Vault.” For example there’s a particularly lovely duet with Phoebe Bridgers on “Nothing New,” which could quite neatly have slotted onto Swift’s 2020 album Folklore. And talking of Swiftian folklore, the near-mythical, much talked about, but never previously heard 10-minute version of “All Too Well” finally surfaces.

Red was a pivotal album in Swift’s career, written when she was 22 and containing what she’s described as about “14 different genres.” And whilst the re-recordings stay true to the original, Swift improves upon it on a number of levels. The production is sharper and Swift’s voice has matured, sounding both warmer and richer than on the original versions. The album, which centers on her relationship and ensuing heartbreak caused by an older lover, widely believed to be actor and alleged scarf thief Jake Gyllenhaal, still manages to retain the emotional heft of the original. Swift’s innate gift has always been her ability to write melodies that are impossible to dislodge from your head, as well as lyrics that conjure up images that transport you into her world and, in this case, back through time.

She’s always been pretty adept at the barbed lyric too, on “Never Getting Back Together” she mocks her ex’s performative edgy hipsterism—“And you would hide away and find your peace of mind/With some indie record that’s much cooler than mine”—and clearly warms to the theme on “I Bet You Think About Me” singing, “You grew up in a silver-spoon gated community” and “I bet you think about me when you’re out/At your cool indie music concerts every week/I bet you think about me in your house/With your organic shoes and your million-dollar couch,” which leaves little doubt who it’s aimed at. All eyes on Mr. Darko then?

One of the most improved tracks on the album is her duet with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody on “The Last Time.” Both artists put in a vocal performance that dwarfs the original and it’s certainly the best thing Lightbody has been involved in since his duet with Martha Wainwright on “Set the Fire to the Third Bar.”

“The Moment I Knew” still packs a gut punch and is believed to be about Gyllenhaal failing to make an appearance at Swift’s 21st birthday party in December 2010. Again Swift’s ability to put you in the moment is uncanny, you can genuinely feel the excitement and anticipation at celebrating a landmark birthday with loved ones slowly turning to despair as Swift sings “Christmas lights glisten/I’ve got my eye on the door/Just waiting for you to walk in/But the time is ticking.” This is referenced again in the eagerly anticipated extended version of “All Too Well” as Swift sings: “You who charmed my dad with self-effacing jokes/Sipping coffee like you’re on a late-night show/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.’” It is without a doubt one of Swift’s finest songs shining a light on the power dynamics at play within a relationship that has Swift lamenting: “You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath.”

Indeed the 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” containing Swift’s original draft, is extraordinary and adds a myriad of additional layers to the song. It doesn’t so much wistfully reflect on certain behaviours within the relationship, which could come across as gaslighting at best, as eviscerate them. Swift nails the casual cruelty and patronising put-downs, responding to “You said if we had been closer in age, maybe it would’ve been fine” with the acerbic, “And I was never good at telling jokes but the punchline goes/I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age.” Ouch! The track also has Swift singing “You taught me ‘bout your past/ Thinkin’ your future was me/And you were tossing me the car keys/’Fuck the patriarchy’ keychain on the ground,” which has had some doubting the veracity of her claim that these lyrics were part of the original draft. But why not? Given her experiences in this relationship and of the boys club that is the music industry where women are nonchalantly evaluated, critiqued, celebrated (often for the wrong reasons), and dismissed as serious artists almost entirely by men, it seems perfectly plausible.

As with many of Swift’s songs, there are countless ways her lyrics can be interpreted but what is an indisputable truth is that this is now the definitive version of Red. It may also ensure that the good old boys who casually sold her music, seemingly out of a mixture of greed and spite, won’t get one red cent from Red, and it proves you can take a masterpiece and make it sound even better. (www.taylorswift.com)

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