Breaking Down Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version)


Above: the album cover for the newly released Red (Taylor’s Version)

On Friday, November 12, 2021, Taylor Swift released her version of her 2012 blockbuster album Red. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Charts its first week and broke several streaming records, making Swift the most streamed woman in a single day and the first to amass 100 million streams in one day, among others. 

The album has drawn a great deal of interest, and so in this article we’ll take a deeper dive into it — the story behind its re-recording and how the album itself holds up.


Why Re-Record?

At first glance, Taylor’s decision may be confusing for many. That’s perfectly reasonable, given that artists rarely re-record old material expressly intending to replace original versions, and certainly none have taken on a re-recording project the scale of Taylor’s. So here’s a helpful breakdown of the whole thing.

In the United States, there are two types of song ownership: publishing rights and masters. The former refers to copyright of the recording as art, usually held by the artist. The latter refers to ownership of the sound recording that is copied and distributed commercially. 

In this context, Swift, being a songwriter on all her songs, has publishing rights to all of them. That isn’t necessarily the case with her masters, and that’s where this whole saga begins.

Swift signed with country label Big Machine Records for the beginning of her career, making six albums under them: her self-titled debut Taylor Swift (2006), Fearless (2008), Speak Now (2010), Red (2012), 1989 (2014), and Reputation (2017). 

Because of the contract she agreed to, Big Machine Records owned the masters of all these albums and the songs on them. So in 2018 Swift signed with Universal Music Group, who granted her full ownership of all her songs moving forward. 

However, Swift’s old masters were sold to music manager Scooter Braun, as part of a larger deal where Braun acquired Big Machine Records as a whole. Swift published a Tumblr post condemning the deal, saying that she had been trying to buy her own masters for years and she considered the sale to Scooter Braun, who she described as an “incessant, manipulative bully”, a betrayal. 

After a series of subsequent disputes, Swift finally announced that she would re-record her first six albums, where she would have full ownership of the new versions. She plans for fans to instead stream her new versions, devaluing the originals so their owners don’t profit from them.

She commenced the project with the re-recording of her 2008 hit album Fearless, dropped in April of this year. And now the next album in line has arrived: Red (Taylor’s Version).


The Album

Musically, Red (Taylor’s Version) is a brighter, bolder, and better-sounding version of the original, with improved production and sound and benefiting greatly from Swift’s more mature and more skilled voice. 

There are a few hiccups where the original isn’t replicated as well as it could’ve been. For instance, the hook on hit single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” sounds a little higher-pitched than might’ve been ideal.

But, these are only minor flaws, and the overall effort put into this project clearly shows. Hearing the re-recorded versions of once-inescapable singles like “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “22” will transport listeners back in time immediately. Standout deep cuts from the original, such as “Holy Ground”, “Treacherous”, “State of Grace”, and of course fan-favorite “All Too Well”, are reproduced perfectly or bettered — that beat change on Treacherous just a little more dramatic, the drums on State of Grace even more hard-hitting. 

Swift could’ve probably stopped here and her fans would’ve been satisfied. But, as she tends to do, she went the extra mile, also adding ten tracks of additional bonus content to Red (Taylor’s Version) for fans to enjoy.

One of these tracks demands that it be discussed first — the ten-minute version of “All Too Well”. For those who don’t know, “All Too Well” was a deep cut from the original Red that very quickly became a fan favorite.  Ever since, even as Swift would go on to release five subsequent albums (not including her rerecordings), it has remained the song the majority of fans and critics alike consider her best.

“All Too Well”, the original, was considered the epitome of Swift’s melodic and lyrical instincts. Over its five and a half minute runtime, the country power ballad sees Swift methodically take apart her past relationship detail by detail, until finally at the climax of the bridge she screams “And you call me up again just to break me up like a promise/So casually cruel in the name of being honest” — likely one of her most-quoted lyrics of all time.

After the album’s release, Swift mentioned that “All Too Well” had originally been ten minutes in length, before she cut it down. Fans immediately began clamoring for the longer version, and have continued since. 

So, with Red (Taylor’s Version), Taylor finally gave them what they wanted. While the ‘normal’ version of “All Too Well”, the version present on the original Red, was also re-recorded and is present earlier in the album, it’s this never-heard-before version that’s getting all the attention, and for good reason.

“All Too Well”, the ten minute version, takes everything that made “All Too Well” great and turns it up to 11. This version, produced by longtime Swift collaborator Jack Antonoff (of Bleachers, and also having notably worked with Lorde, Lana del Rey, Clairo, and St. Vincent, among others), opens quietly, with a slightly dreamier and poppier sound backdrop. It’s fitting, because the song feels like a fever dream. 

This time Swift doesn’t fail to miss a single thing, laying out every piece of her broken heart and the story behind each one on the floor. She delivers lyrics it’s hard to believe were actually cut originally — “you kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath” — and despite the 10:13 runtime the song stays engaging throughout. 

In terms of the other additions, they include a mix of new and old songs. Other than the acoustic version of “State of Grace”, there are “Babe” and “Better Man”, which were written by Swift and then later given to other artists. Here we get to hear Swift’s own performance of them alone as originally intended. 

There is also the gut-wrenching “Ronan”, written by Swift as a tribute to a young four-year-old boy who lost his life tragically to cancer. The song takes lyrical inspiration from his mother’s blog, who is even credited as a co-writer on the track. Swift gives those lyrics every bit of the tender emotion they deserve, making the song a standout on the record.

The other eight tracks, denoted as being “(From the Vault)”, are all completely new to fans. They’re songs from the Red era that originally didn’t make it onto the album. While a couple tend towards the less memorable side, such as the Ed Sheeran-featuring “Run”, there are certainly some gems here too. “Forever Winter” and “The Very First Night” are charming songs showing the poppier side of Red

Another highlight is the duet “Nothing New” featuring indie singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, produced with the National’s Aaron Dessner (who also helped with Swift’s 2020 albums Folklore and Evermore). It’s clear Swift chose her partner perfectly. Bridgers’ hushed, sadder vocals complement her own brighter ones gorgeously, and the song itself could’ve fit nearly as seamlessly on Bridgers’ own 2017 album Stranger in the Alps. “Nothing New” is lyrically great too, eloquently detailing 22-year-old Swift’s anxieties about both romantic relationships and fame. “How can a person know everything at eighteen and nothing at twenty-two?”, the pair sing in devastating harmony on the chorus.

Overall, Red (Taylor’s Version) functions as both a beautifully well-done project and a statement of the importance of artists owning their own work, and succeeds immensely in both aspects. Check it out! You won’t regret it, I promise!