From Red to Red (Taylor’s Version): How Taylor Swift Comforted Me
The powerful rerecorded album lulled me back to adolescent innocence. And I am grateful for it.
At 11 pm this past Friday, and I sat in my room, listening to Red (Taylor’s Version), for the second time, cathartically screaming—I mean singing—along. I closed my eyes and felt nothing but the plucking of strings and the steady vocals, washing over me, pulling me back to a time where everything felt miserable and magical. Where were you nine years ago? Were you happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time? I was, and honestly, I still am. Maybe that’s why Red (Taylor’s Version), an album so masterfully drenched in sweet nostalgia, has sent Swifties into a state of teenage frenzy.
Taylor Swift has remastered this album, and I don’t use that word lightly. This is the second full-length album that the artist has rerecorded—a part of her mission to take back ownership of her discography after her first label, “Big Machine Records,” effectively sold the original recordings of her first six albums to Scooter Braun, a music manager who works with artists like Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber. Red (Taylor’s Version), is not just a musical triumph, but a powerful portal to a time where nothing and everything mattered.
“On Friday, November 12th, Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version) broke the record for the most-streamed album in a day by a female,” a Spotify spokesperson wrote, “and Taylor broke the record for the most-streamed female in a day in Spotify history. It skyrocketed to the top of iTunes charts. YouTube views for the lyric videos are already in the millions. Swift’s artistry comes from her ability to write simple lyrics that allow the raw emotion of her voice to radiate straight into the souls of her listeners. The album, which people suspect is about her romance with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, doesn’t force her experiences onto the listener. Instead, Swift writes uncomplicated, borderline cliché songs, that can be moulded to fit into anyone’s life.
When Red was released in October 2012, I was like any other tenth grader. My life was about school, friends, and crushes. At the time, I was infatuated with a boy who I’d only spoken to maybe twice. Swift, diligently, gave me an outlet for my feelings towards him. Pretending that maybe, in some parallel universe, this boy who has shown no interest in me, just might have a change of heart, I’d listen to “Treacherous,” smiling to myself and softly singing along, “I’d be smart to walk away, but you’re quicksand.” In typical high-school fashion, petty drama and raging hormones caused trust to corrode and secrets to leak. When news spread to the boy, he brutally rejected me, and for a short while, I really thought my life was over. But this only added kindling to the fire Red had started in my heart.
My imaginary relationship had come to an end, but Swift’s songs not only healed my wounds, they created an unbreakable bond between me and my friends. I was in a boarding school and, just like me, practically everyone had boy drama that was similar enough for us to find solace in each other’s heartbreak. One day, when I was particularly sad, my best friend Ruth, looked over at me and started playing “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” on her laptop. I looked up and she was smiling. The chirpy, sarcastic, deeply-feel good energy of the song was irresistible. “I remember when we broke up, the first time,” she sang, looking at me, grinning.
“Saying this is it I’ve had enough, but like,” I replied, a smile cracking through my mopey face. Within seconds, we jumped off our beds, onto the floor, hairbrushes in hand, belting out the chorus with a joy so powerful, we put the laptop speakers to shame. “I Knew You Were Trouble,” came on next, and we both tilted our heads back singing “AAooohhh, aaOOOOhh, TROUBLE, TROUBLE ,TROUBLE,” only to see other students popping their heads into our room to partake in our off-key harmony. We finished our impromptu performance with “22,” a song destined to grace countless birthday posts on Instagram. The two of us, laughing and out of breath, revelled in each other’s companionship, with an unspoken assurance that, as Swift says, “everything will be alright if you keep me next to you.” Ruth and I went to different parts of the world for university but stayed in touch. When her friend messaged me asking me to send a video of myself wishing her for her 22nd birthday, I made peace with the fact there was no way this wouldn’t be embarrassing and—sang the chorus.
The Red era also got me through my first (extremely awkward) relationship. I had romanticised having a boyfriend probably since I was a child, thanks to Disney’s Aladdin and Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan. Now, I was in one, and it really felt like everything had changed. On a Wednesday afternoon, a sweet kid named Alex (who gave me “free reign” to expose our cringiness) asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend. That evening, while my friends asked me about the details, Swift crooned in the background, “all I’ve seen, since 18 hours ago is green eyes, your freckles and your smile in the back of my mind…” I substituted the lyrics with brown eyes and dimples.
The four tender months we dated brought on a whole new meaning to Swift’s songs because, for the first time, my feelings were requited. On a makeshift date, we sat nervously touching shoulders, talking, while my friends swung from the monkey bars close by. I remember feeling insecure and confused as to why he was laughing at my jokes and telling me about his family. It was Wednesday again. We weren’t at a café, but I did feel like I was watching something “Begin Again.”
At the end of the year, Alex told me he was moving, and we, extremely naïvely, decided to pursue a cross-continental long-distance relationship. We exchanged some personal belongings—I chose my favourite purple scarf, doused in Ruth’s candy-sweet perfume before delivery, and he, as per protocol, gave me his hoodie. The night we broke up, I listened to “All Too Well” on repeat for hours, crying. I couldn’t understand how Taylor Swift, a woman who has no idea who I am, could capture what I was feeling so perfectly. Maybe I subconsciously gave him my scarf because I had heard it in the song. But at the start of the following academic year, when Alex returned to visit, he gave back most of my memorabilia, but not the scarf. He kept my old scarf.
It’s been nearly a decade since my Red era. I went to college and put Swift on the back-burner as she entered her Reputation phase and I spent freshman year pretending I didn’t like mainstream pop music. I met new people, made new friends, and along the way, became a woman who knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life and wasn’t going to let anyone, especially a man, get in the way. I didn’t feel particularly compelled to listen to Swift’s re-recorded albums, but the internet’s anticipation for Red (Taylor’s Version) was palpable. Upon release, I inhaled it, devouring Swift’s light, mature voice that made these renditions sound like lullabies sung by an older sister. I felt my stomach twirl as my mind filled with memories of people and experiences that guided me through the most formative years of my life—of my generation’s lives. It seemed as though there wasn’t a single person in the world who wasn’t experiencing extreme Red fever.
During my initial listening, I skipped the ten-minute rendition of “her greatest song.” On Saturday morning, I set my alarm for 5:30 am and watched the premiere of “All Too Well: The Short Film.” Four minutes in, I already had tears streaming down my cheeks. As though the song wasn’t already heart-crushing, Swift managed to inject it with a new soulful, reflective passion. Swift directly speaks to her ex here, in a way that made me feel so connected to her while maintaining her classic relatability. She recalls him saying, “if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine,” and I think about the man who used his thriving career as a reason to reject me, a graduating senior, the day before I had a job interview (unlike Swift, whose ex effectively ruined her 21st birthday, I got the job). The ballad, as painful as it is, feels like closure, sealing the end of an era of innocence and adolescent discovery. As I wiped my tears away, I couldn’t help but smile, knowing that I am not alone, comforted by the fact that I can always fall back into Red’s warm arms.