On Nov. 12, 2021, Taylor Swift released “Red (Taylor’s Version),” the re-recording of her 2012 album “Red.” This is the second album she has rerecorded to regain ownership of the work she previously released under her former label, Big Machine Records.
From the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” to her songs from the vault like “Forever Winter,” the new “Red” is longer and so casually cruel I’m not sure if it’s still in the name of being honest. Originally released with 16 tracks, the re-recording expands to 30 songs and features artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Gary Lightbody, Ed Sheeran and Chris Stapleton. Merciless, sensitive and painfully aware of how it feels to be happily and unhappily in love, Taylor Swift makes a strong original even stronger by combining country songs like “Better Man” with heart breakers like “Ronan” and “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” which contains a particularly venomous “Could you just try to listen?”
“Nothing New,” a duet with Phoebe Bridgers about aging, is a particularly poignant addition. It’s not a new topic — how inexplicably sad it is to go from lighting up rooms to waking up at night stuck in a liminal space — but brutal questions like “will you still want me when I’m nothing new?” provide the album with a raw sense of shaken optimism that feels fitting.
The vulnerability on “Red” is so poignant. It’s about revisiting a time in your life that felt so important you felt you would never recover from the aftermath of it. Swift’s matured vocals and songs that expand on her stories make the album feel like a reflection; she has already worked through the angst that inspired her music, even if she still remembers it all too well.
In addition to the album, Swift released a short film she wrote and directed for the 10-minute version of her song “All Too Well,” starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien. Though they play unspecified roles, many see Sadie and Dylan as stand-ins for Taylor Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal.
The short film unfolds in chapters, beginning with “An Upstate Escape” and ending with “Thirteen Years Gone.” Filled with cozy sweaters, autumnal foliage and refrigerator light, the warmth of the scenery offsets the uncomfortable moments in the film, like when an argument erupts between the couple and Dylan’s character dismissively tells Sadie’s character that she’s “making herself feel that way.”
The new lyrics in the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” that narrates the short film are particularly critical of the age gaps in Taylor’s previous relationship, and casting 19-year-old Sadie Sink opposite 30-year-old Dylan O’Brien accentuates this power imbalance. While both actors are from shows marketed to teenagers — “Stranger Things” and “Teen Wolf,” respectively — the public’s familiarity with Dylan compared to Sadie is a subtle way of accentuating their age gap.
The short film perfectly encapsulates the stomach-churning, nausea-inducing power imbalance in the relationship she’s singing about, and it evokes a sense of discomfort that’s ethical and practical. Watching them interact casts your face in a permanently judgmental position. It’s awkward, but it’s also intentional. Sink’s performance forces the audience to see relationships like Taylor’s, where the younger person is subjected to more scrutiny, in an introspective context.
The new “Red” feels like a venting session and a much-needed therapy appointment, but more than anything, it feels like closure. She didn’t have to rerecord this album, but she understood how much these songs mean to her fans. What is now hers again is also ours to enjoy, cherish and cry to. Her fans still wanted this album, even if it’s nothing new.