Like many of my fellow late-’90s babies, Taylor Swift’s music was a big part of my teenage years. She was the Olivia Rodrigo for our generation – minus the Disney stardom and beautifully curated “sad girl” aesthetics. Taylor was more like an imaginary best friend with her fearless guitar strumming, imperfect vocal technique and passionate yet poetic lyrics.
I had all of Taylor’s CDs and faithfully watched (and rewatched) all of her music videos – at least, up until her 2012 album Red. I wasn’t crazy about her switch to pop and was getting more into music genres like R&B and hip hop by then. Red was like the last girls’ road trip I shared with my best friend before we got older and grew apart.
So when Swift released Red (Taylor’s Version) – a re-recorded version of the original album – on Friday, I hit play without hesitation and closed my eyes as my heart started pounding. The unflinching, powerful drum beats that open the first track, State of Grace, immediately transport me back to the years I grew up with Taylor’s music, to the teenage girl who sang her heart out on car rides to her piano classes and spent hours daydreaming or agonizing over imaginary heartbreaks.
Yet it wasn’t all about reliving old memories and my wildest dreams. Songs like the 10-minute extended version of All Too Well now resonated with me in a way that 22-year old Taylor’s music couldn’t.
“And you call me up again, just to break me like a promise. So casually cruel in the name of being honest… But you keep my old scarf from that very first week, ‘cause it reminds you of innocence and it smells like me.”
The high-school me was deeply impressed and moved by the lines in All Too Well, and the raw, intense emotion they conveyed, but I was yet to experience an actual heartbreak. I didn’t know what it feels like to leave my things at someone else’s place and never return to retrieve them.
When singing along, I was jolted by unfamiliar lyrics – the new, extended version of the song includes some standout new lines, sharp and clever. It felt like putting on your worn-out cardigan, but discovering it now had new buttons.
And that’s what makes Taylor’s new version of Red so special. It is both old and new, young and sophisticated all at once, offering a unique listening experience that marries nostalgia with new perspectives. It embodies both girlhood and womanhood – and the period of transition in between.
So I put my headphones on and listened to the whole album – all 30 tracks meant to be included on the original record, including nine new songs, some featuring high-profile guests like Phoebe Bridgers (Nothing New) and Ed Sheeran (Run).
I don’t sing the songs out loud like I used to in my mom’s car. But for now, I will join my 15-year-old self and Taylor Swift on revisiting our last road trip, watch (and rewatch) her new All Too Well short film, and her not-to-be-missed musical appearance tomorrow on Saturday Night Live.
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