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Review: 'Red (Taylor's Version)' helps Taylor Swift regain control of her story

A lot has happened since 2012 — to us and to Taylor Swift — and her new album shows just how much we've changed

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"The release of Taylor Swift’s remastered 'Red' album — titled 'Red (Taylor’s Version)' — has served as an eye test to compare and contrast the world of then with the world today." Illustration originally published Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021.


Picture yourself where you were nine years ago, all the way back to 2012. "The Avengers" was the biggest movie of the year, Gangnam Style took over YouTube, Barack Obama successfully gained a second term and everyone thought the world was about to come to a cataclysmic end.

Looking back, that world seems almost unimaginable compared to life as it stands today, and the release of Taylor Swift's remastered "Red" album — titled "Red (Taylor's Version)" — has served as an eye test comparing and contrasting the world of then with the world today.

When Swift originally released "Red" on Oct. 22, 2012, it was an instant hit, topping the Billboard 200 list at number one and selling 1.21 million copies in the first week.

But outside of Swift's hardcore fanbase — or "Swifties" — her music was viewed through a critical, arguably misogynistic, lens. Most of the tracks on "Red" revolve around Swift's romantic struggles as a young woman under the weight of her fame. Yet, the general view of Swift and her music was defined by her relationships, and she was labeled a crazy ex girlfriend.

At that time, it seemed there may have been nothing more enticing to the entertainment media than a young female artist's love life. Any interview with Swift had some reference to the number of men in Hollywood she had dated, without any similar questions posed to said men or recognition that such attention likely had a large part in the ending of such relationships.

Swift was unwillingly grouped into the legacy of other famous young women over decades, like Britney Spears or Marilyn Monroe, which sent a message of worth. That is, a young woman's worth was based primarily on the men she's been with, rather than her own character or art.

In "Red (Taylor's Version)," Swift makes sure we all remember: this is her story to tell. 

Swift effectively takes back control of her narrative and erases the caricatures made about her with the rerelease.

The rereleases themselves are also the first step in an effort to take back ownership of her songs and begin making money from her older work rather than making profits for someone else. But righting old wrongs doesn't stop with the business side of the album. Swift ensured everyone, "Swiftie" or not, know the full context behind each of her songs.

"All Too Well" accomplished that and more.

Alongside two separate versions of the piece on "Red (Taylor's Version)" — a rerecording of the original and a new 10-minute version — came a short film starring Sadie Sink as Swift and Dylan O'Brien as Jake Gyllenhaal, Swift's assumed muse for the 2012 inception.

"All Too Well: The Short Film" tells the story of their relationship in 14 minutes, how the age difference between Swift, then 20 years old, and Gyllenhaal, then 29, created a toxic and predatory dynamic. The two stand-ins are the same ages their respective roles were when they dated back in 2010. 

One line over all stands out in this context:

"And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punchline goes / 'I'll get older, but your lovers stay my age.'" With this in mind, the film makes it painfully clear just how young Swift was, and by casting Sink just off of her debut in Stranger Things, it's a fact that's impossible to ignore.

And yet, that was the case back in 2012, when the world turned a blind eye to Swift's situation, along with so many  other young women who dated within the entertainment circle, and the women who suffered sexual harassment at the hands of countless industry leaders.

The fact that this message is getting across today is a silver lining. It points to a sort of progress toward the bare minimum which should be expected of society: a basic respect for women, especially those thrust into the spotlight in front of the world.

A lot has happened in the last nine years, and maybe the cost of those simpler times was worth it in order to expose the glaring misogyny in the entertainment industry and across society.

Of course, the progress has only gone so far. Hopefully we won't need an even longer "All Too Well" in another nine years.


Reach the reporter at rknappen@asu.edu and follow @Ryan_Knappy on Twitter.

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