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Friday Feminist Reviews, Music 22nd December, 2021

On Red (Taylor’s Version) and the Universality of the Female Gaze.

Universally lauded for her adept narrative-inspired songwriting skills and flawless vocals, Taylor Swift is a master of genre, and her latest album Red (Taylor’s Version) is proof of that. Swift is also, famously, outspoken about gender discrimination within the music industry. Even the record’s release is an act of liberation in and of itself. It’s the second (after April’s evergreen Fearless) in a series of albums Swift is re-releasing after losing the rights to the music she made when signed to Big Machine Records, a label founded by Scott Borchetta, and later acquired by Scooter Braun. But it’s Swift who rises through the ashes, and Swift who prevails in the midst of a world that runs on the whims of powerful men. 

The first track, State of Grace is a masterful opener as any with its catchy drum beats and guitar riffs. But it is the title track Red that demonstrates how Swift’s voice has only matured, while still maintaining its original timeless quality. Swift leans into every belt and vocal run, confident in her mastery of craft. Treacherous slows things down a little with its innocent  plea for the brilliance of every first love. It’s also an excellent reminder that impeccable lyricism in pop music is far from a past relic. The next track, I Knew You Were Trouble, serves up a classic rendering of every artist’s revenge fantasy indulgence. Often criticised by many as the weakest track in an otherwise no-skip album, this peppy number is only made stronger in its newest reincarnation. 22  affectionately hits you in the face with its explosive vocals and carefree instrumentation. One of my favourites from the original record, I Almost Do is a perfect representation of Swift’s immense vocal control, the chorus a lowered whisper.

Another iconic albeit divisive track, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together is the slightly more casual yin to I Knew You Were Trouble’s yang, but its rounded score and balanced vocals cement it to career-defining status. It’s hard to admit a least favourite, but the relentlessly optimistic Stay Stay Stay would have to be mine. The Last Time may be one of the record’s less memorable tracks, but with driving strings, and a gorgeous, lifting chorus, it comes out on top. If Holy Ground’s thumping beat and fast-paced vocals lifted you to your feet, Sad Beautiful Tragic sits you right back down with its lush vocals. The Lucky One serves as an aching reminder of the shame that lingers behind Riviera views and sold out concerts. In the first of two collaborations with ginger phenomenon Ed Sheeran, Everything Has Changed is a transformative duet that compliments both voices. Starlight is a rousing number that recalls an endless summer night. Light fingerpicking and a timid Swift lead you into Begin Again, perhaps the most narrative driven song of the album. The Moment I Knew shatters this arc, as Swift depicts heartbreak in a single, charged moment. Steeped in longing, Come Back…Be Here is a moving snippet of the troubles of a long-distance relationship. Swift revamps Girl At Home into a techno-infused heartbreak anthem, but it’s a welcome change. 

…it’s Swift who rises through the ashes, and Swift who prevails in the midst of a world that runs on the whims of powerful men. 

The first of 10 exclusive From The Vault tracks, Ronan flows with the deepening realisation that you can never truly leave grief behind. Better Man is a smooth elegy to a lost love. Nothing New is monumental – Bridgers is the first artist to have her own verse on a Swift collaboration. It’s also strikingly different in sound when compared to the rest of the album, with its indie influences and defiant love letter to female artists. Babe marks a return to familiar territory with that classic, devastating Swift  bridge. The giddy, bright-eyed dance track Message In A Bottle lives in a world of its own, but it is one Swift embodies. I Bet You Think About Me evokes her country origins with its matter-of-fact lyrical style, and Stapleton’s easy drawl. My personal favourite, the urgent Forever Winter reminds us that friendship is its own first love. Run has some particularly notable harmonies, but is an altogether forgettable number. Another Vault gem, the ethereal The Very First Night draws you in with its knife-like innocence and picture of a whirlwind romance. 

And finally, the closing track All Too Well (10 Minute Version). Accompanied by significant hype and a stunning short film featuring Dylan O’Brien and Sadie Sink, this song gave us everything in the best possible ways. The new lyrics only add to the raw musicality of the original and the final minute fades out like the end credits of a movie you know you’ll never be too old to rewatch. Ultimately, Red (Taylor’s Version) is a story that belongs to all of us, and it is a story that deserves to be told.

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