Illustration by Ben Beechener
The release of Red (Taylor’s Version) brought with it a day of two halves. Who knew our friendship could be so broken by the re-recorded originals, and so seamlessly put back together by the ‘Vault tracks’? We were saved from the precipice of ‘never ever getting back together’ by ten tracks previously hidden from us. With the ‘Vault tracks’, ‘everything has changed’. (I bet you thought we were done with the dreadful puns.) An album we thought could not be improved has been elevated to god-tier status. Not only are the songs great as a part of Red (TV), as they add the elusive ‘sonic cohesion’ that was missing, but they are also great in themselves.
In part, this sonic cohesion is a result of the fact that many of the ‘Vault tracks’ can be grouped together. ‘Babe (TV)(From the Vault)’ and ‘Better Man (TV)(From the Vault)’ are a perfect pair; ‘Message in a Bottle (TV)(From the Vault)’ and ‘The Very First Night (TV)(From the Vault)’ are nothing if not absolute bangers; and ‘Nothing New (TV)(From the Vault)’ and Forever Winter (TV)(From the Vault)’ both have a depth that is lacking from album tracks like ‘22 (TV)’. This final pairing must be taken with a pinch of salt, though, as ‘Forever Winter (TV)(From the Vault)’, while melodically a bop, is lyrically crushing. (Don’t worry we will go on to explain this later). Whereas, ‘Nothing New (TV)(From the Vault)’ is straight-up crushing. Given this evident ‘sonic cohesion’ among the ‘Vault tracks’ it is curious that Swift originally allowed ‘Babe (TV)(From the Vault)’ and ‘Better Man (TV)(From the Vault)’ to be released by Sugarland and Little Big Town respectively. Although – given that her old record label, Big Machine Records, had prevented her from naming the entirely independently-written Speak Now, ‘Enchanted’ (track 9 on the album, recently ‘discovered’ on TikTok) – we must consider realistically how much choice Swift was given with the tracklist.
Phoebe Bridgers has done something (literally) unheard of on the track ‘Nothing New (Taylor’s Version)’. She has managed to actually sing on it. Yes – The Chicks featured on Lover’s ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’, HAIM contributed to evermore’s ‘no body no crime’, and Maren Morris appeared on ‘You All Over Me’ (TV) (From the Vault)’. But none of them factored in as anything more than glorified backing singers. Bridgers, on the other hand, gets a whole verse – we know … shocking. ‘Nothing New (TV) (From the Vault) [feat. Phoebe Bridgers]’ shows a level of vulnerable self-consciousness and awareness which contrasts with its almost-twin, ‘22’. Both songs mention the trials and tribulations of growing older, but where ‘22 (TV)’ promotes partying, youth, and carelessness, ‘Nothing New (TV)(From the Vault)’ smacks you in the face with responsibility, vulnerability, and regret. If there was ever fear that the relationship between the two was going to be lost on us, Swift doubles down on the connection in the new song, “How can a person know everything at 18 / But nothing at 22?”. This is evidently not the blasé Swift of ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’.
Surprise, surprise – the ‘Vault tracks’, like in almost all of Swift’s offerings, contain a song with soul scarring lyrics covered up by an upbeat melody. We have seen it before in ‘All You Had To Do Was Stay’ (1989) and ‘Story of Us’ (Speak Now), and (as briefly mentioned above) here it is again in ‘Forever Winter (TV) (From the Vault)’. The contrast between lyric and sound is jarring. But, it does mean you can either get all caught-up and deep about the song, or – if you don’t have the time to expend such emotional energy, let it remain as a background bop.
Speaking of absolute bops, ‘Message in a Bottle (TV) (From the Vault)’ and ‘The Very First Night (TV) (From the Vault)’ are both unskippable. If you listen to no other tracks on the album, just listen to these. The fact that they did not make it onto the original is a ‘treacherous’ crime. Honestly, if you thought Fearless (TV) missing ‘Mr Perfectly Fine (TV) (From the Vault)’ was profane, the absence of these two from Red was sacrilegious.
Arguably the most important contribution to Red (TV) is the ten-minute version of ‘All Too Well’ (seriously, please can someone check on Jake). With its new synthpop feel, it fits much better with the more upbeat vibe of some of the ‘Vault Tracks’. Yet, it still retains an honesty and vulnerability that was (debatably [we still hold differing opinions on this]) lost in the re-recording of the original. In recording all ten minutes, the song epitomises being ‘casually cruel in the name of being honest’. Its cruelty is in how unnecessary its honesty is – we all wanted it, but realistically none of us needed it. (Jake definitely didn’t need it). Then again, you will find no complaints from either of us – ‘All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (TV) (From the Vault)’ is a masterclass in lyricism, (with the exception of the tragic attempt to reference Shakespeare, ‘All’s Well that Ends Well but I’m in a new HELL’; I mean come on?
That being said, we do see this same pick-me ‘I know English lit’ energy in ‘the lakes’ (folklore) with “tell me what are my ‘words worth’ ”. There might also be some merit – or at least Katharine likes to see it that way – in the lyrical parallels between the “All’s well that ends well but I’m in a new hell” of ‘All Too Well (10 Minute Version)(TV)(From the Vault)’, and the ‘Lover’ line, “All’s well that ends well to end up with you”. That is growth right there, but we (Katharine) would need a whole other article analysing the noticeably comparable lyrics about Jake and Joe. So just for now, let’s hope she stays clear of the GCSE English syllabus in future!
Red (TV)’s release was accompanied by a short film starring the all-grown-up Sadie Sink and Dylan ‘Jake Gyllenhaal’ O’Brien. What the film – which is absolutely going to be Oscar nominated or Katharine will fight the academy [Jess isn’t so much of a fan] – does is bring another dimension to the song’s story, making physical some of the traumas that Swift alludes to in her lyrics. We finally get to see what she meant by ‘dancing in the refrigerator light’, though let’s hope no one’s real-life fridge gives out the same bioluminescent blue glow as Sadie and Dylan’s. The film was a great watch on ‘the very first night’ it came out (or at least from what we can remember of it was great…it was certainly greater than the Union’s silent disco – maybe Jess couldn’t truly appreciate it because, by then, she was many a cocktail in? – hardly the right state for valuing true cinematic genius), and it is still great now; Taylor is going to struggle to top it.
The only bone we have to pick with the ‘Vault tracks’ is the ridiculous length of their names. The majority of our word count has been taken up by all of the bracketed additions. But other than this one issue, there is little else we could ask of Swift and her latest release. The music video for ‘I Bet You Think About Me (TV)(From the Vault)’ was stuffed with Easter eggs (we are manifesting 1989 (TV) next (the seagull cake!)). The new cover art adds a maturity to the album’s promo. The album itself, especially with the addition of the ‘Vault tracks’, has aged with us.
You would have to fight us if you had a genuinely discrediting opinion.
Okay, okay … if there was one thing we would actually change it would be the tracklist – so we did!
Emotion or autobiography can be read into our ordering at your leisure.
Red (Taylor’s Version [but actually Katharine and Jess’ Version]):
1. ‘The Very First Night’
2. ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’
3. ‘Girl At Home’
4. ‘Forever Winter’
7. ‘State of Grace’ [Acoustic]
8. ‘All Too Well (10 Minutes)’
9. ‘I Bet You Think About Me’ [feat. Chris Stapleton]
10. ‘I Almost Do’
11. ‘Better Man’
12. ‘Everything Has Changed’
13. ‘The Lucky One’
15. ‘Message in a Bottle’
16. ‘Stay Stay Stay’
17. ‘Holy Ground’
18. ‘The Last Time’
19. ‘Begin Again’
21. ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’
23. ‘Nothing New’ [feat. Phoebe Bridgers]
24. ‘State of Grace’
26. ‘Run’ [ft. Ed Sheeran]
27. ‘All Too Well’
28. ‘The Moment I Knew’
29. ‘Come Back…Be Here’
30. ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’