Updated: Nov 28, 2021
Photo by Andy - @adwow
Two weeks ago and two days from today, Taylor Swift dropped her re-recording of her fourth studio album Red (Taylor's Version). If you don't know why Taylor is re-recording six of her nine studio albums there is a well written article on The New Yorker that explains why.
Being a long time Taylor Swift fan since pretty much the beginning of her career, I respect her reason for re-recording and have been thrilled with the two that have come out, especially because both albums contain previously unreleased music that she wrote when writing for those CDs. She calls that music From the Vault.
Taylor's music has been so influential in my life (more on that in a future blog post) that I thought it would be fun to interview a couple of friends who are also big Swifty fans and have great insight (the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing) into her music. My guest in this blog post is the intelligent and gifted writer herself, Alyssa Esparaz. Please give her a warm welcome.
Taylor Swift first released her Red CD on October 22, 2012, three days after my birthday. One of my housemates at the time, Morgan, gifted me the CD as a birthday present. I loved it from the beginning. I still have memories listening to it in the apartment we shared in the north end of London, Ontario all those years ago, as well as driving in my car in autumn, feeling so many emotions as I sang my heart out to it.
Alyssa, how did you respond to Red when it first came out nine years ago and what was your reaction when Red (Taylor’s Version) dropped on November 12, 2021?
A - I was in grade 10 when Red first came out and probably the most vivid memory I have of listening to that album that year was in art class—there’s just something about the vibes of listening to Red in your high school art class, I guess! I remember we had to do a project for that class where we re-created an album cover if it had a different name, and I re-created Red if it had been called State of Grace instead. Clearly, the album was a huge part of my life that year!
I am so excited about all these re-recordings and Red is no different. Because she announced it months ago, I feel like I was waiting forever! (A big contrast to how long we had to wait for Folklore and Evermore after their announcements!) So I was so ready when Red (Taylor’s Version) dropped, and I went straight to the 10 minute version of All Too Well, of course.
R - My two favourite songs on the album were clear to me from the first listen. The devastating, All Too Well and the lament, yet hopeful Begin Again. Now that Taylor’s Version is out, I would add I Bet You Think About Me as another favourite song from the album because of how well written it is, how country it sounds and that it has the amazing vocals of Chris Stapleton accompanying her.
What are your favourite songs from Red and has that changed with Red (Taylor’s Version) that recently came out? Why are the songs you chose your favourite?
A - I think I’d say that Starlight was/is my favourite. As a storyteller, I just love how she dove headfirst into a story that had captured her imagination and drew this creative piece out of it. I feel like I’m similar as a writer and creator so I really appreciate what she did with that song.
And it is so hard to pick a favourite vault song! All Too Well (10 Minute Version) seems like too easy of an answer even though it’s probably the one I’ve listened to the most since it came out. I love the upbeat feel of Message in a Bottle, so let’s go with that.
R - Yes, you're right about Starlight! I would say that's my third favourite. The storytelling is amazing in that song and I love how upbeat it is. I like dancing to it.
What are your thoughts about Taylor exploring different musical genres, especially when she had become a darling of country music at such a young age?
A - I love that she ventured into different musical genres and I think that’s what truly solidified her as the all-time great artist that she is (Artist of the Decade!). And she’s carried everything that makes her music so powerful through all the genres: storytelling, brilliant lyrics, relatability and of course, incredible musical talent.
1989 is actually my favourite album, so, one, I am so excited for that re-recording! And two, clearly I love that she stepped out to explore different musical genres because it resulted in my favourite album of hers!
R - I’m the person who likes to know what inspired an artist to create their art. I find it fascinating. With every CD that Taylor has put out, I look forward to reading her prologue where she explains the concoction behind her creation. I think it’s beautiful that she quoted a line from the poet Neruda in her prologue description for Red, “love is so short and forgetting is so long.” It seems to express the sentiment in many of her songs on the Red CD. Taylor even told Rolling Stone magazine that"Musically and lyrically, Red resembled a heartbroken person.”
How would you describe this heartbreak CD? Would you say that this is her most gut-wrenching album or not? What are your thoughts about her inspiration for these songs?
Like you, I’ve never experienced exactly what’s described in All Too Well, but I’m still sucked right in by the way that song tells the story, which speaks to her brilliance. I think Taylor herself calls this her only “true” heartbreak album and I would definitely agree—it captures the most raw heartbreak of any of her albums. I’d say Folklore and Evermore are gut-wrenching in their own ways, but in terms of Taylor’s personal connection to the story she is telling, this is definitely the most gut-wrenching!
R - Another thing I appreciate about Taylor is the aesthetics of her CDs. The red lipstick and vintage wardrobe seemed to throw it back to the 50s and I couldn’t help, but wonder if that had anything to do with her connection to the Kennedys. Afterall, Starlight was inspired by Ethel and Bobby’s love story.
Any thoughts about the look she was going for with this album?
Something that I love about Taylor is that there’s such a unique look that goes with each album—they’re not just albums but they are truly eras. I think the look of this album was definitely inspired by her connection to the Kennedys at the time. She goes all-in with album aesthetics and Red was and is no different, both in 2012 and today!
What makes her writing so compelling that even other artists are honoured to sing her songs?
On TikTok, I’ve seen some videos that compare “how other song writers would’ve written this” vs “how Taylor wrote this” and I think that comparison captures it so well—she just has a way of saying things that are so unique and striking, which as a writer I especially admire. Artists are honoured to sing her songs because her writing isn’t like anyone else’s and so they know the song will be unique and hit people in a way no other song will be able to.
Photo by Clay Banks
R- The song All Too Well has many fans and critics claiming that it’s the best song she has ever written.
Why do you think that is and do you agree?
I think it’s because the song means so much to Taylor—it’s her most personal, in my opinion. I think authenticity speaks to people and is so powerful to us as humans, and that’s what All Too Well brings: Taylor’s raw, authentic and real-time reactions to the heartbreak she was experiencing. I think this song means so much to fans because it means so much to Taylor.
What are some of your favourite lyrics of All Too Well (from either version)? Why do you think it’s a masterpiece in storytelling?
“You call me up again just to break me like a promise; so casually cruel in the name of being honest,” is THE line that sums up the original version for me. “Just to break me like a promise” is really brilliant writing and it’s just sums up her devastation so well. I just love how dramatic it is because we can all relate to that—describing something so dramatically because it feels so big.
The line that most closely resembles that one in the 10 minute version, to me, would be, “You kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath.” Again it’s just a brilliant play with words which I love as a writer, and captures her feelings so well.
However, the line I probably reacted the most to was, “It’s supposed to be fun, turning 21.” There were so many, but that was the line that had me going, “Oh my gosh, she’s talking about the party from The Moment I Knew!” Connecting the dots with Taylor is a lot of fun, so I loved that moment in the 10 minute version.
I would love to hear your thoughts about the 10-minute & 13 seconds version. What were you expecting? Did it meet your expectations? Do you love it as much or more? Tell me everything! Haha.
It definitely met my expectations! I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played it in the car and I’m kind of stunned how fast my brain memorized so many of those lyrics, haha. It’s such a wild move for her to release a 10-minute song but it’s brilliant and I think the fact that we stay with her for 10 minutes and we want to listen again and again just once again speaks to how great of an artist and storyteller she is.
Photo by Hannah Grace - @oddityandgrace
Thank you so much Alyssa for being excited when I asked if I could pick your brain for an interview about Taylor's Red CD! I enjoyed reading your thoughts. To check out Alyssa's incredible writing please visit her website at Alyssa Esparaz. Let's dream impossible things! Raquel