This week, Ruth looks into the return of Taylor Swift’s album, Red, and its importance in today’s societal culture and dynamics.
It is officially autumn. The leaves are beginning to turn red and gold, coats and scarves are being pulled from the back of wardrobes, and pumpkin spice is the scent of every coffee shop. It is the time where every Instagram is filled with the aesthetics of cosy nights in, scented candles, and crisp walks in the countryside.
Above all, it is finally the month of Taylor Swift’s highly anticipated return to the music industry with the revival of her album, Red.
The original Red was Swift’s fourth studio album, which was released by Big Machine Records on the 22nd of October 2012. It was a presentation of mainstream pop music, which was quite the distance from her country origins.
This, and her exploration of heartbreak in the desolation of a romance, was met with positive reviews from critics, and earned her worldwide success.
Several of the songs on the album went on to become chart classics, including ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’ and the cultural phenomenon of the new milestone birthday, ’22.’
Swift, herself, was born on the 13th of December 1989 in Pennsylvania.
When she was a teenager, she moved to Nashville in the hopes of becoming a country music singer. She immediately signed a songwriting contract with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, and a year later, she was attached to a recording deal with Big Machine Records.
She is widely considered to be one of the most successful musicians of all time, selling over 200 million records worldwide since her debut. Not only is she the winner of eleven Grammy Awards, but Swift is also renowned for being particularly philanthropic, in addition to advocating for feminism, women’s rights, and the necessity of artists owning their creativity.
It is no secret that, during Swift’s time of being present in the music industry, she has experienced a lot of change. Not only have most of her albums experimented with different genres, but it is fair to say that her style evolution has deepened significantly since she first arrived
on the scene.
When Red was first released, a lot of her fashion choices were still reminiscent of country chic, but with a spec of modernism. She, of course, wore a lot of red fabrics during this period, but she often paired the colour with white linen shirts, and fedora hats. It was a time of great contrast for Swift; when performing on stage, she would often choose t-shirts and high-waisted shorts. At illustrious events, she wore a lot of bejewelled dresses that skimmed the thighs, or sleek garments with cut-outs to reveal her willowy figure. However, she was also the face of retro fashion for a while, turning up to red carpets in conservative, full-skirted dresses with a string of pearls.
It was a time in her fashion development that demanded concentration; it was as if every look was perfected before she walked out of the door. Every style had a purpose, and yet, it still managed to look casual. Nobody knew where she would be going next, but perhaps, that was the point for Red was really just the beginning of her break to stardom.
Red meant a lot to both Swift and to those who love her music. It is an album that surrounds the subject of heartbreak, which is something most
of us can understand all too well.
The songs depict something of a storyline, starting with the torment of breaking up with someone you love, hurting over it, reminding yourself that you should never get back together, the joy when you realise you might be feeling better, and then falling back into the despair of a broken heart all over again. It is an album of pain through and through.
Swift herself commented, “Musically and lyrically, Red resembled a heartbroken person. It was all over the place, a fractured mosaic of feelings that somehow all fit together in the end. Happy, free, confused, lonely, devastated, euphoric, wild, and tortured by memories past. Like trying on pieces of a new life, I went into the studio and experimented with different sounds and collaborators. And I’m not sure if it was pouring my thoughts into this album, hearing thousands of your voices sing the lyrics back to me in passionate solidarity, or if it was simply time, but something was healed along the way.” The album is something that we can all identify with in some way. And it is that, as well as the love for Swift herself, that makes us so protective of it.
When Red was released, Swift was contractually signed to Big Machine Records and the music mogul, Scott Borchetta. As far as everybody knew, they had a good working relationship, with Swift releasing six studio albums under the label from 2006 to 2017. However, after the release of Reputation, Swift realised that her contract had expired, and she decided to take her music in another direction, by signing to a completely new label, Republic Records. This deal would secure her the rights to own the masters of any albums she wrote in the future.
By this time, Swift had reached ultimate worldwide success. It seemed as if nothing could stop her. She was the queen of the entire industry, and she was intent on releasing even more new music.
Then in 2019, the record executive Scooter Braun acquired the rights to Big Machine Records. This meant that he and his company, Ithaca Holdings, became the owners and sole profiteers of Swift’s first six albums, including Red.
But Braun did not stop there, as he allegedly refused to let Swift perform her songs at the AMA awards, where she won ‘Artist of the Decade.’ Soon after, Swift announced that she would re-record the first six studio albums, so that she could own the masters of her own music once more.
Braun seemingly dismissed this, as in November 2020 he sold the masters to an American private equity firm called Shamrock Holdings for $300 million. This deal was struck under the conditions that Braun will continue to benefit from Swift’s albums. Swift began re-recording that very month.
This is the reason why the revival of Red is so important. It only seems right that artists in the music industry should have ownership over their work. Especially for Swift, who has written every single song on every album since the beginning. Her songs are pieces of her heart, her truth, and as it currently stands, she can never be the owner of her original recordings ever again. And with an album as personal and meaningful as Red, it seems all the more harrowing that someone else profits from her artistry.
Red is believed by many to be Swift’s best album. It’s a pop record. But for those who love Swift, it is so much more than that. It is a cathedral for the heartbroken, a safe haven for those who know sorrow. In this album, Swift raged with relentlessness, out for blood of the person who had hurt her. Her pain screams from the music. And that is why so many people are so attached to Red, because it is evident that Swift really, really cared.
It was the first record where it felt like Swift was discovering her emotional power. It’s dramatic. It’s the epitome of feeling so deeply and hurting so intensely that you feel insane. It is incredibly idiosyncratic. And that is why this revival of Red is so important. Swift deserves to own her music, to take back the piece of her heart that meant the most.
You can read more of Ruth’s work on Instagram by following @thewriterruth.