Taylor Swift is Reclaiming the Narrative

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

The songwriter’s genius is no longer up for debate.

Natalie Michie

Date November 16, 2021

Taylor Swift dropped the long-awaited re-recorded version of her 2012 album Red earlier this week, with nine never-before-released songs “from the vault” and a one ten-minute long version of the breakup ballad “All Too Well.”

This, of course, sent fans into a collective emotional tailspin, with many of us (myself included) spending our weekend crying in bed. But can you blame us?

With many of its songs rumoured to be inspired by her three-month relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, Red (Taylor’s Version) is a roller coaster of passion, confusion and heartbreak. Perhaps the most coveted part of the release is the aforementioned extended version of “All Too Well,” widely agreed upon to be the best song on the album and possibly the best song Swift has ever written. To further pull fans’ heartstrings, the artist debuted a short film for the track.

When Red was first released, Swift was often portrayed in the media as a villainous “serial dater” who begrudgingly wrote songs about her exes. Now, in our post #MeToo world, it’s clear that she was a young woman simply trying to navigate romantic relationships with men who were far too old for her. In her relationship with Gyllenhaal, for instance, she was 20 and he was 29. Prior to this, she dated John Mayer when she was just 19 and he was 32 — yes, you read that right.

She drives this message home in All Too Well: The Short Film. To play the role of the couple, Swift cast 19-year-old Sadie Sink and 30-year-old Dylan O’Brien. This stark age gap made viewers uncomfortable — and in true Taylor Swift fashion, that was intentional. The film portrayed the power imbalance between the couple and showed manipulation tactics used by O’Brien’s character onto his much younger girlfriend. As a result, the internet was dominated by “All Too Well” discourse over the weekend, namely focused on predatory behavior and manipulation.

By the end of the 10-minute tune, Swift hits us with a sharp dig toward her ex: “I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age.” Gyllenhaal, now 40, is currently dating 25-year-old model Jeanne Cadieu.

At the start of the new week, Swift proved the Red (Taylor’s Version) rollout is far from over. On November 15, she released a music video with the album’s vault track, “I Bet You Think About Me (Taylor’s Version).” She tapped longtime friend Blake Lively to make her directorial debut on the project, and enlisted actor Miles Teller to play the male antagonist opposite of her. (ICYMI: in light of the music video, rumours surfaced on November 16 that Teller refused to get his COVID-19 vaccine, which he quickly cleared up on Twitter.)

The video shows Taylor Swift gloriously sabotaging an all-white wedding wearing — you guessed it — red. There’s also an appearance from the infamous red scarf that reportedly inspired the name of the album — a scarf she left at Gyllenhaal’s sister’s house when she visited for Thanksgiving (IYKYK). Oh, and there’s a scene where she rips apart an extravagant wedding cake with her bare hands. It’s art!

Re-releasing Red was not simply an artistic musical choice. Swift is re-recording her previous albums because she doesn’t own the master recordings of any of her records prior to 2019, due to the contract she had with her previous record label, Big Machine Records. By re-recording and re-releasing, Swift has found a loophole where she can reclaim her work, tagging onto each newly released song: “(Taylor’s Version).”

Along with the return of Swift’s Red is a widespread cultural appreciation for the album’s lyrics and artistry. When Red first came out in 2012, Taylor Swift was often written off as “basic” by critics — likely because she was beloved primarily by young girls, and this, for some reason, often leads to mockery. Her re-release coincides with the cultural renaissance of other pop culture pillars that faced ridicule in the early aughts — like Jennifer’s Body and Britney Spears, for instance. Today, Swift is widely regarded as one of the best songwriters of our time, and it’s no longer up for debate.

With the release of Red (Taylor’s Version) nine years after it was initially delivered, Swift is now 31 years old and is not experiencing heartbreak from the men who wronged her. Instead, she is using the opportunity to bond with her fans and change the narrative. We love to see it.