This wholehearted embrace of Red makes it apparent just how different the entertainment industry is in 2021 compared with 2012. With the advent of the #MeToo movement, it feels like there’s been collective growth in the way we’re able to identify and call out sexism when we see it.
Last week, Swift rereleased Red, her fourth studio album, as part of her project to reclaim ownership of her masters, and the reception has been rapturous across the board. Red was a hit the first time around by chart standards and was even nominated for album of the year at the Grammys, but it elicited eye rolls or indifference from music snobs. (Music publication Pitchfork didn’t deign to review it for seven years.)
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But the album, once seen primarily as fodder for gossip sites, is now being appreciated first and foremost for its artistry. Newer fans who weren’t well-versed in Swift’s pre-mainstream pop or pre-Folklore career are enjoying the revelatory experience of being freshly exposed to this sprawling record that contains many of her best-ever lyrics and deep cuts.
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It hinted too at the way she would take the sorrow and joy of others and make something beautiful out of them (Ronan and Starlight). It showed us how she would poignantly muse over the passage of time and the meaning of legacy (Nothing New, The Lucky One) with the acuity of someone three times her age. There’s an agelessness to the writing on Red that would make Swift’s exact age hard to pinpoint had she not anchored it in her 22nd year with the song 22.
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Almost a decade on, Swift has fulfilled everything she promised on this album and so much more. Listening to the rerecording of Red in 2021 is like reading a list in her dream journal of everything she hoped to become and accomplish and finding every item ticked off. It’s made all the better by her palpable glee — at taking ownership of her work, at reconnecting with her fanbase, at finding happiness, contentment and creative fulfillment in her own life.
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But what I was reading as the female deconstruction of toxic relationships, narcissism, trauma, gaslighting, breadcrumbing and other problematic behaviors we barely had names for back then was being more widely read as petulance, obsession, bitterness and playing the victim. Swift took this to heart, and so did her fans. The denigration of the artist and her work, led by the media, didn’t happen in isolation. It was part of a wider trend of mocking and dismissing the experiences of young women to silence and invalidate them.
Back in 2012, when I was still a grumpy, pop-averse indie kid, Taylor Swift’s Red burst into my life seemingly from nowhere, verbalizing thoughts and feelings that had felt specific to me and the relationships I was in during my late teens and early twenties. Written with wit and tenderness, her music had a healing effect on me. It made me feel less alone.