Music Review: Taylor Swift’s “Red” album

Love her or hate her, Taylor Swift has firmly cemented her way into popular culture. On her fourth album, Red, she reflects the changing state of her fans and her own musical influences.

The album cover for Taylor Swift’s fourth album, titled “Red.”

Why is the album named after a color? Swift, who is no stranger to writing about the ups and downs of love, explains in her liner notes. “My experiences in love have taught me difficult lessons, especially my experiences with crazy love,” Swift writes. “The red relationships. The ones that went from zero to a hundred miles per hour and then hit a wall and exploded.”

The casual listener will say that Swift has forgotten her country roots on this album. Simple observation can also play a role in this— gone are the days of Swift’s crazy curls and cowboy boots, replaced instead with straight locks and a mod 1960s look. However, her past three albums (Taylor Swift, Fearless and Speak Now) have been an evolution, leading up to Red, both in style and emotion. Most country influences seem to be gone, save for the occasional plucking of a guitar or banjo such as on songs like “Treacherous.” The song with that sounds the most like her work from her debut album is “Stay Stay Stay,” a peppy ballad.

This latest offering seems to be generally divided into two sections with separate themes. The beginning focuses on relationships that are ending, be they sad or angry or peaceful. The second half provides a look into the other side of relationships: moving on, accepting the truth and not letting love control you.

Swift’s musical experimentation is truly evident in many of the songs, including the lead single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” In that track, the beginning guitar riff is drowned out by a throbbing drum beat and hand claps, which is the perfect background to what is her anthem about staying broken up. In “I Knew You Were Trouble,” a dubstep section appears under the chorus. While it can seem like an unlikely pairing, the country-pop queen and underground electronica, the idea works and flows seamless and organically. The other track that provides the biggest departure from Swift’s body of previous work is “Starlight.” The sentiment of the song is similar to older songs, such as “Sparks Fly” or “Fearless.” However, from the beginning twinkling electronic piano riff to the distorted electric guitar, it is clear that Swift is looking to branch out and see how her fans react to her challenging herself musically.

Swift performing while sporting her new look, with sleek hair and 1960s inspired makeup.

Part of what makes Swift such a popular artist is her ability to relate to her audience. She conveys her message about teenage angst and magical love perfectly through her lyrics.  Swift doesn’t sing nonchalantly about love and loss; she makes the listener feel the pain. While the lyrics on her past albums have been powerful, Red truly has the best emotion. Heartbreak is best conveyed in “All Too Well,” in which she sings of remembering a past relationship, both the good and bad parts, ‘all too well.’ Swift, who wrote all of the songs on the album, writes and sings, “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it/
I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it…You called me up again just to break me like a promise/So casually cruel in the name of being honest.” Her voice, tinged with desperation, makes these powerful words even more impactful.

Her lyrics also convey a sense of maturity that her previous records are missing. Instead of constantly playing the victim, Swift takes responsibility for her role in failed relationships, which is refreshing to the listener who complains about her so-called ‘whining.’ In “I Knew You Were Trouble,” Swift states, “I realize the blame is on me, cause I knew you were trouble when you walked in/So shame on me now….A new notch in your belt is all I’ll ever be/and now I see…I realize the joke is on me.”

Self-deprecation is also a common theme on this album and can be found in songs like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “22.” This surprising interjection is something that conveys a sense of realism, that Swift really is a young adult who doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Overall, Red has the potential to be Taylor Swift’s most popular album, due to its high concentration of pop songs with wide-reaching appeal.  While country fans might be disappointed in the lack of ‘twang’ found in this record, die-hard Swift fans will appreciate her experimentation and profound lyrics.

Top Tracks:

Songs to Skip:

  • “Stay Stay Stay”
  • “Sad Beautiful Tragic”
  • “I Almost Do”
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