The color red symbolizes a variety of emotions. The color represents courage and bravery yet also embodies passion, sensuality, and love. Still, notably, red marks anger and rage, even danger, warranting caution. In conjunction with all of these various symbols, it makes sense that Red is the title of Taylor Swift’s most ambitious, dynamic record yet.
Riding on the heels of three incredibly successful records, Miss Swift knows she has nothing to lose here. As a result, she doesn’t hold back anything throughout Red’s 16 tracks. Her fourth record flirts with pop sensibilities, redefines her inner-country roots, and delivers tender ballads – it has a little bit of everything. Simply put, she could not care less what anyone wants to hear; she’s bridging the “genre gap” more so than ever before and is not about to back down for a second.
Starting the record off with the warm “State Of Grace” may be one of Swift’s boldest moves yet. Once the alluring guitar riff kicks in, it’s evident this isn’t going to be what we’re used to hearing from T Swift. What follows is one of the most diverse songs in her discography. The enticing guitar weaving in and out of her hypnotic words adds depth and layering to the song by making certain neither the guitar nor her voice is fully highlighted. Rather, both the mesmerizing guitar and divine vocal delivery bask in the spotlight through this structure – it’s a 50/50 split deal – letting us know this album is going to be monumentally different, both musically and lyrically.
Title track “Red” puts quite the new spin on classic Taylor Swift. It’s country sounding, sure, but there’s more to it than that – this is something new. Initially, the chorus sounds like you’d expect, but then the vocal effects kick in and the word “red” loops throughout the chorus, as Swift flirts with elements of pop more than ever before. The trend continues more prevalently on “I Knew You Were Trouble.” The jittery, even spastic guitar riff gets the foot tapping, but the track really takes off once the synth starts to kick in and the dubstep style drop hits at the chorus, demonstrating possibly the most daring, unexpected style change of any song in her discography.
In fact, there are times when Swift doesn’t just flirt with pop, she marries it. “22” becomes the complete antithesis of “15,” with Swift now writing the soundtrack to many 22-year-old girls’ upcoming Saturday nights. Honestly, if you had told me this was a Ke$ha song I may have believed you for a minute – yeah, it’s that kind of upbeat, girl’s dance party pop. But, she makes it work again and again, as lead single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is one of the catchiest pop songs of the year. Max Martin’s handiwork definitely shines through here, as the simple acoustic guitar allows the addictive chorus to get stuck in your head time and time again. It’s a song that sounds more like Avril or Kelly Clarkson than say Sugarland. Clearly, this is drastically different than the early “Tim McGraw”-era T Swift, and that’s entirely for the best.
However, she hasn’t abandoned her country roots, as the entire second half of the record would fit fine on her earlier records. Both “Stay Stay Stay” and “I Almost Do” dabble with old-fashioned country, as Swift lets her Southern twang take the lead on the adorable former. Though nonetheless, that the two duets stand out should come as no surprise. Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol makes a poignant and painfully tender appearance on “The Last Time,” as the chemistry between the two heightens as violins swell and Swift and Lightbody harmonize wonderfully, playing off one another as they sing of welcoming a second chance for the last time. It’s easily the most beautiful song on the record. Ed Sheeran makes a similar appearance on “Everything Has Changed,” another gorgeous love song that uses simplicity as its prime weapon – it’s just the two of them, a vague guitar, and almost distant drums – in order to show that she doesn’t need any extra effects to still write a stirring ballad. Rather, her sense of harmony will do the trick just fine.
In the end, this record has it all. Country, pop, acoustic ballads – there’s something for every fan here. It takes a little bit from each of Taylor Swift’s other records – the youth of her debut, the country-pop crossover of Fearless, and the pop variety of Speak Now – and adds them all together into Miss. Swift’s finest record to date with Red. It’s sexy, daring, and complete. Notably, “Begin Again” ends the record with a fitting landscape of new beginnings and better tomorrows, and that’s exactly what Red is – a burning hope, a fiery passion, a fresh start.