Why Taylor Swift's 'Red' Is Her Turning Point

Why Taylor Swift's 'Red' Is Her Turning Point

This was the start of the new Taylor...

It’s a boringly common conversation for me to have, regularly found falling into arguments about how Taylor Swift remains underappreciated even as one of the biggest artists on the planet. Embroiled in a fight for her life’s work, the sad situation of Taylor having to rerecord all her old albums comes with a silver lining – a fresh chance for her genius to be appreciated.

‘The love of Taylor Swift is no different to Beatlesmania’ – I said that one time and white men went mental. While boy bands and male artists are given the labels of new and ground-breaking so easily, merely for stealing others’ ideas and singing them with a slight different twang, Taylor Swift is a perfect example of how women have to work tirelessly to even be regarded as close. Always brushed off as twee pop or good girl country, people are too busy tutting at her name to hear the sound of footsteps following behind her.

Without '1989', there’d be no Dua Lipa. Without Taylor’s break through from country star to pop main girl, genre boundaries would have stayed harsher, leaving no room for walking from hyper-pop to R&B to soul as popstars do now. And while '1989' and her pairing up with Jack Antonoff is an easy change to herald as the most important moment in Taylor history, I’d argue it’s 'Red'.

As Taylor’s final country album, 'Red' has already pushed way beyond the label. No longer the curly hair, acoustic guitar totting good girl, everything about 'Red' is defiantly different to the image set out for her. Emblazoned with red lipstick and a new Zooey Deschanel-esque hipster look, Red was the first time Taylor actively stepped away from the pretty dresses and southern girl chic. And in sound, this was Taylor’s equivalent of Bob Dylan’s electric guitar era, shattering the known and comforting sonic associated with their faces. Straying far enough away from the country/folk holyland to make old fashioned listeners outraged, this was the start of the new Taylor, coming long before the old Taylor couldn’t come to the phone. She was pronounced dead at the scene on October 22, 2012.

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With the opening of 'State Of Grace' crashing in with an energetic electric guitar, used throughout rather than just a one-time tool to create a climax, Red immediately wasn’t trying to toe any lines or dance in the mid-section of a genre Venn diagram. Within one track, Taylor was ditching the whole thing, creating a striking change from earlier openers like 'Mine' or 'Fearless'. Barely even infused with country, 'State Of Grace' has the same kind of southern twang as The Rolling Stones, more an attitude than a sound.

At this point I’ll acknowledge your screaming. Yes, 'Red' does feature '22' and 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together'. Yes, this is the album that bore the mega hit of 'I Knew You Were Trouble'. But that’s exactly the point. Prior to 'Red', you would have never heard a Taylor Swift banger played in a club. 'Red's boundary pushing is backed up by its commercial success, bursting through the gatekeeping of country to be adopting into the ultimate mainstream. As the millionth remix of 'I Knew You Were Trouble' blasted into the dancefloor of your shit hometown club, that was the sign that Taylor has done thing big and rare – managing to complete break off the shackles of the genre that had raised her while still only building momentum. An album can be both ground-breaking and wildly commercial, avant-garde experimentation isn’t the only way to measure boundary-pushing as Taylor Swift opened a door for every other musician around at the time, showing a secret route to skip between genres.

Previously kept very separate, Taylor’s ability to pick up both MTV awards and country music awards is something no one gives her true respect for. While gaining criticism at the time for feeling disjointed, 'Red' sees Taylor create a cohesive story, taking us in and out of love while she switches between Joni Mitchell and bubblegum pop. With the gut-wrenching 'All Too Well' sandwiched between two of her most commercial hits, she weaves a path through with nothing but her songwriting ability and new found confidence. On 'Red', Taylor clearly became more interested in creating a singular vision rather than a single sound, following her own musical impulses and trusting her fans to follow. Maybe 'Red' is where Taylor got her confidence.

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Containing hints of everything that was to come, there’s something in the water of red. The beat of 'I Knew You Were Trouble' seems to prepare us for 'reputation'. 'Stay Stay Stay' is the big sister to 'Lover' song 'Paper Rings'. 'Sad Beautiful Tragic' could be pulled straight from 'Evermore', 'The Last Time' is an early iteration of 'Exile'. Listening from start to finish, 'Red' sees Taylor gathering up all her inspirations from The Chicks, to Carole King to classic southern rock bands, the album seems to have easter eggs of everything that would follow. Seemingly the point she spotted listening to her label and managers that wanted to keep her as blonde, country and cute, I’d say 'Red' is the most important moment in her discography despite always being overlooked.

I think this was always in Taylor’s plan. Even from her debut, it was destined that Taylor Swift wouldn’t be held down and kept in one lane. Her career has always been one of transcendence and covert boundary-pushing, so often ignored or unacknowledged because it’s not overly experimental or wrapped up in an uber-trendy package. But Taylor deserves to be credited for pushing pop as a whole along, allowing it to merge with the softer elements of country and the confessional songwriting of traditional folk as 'Red' brought them together with distinct, catchy pop. While her talent and genius was always there, 'Red' is the moment that Taylor switches to high gear, launching into a trajectory that only goes up and up, blasting through the boundaries of genre to carve out her current sound. Now no longer needing to be defined by any genre or sound label, Taylor Swift is just Taylor Swift now, all because 'Red' allowed her to be.

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'Red (Taylor's Version)' is out on November 12th.

Words: Lucy Harbron

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