We were working our way back through Taylor Swift’s albums when we were rudely interrupted by folklore‘s surprise release. Let’s continue now with Red.
Looking back, it’s hard to put my finger on the exact point when I became a Taylor Swift stan. I suppose it was at the tail end of the Red era, heading into 1989. I remember hearing “I Knew You Were Trouble” and going “Wait…do I love this?”
Since my exposure to Red was limited to its singles, I’m still relatively new to all the other work on the album. All in all, there is plenty to love here, and lots to discuss. So, let’s talk about all 16 tracks, one by one.
1. “State of Grace”
The album opener has a vibe unlike anything else in Taylor’s seven albums (soon, eight – damn you, folklore!).
It’s rhythm drums on steadily throughout, and overall the track is great for all moods. I wish I’d known this song longer, but it’s a great opener to an album known as one of Taylor’s best.
We love a theme.
“Red” compares a failed love to many colors, and I have no choice but to love that. I love the plucked, reverberated guitar notes at the beginning. I love the lyrics. It’s just a very well-crafted country-pop song.
The lyric quality doesn’t dip for a second in the early tracks on Red. This one keeps up the high standard.
With that said, there are other tracks that are sonically similar, which forces my brain to pick favorites…if that makes sense. And, unfortunately for “Treacherous,” it’s not one of my go-tos when I need to hear something off Red.
4. “I Knew You Were Trouble”
“Now I’m lyin’ on the cold hard ground” is, I think, one of the first moments that planted the “You’re gay” seed in the back of my unconscious mind. The drama! The theatrics! I love it. To this day, the most dramatic moments on every album are my favorite.
I love Taylor’s ability to take that raw emotion – basically screaming in the chorus – and deliver it in a catchy pop song.
And make no mistake, she said – this is a pop song. This, along with the other singles from Red, made it clear that this wasn’t just another country album. And, looking back, the fact that this album transcends genres makes it perhaps the most unique in Taylor Swift’s discography. We love that.
5. “All Too Well”
If you’ve spent any time with the Swiftie community, it’s hard to go into this one blind. Why?
Because “All Too Well” is widely considered Taylor Swift’s best song ever.
Everyone has unique genre tastes, but from a lyrics perspective I think that’s a very fair take. This isn’t just a song; it’s an anthem. “The autumn leaves fallin’ down like pieces into place”? Come on. That line alone is a major contributor to Red‘s status as Taylor’s most autumnal album.
“All Too Well” is crushingly real, which is why Swifties cherishes it so much.
In one swift swing, Taylor Swift gained ownership of every 22nd birthday on the planet. Swifties and haters alike have a hard time not posting this song on their Instagram story when the time comes. Basically, this song invented all the hype of turning 22. We have to love that.
7. “I Almost Do”
This is a fine country song. It doesn’t knock it out of the park, but it scores points by describing one very specific (and very sad) scenario: refraining from contacting someone who you’d love to speak with again. It encapsulates the headspace of someone brainstorming appropriate ways to reach out to someone they really shouldn’t talk to again. That’s worth something, even if this isn’t my favorite song on the album.
8. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
As a lead single, this song belies the lyrical depth in Red and confirms negative conceptions about Taylor (like her tendency to enter and exit relationships at an alarming rate).
But as a country-pop song, it’s a great time. The attitude is palpable. “This is exhausting. You know? Like, we are never getting back together…like ever.” This is peak Swiftian sass, everybody. And I have to love it.
9. “Stay Stay Stay”
“Stay Stay Stay” is an innocent declaration of love, not terribly deep but a sunny good time nonetheless. It’s lighthearted and easy to tap your foot to. And that’s all.
10. “The Last Time (feat. Gary Lightbody)”
Honestly? I forgot that this song existed.
It’s all about a make-or-break moment in a relationship, and doesn’t commit any musical crimes. I suppose it serves as a prequel to “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” if you think about it. Again, I love Taylor’s impeccable ability to write about one very particular moment in time, but “The Last Time” doesn’t do anything special for me. Sorry, queen.
11. “Holy Ground”
Looking over Taylor’s discography, there are numerous religious symbols over eight albums. This comparison of a young couple’s meeting place to a holy site is perhaps the strongest of those usages (I’m still trying to figure out what “False God” means).
Overall, “Holy Ground” is a standout on Red. It feels like another anthem for our youth, which is a recurring theme on the album.
12. “Sad Beautiful Tragic”
As the title suggests, this one’s about the bittersweet memory of a past love. “Time is taking its sweet time erasing you” stands out among its lyrics. I really like the guitar progression through the chorus, too. For some reason, I forget about “Sad Beautiful Tragic” more than it deserves. It’s packed with poetry, and slows things down a little bit before the album’s final stretch.
13. “The Lucky One”
Addressed to a younger version of herself, “The Lucky One” details the cost of entering the pop culture spotlight so young, and being squeezed into a cookie-cutter mold for pretty women. Maybe fame isn’t all it’s made out to be, but if Taylor weren’t famous we wouldn’t have her music. Therefore, I appreciate this song but do not wish Taylor were still obscure.
14. “Everything Has Changed (feat. Ed Sheeran)
When I think about Red, this song comes to mind pretty quickly. It’s not necessarily my favorite, but it’s up there among the record’s most memorable work. Taylor and Ed sound wonderful on this track together. I hope they collaborate again at some point.
“Oh, my, what a marvelous tune” is tattooed on my brain. Literally, I got it tattooed on my hippocampus in 2012 so I would always associate that year with Taylor Swift. It hurt pretty bad, but I think it was worth it.
For real, though, this one perfectly exemplifies Taylor’s transition from country to pop music. The guitar in the bridge is so country, but dancing like starlight is so pop. “Starlight” is a bop by anyone’s measure.
16. “Begin Again”
Spoiler alert for my upcoming track ranking, but “Begin Again” is absolutely one of my favorites from this album.
It’s slow, but not boring. It’s all about the most exciting part of love: those first few days, when you meet someone new and things are going really well. Furthermore, it’s about forgetting past disappointments to give love another chance (a concept that can be difficult after 5 minutes or so in the dating world).
Am I going to meet this person again? Am I going to start dating this person? Are we going to get married someday? “Begin Again” is all about those first thoughts as a new love flower sprouts in your heart (I’m gagging myself with the gushy shit, but you understand me).
Red Review & Tracks Ranking
Before 1989, reputation, and folklore (Lover omitted only because it didn’t really sample a new genre), Red was our first sign that Taylor could excel in genres other than country(-pop).
Red is packed with heartfelt lyrics (as always), but it’s also got some lighthearted, fun bops like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “22”. It features what is widely regarded as Taylor’s best song ever – “All Too Well” – and a few more masterpieces to assure us that it wasn’t a fluke.
Red is, I think, a little slept on, but only because Taylor Swift’s next four albums absolutely slap.
If I had to rank the 16 tracks from worst to best, my list would look something like this:
- “The Last Time (feat. Gary Lightbody)”
- “The Lucky One”
- “Sad Beautiful Tragic”
- “Stay Stay Stay”
- “I Almost Do”
- “Holy Ground”
- “Everything Has Changed (feat. Ed Sheeran)”
- “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
- “State of Grace”
- “I Knew You Were Trouble”
- “Begin Again”
- “All Too Well”