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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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‘Happy, free, confused, lonely’: How Taylor Swift’s ‘Red’ transformed her career

Swift’s fourth studio album, “Red,” offers a glimpse of the mega pop star she would later become.

Before making national headlines for appearing at NFL games, Taylor Swift wore heart-shaped glasses, white lace shirts and leather shorts. The year was 2012, and Swift just released “Red,” the album that made her the artist she is today.  

Before releasing her fourth studio album, the media pinned Swift as America’s sweetheart. After her third album, “Speak Now,” she readily spoke about her love life and offered the most pivotal change to her music: pop. 

“[Red] was really sort of the beginning of everything that I’m doing now,” Swift told Rolling Stone in 2020.

“1989” is the album when Swift set herself apart from country music. While the full pop transition was masterfully conducted and solidified in “1989,” the groundwork for her success in the pop genre was laid out in “Red.” 

Swedish producer Max Martin, known for his iconic work with artists such as Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson, lent his hand to the sonically fresh album. Swift said she had her eyes on Martin’s style and felt it was time for a music revision.

“Since I was old enough to understand what a songwriter/producer is, I've had a curiosity about how Max Martin creates what he creates. I wanted to see that happen. I wanted to be there. I wanted to learn from him,” Swift told Yahoo in 2012.

Produced by Martin, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was Swift’s first-ever song to chart at No. 1 in the United States. Swift’s pop hit “I Knew You Were Trouble” debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Later, her song “22” in “Red” charted at No. 20 and became certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. 

Swift’s career wasn’t just changed by the pop sphere of “Red” — it was changed by the “Red” era itself. The “Red” era allowed Swift to completely dig her heels into associating motifs with self-image.

“Musically and lyrically, Red resembled a heartbroken person,” Swift wrote in an Instagram post, reflecting on re-recording the album. “It was all over the place, a fractured mosaic of feelings that somehow all fit together in the end. Happy, free, confused, lonely, devastated, euphoric, wild and tortured by memories of the past.” 

Throughout the album, she mentions a “burning red” love or sings of rage often connected with the hot color of red. It was during this era she became known for her red lipstick, a choice that still marks her style today. 

She continued motifs in “1989” with imagery of seagulls and flying planes. “Reputation” is notoriously tied with snakes and “Lover” highlights homes, gold and daylight.  

Despite redefining Swift’s career, “Red” did not earn the 2012 “Album of the Year” Grammy award, instead rising to high acclaim among her fans with the release of “Red (Taylor’s Version) in 2021. “Red (Taylor’s Version)” ended up receiving a Billboard Music Award, five MTV Music Awards, two American Music Awards and its long-awaited Grammy for a short film Swift directed for her 10-minute, re-recorded version of the song “All Too Well.” 

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“Red” is an album I love because of its sound and the nostalgia it holds. It’s easy to become entranced with an album that offers so much musical and lyrical diversity into a tumultuous relationship. 

Thanks to her re-recordings, fans who have followed her career can revisit the past and gain a new perspective of how the heartbreak album changed the course of her image. 

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Ava Menkes

Ava Menkes is the state news editor at The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple stories about Wisconsin politics and written in-depth about nurses unions and youth voter turnout. Follow her on Twitter at @AvaMenkes.


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