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Flashbacks And Echoes: The Oral History Of Taylor Swift’s Red Album

Flashbacks And Echoes: The Oral History Of Taylor Swift’s Red Album

Merging elements of pop, country, and even dubstep, Taylor Swift’s Red album is still regarded as a magnum opus of her catalog – and for good reason. “Musically and lyrically, Red resembled a heartbroken person,” Taylor shared on Instagram while announcing her Red (Taylor’s Version) rerecording. She continued, “I’m not sure if it was pouring my thoughts into this album, hearing thousands of your voices sing the lyrics back to me in passionate solidarity, or if it was simply time, but something was healed along the way.”

When it came out in October 2012, Red was a much different album than what fans know it as. Taylor has detailed crying between interviews, her concerns about whether it was sonically cohesive, and still feeling that heartache throughout her tour the next year. But now, Red has become the musical equivalent of a warm hug and a sly middle finger to an ex you’ve realized you’re much better without. Formerly tear-inducing songs like ‘All Too Well’ have grown into fan-favorite battle cries for evolving and moving forward.

It takes a village to create a truly great album, and in the case of Red, it was a very talented, hard-working village. She brought back past country collaborators like Nathan Chapman, while inviting pop hitmakers like Max Martin and Shellback to the table to push her sound to new heights. She worked with directors like Declan Whitebloom, Philip Andelman, and Anthony Mandler, as well as actors like Jack Lewis and Ava Ames, to bring her stories to life in video form. She invited dancers like Katee Shean and photographers like Christie Goodwin to put together a mind-blowing stage show and capture every moment.

So what better way to celebrate the artistry and legacy of Red than to talk to some of those creatives and the fans who have adopted these stories into their own lives? We rounded up some quotes from Taylor and her collaborators from past interviews, commentary from her fans on the THP team, and even conducted some interviews of our own with directors Declan Whitebloom and Philip Andelman, tour dancer Katee Shean, photographer Christie Goodwin, and ‘Everything Has Changed’ actor Jack Lewis! Check out our exclusive quotes next to the bolded names, and the ones we scoured the Swifternet for next to the italicized names.

Now, let’s paint the town red…

The Red Album

‘State Of Grace’

Taylor Swift in conversation with Taste Of Country: I think that in order to pick one [song] that to me would define the rest of the record, lyrically, it would probably be the song ‘State of Grace,’ because it has a line in the song that says, “Love is a ruthless game unless you play it good and right.” And that sets the tone for the entire rest of the record.

THP Creative Director Madison Murray: ‘State Of Grace’ is more than just the opening song of Red – it’s a five-minute epic that walks through all the thrilling phases of a new romance. It’s a perfect example of how Taylor fused country and rock in her late country years, with the electric guitar adding the perfect energy to match the lyrics’ passion. It sets the scene for the love and heartbreak described throughout Red with a bang!

‘Red’

Taylor Swift in conversation with Billboard: I turned in 20 songs and I had this immediate sinking feeling, “this can’t be done, this can’t be it.” I think the reason I said that was because I made the record exactly the same way I made the last three. I knew I hadn’t jumped out of my comfort zone, which at the time was writing alone and working with Nathan [Chapman]. ‘Red’ the song was a real turning point for Red the album. When I wrote that song, my mind started wandering to all the places we could go. If I were to think outside the box enough, go in with different people, I could learn from and have what they do rub off on me as well as have what I do rub off on them.

‘Treacherous’

Taylor Swift in conversation with Taste of Country: I wrote ‘Treacherous’ with Dan Wilson, and we came up with a way to say, “This is dangerous and I realize that I might get hurt if I go through with this, if I move forward with you. But… but I want to.” You know? It’s like that kind of conflicted feeling of it being a risk every time you fall in love, especially with certain types of people [laughs]. That was a song that I’m really proud of, because it’s got this bridge that sounds like a second chorus. It’s got all these big vocals, and it’s kind of the intensity of that moment when you’re deciding to let yourself fall in love with someone.

THP Creative Director Madison Murray: In a way, “nothing safe is worth the drive” can be seen as a statement on the Red album as a whole. After delivering three successful country albums, delving into more pop than ever was a creative risk that could’ve easily isolated her country fans or kept her away from the pop scene because there were still country elements. But to this day, Red is still one of her fan-favorite albums and really showcased her crossover power.

‘I Knew You Were Trouble.’

Taylor Swift in conversation with The Country Daily: I came up with that melody months before I went into the studio with Max [Martin]. I walked into the studio and I was like, “I want to write this song about how I felt this different kind of heartbreak recently where I’m not like, ‘Shame on you, you broke my heart.’ I’m thinking, ‘Shame on me, you broke my heart.” I knew the red flags. I saw them. I saw the warning signs. I walked right past them, right into your arms and then I got absolutely tricked. The feeling of being tricked is almost worse than being heartbroken because you knew better. You’re not blindsided. You saw this coming, but you let wishful thinking get in the way, and that’s what I’ve been guilty of a few times.

‘All Too Well’

Taylor Swift on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums: I was like a broken human walking into rehearsal, just feeling terrible about what was going on in my personal life. I walked in, and I remember we had just hired David Cook, who [has been] my band leader ever since then. I ended up playing four chords over and over again, and the band started kicking it. People started playing along with me. I think they could tell I was really going through it. I just started singing and riffing and ad-libbing this song that basically was ‘All Too Well.’

Dancer Katee Shean: I think my favorite song that she would sing [on tour] was ‘All Too Well.’ She sang it during a wardrobe change for all the girls, but you can bet that we were belting it underneath the stage.

Photographer Christie Goodwin: [A moment on Red Tour that stood out to me was] the moment Taylor took place at the piano high on a riser at the back of the stage [for ‘All Too Well’]. It was visually my favourite moment, but it was also the most challenging setup to capture. I am pleased with the shot of Taylor playing the piano that she used on the cover of the tour program after I shot those first few shows of the tour. An image of an artist at a piano at a live show is not easy to get right. The scale of the set and Taylor and her piano being lifted in the air didn’t make it any easier. A piano shot can be quite static and visually not very appealing, but I knew the image could have a lot of potential. I aimed to capture Taylor at the right moment when she threw herself back while playing the piano. I got exactly what I aimed for, both the motion and the emotion.

’22’

Taylor Swift in conversation with The Daily Beast: Having written a song called ‘Fifteen’ about how much I learned at age 15, and how that was a really heavy year for me… I learned a lot of lessons the hard way and it was a vulnerable age. And 22 is a vulnerable age, but you’re a little more brave. You’re a little more ready to take risks and live with the consequences. To me, the song ’22’ has a more carefree background to it. Because the age of 22 is much more carefree for me than 15 was.

Dancer Katee Shean: I personally loved [performing] ’22.’ Our choreographer, Tyce Diorio, is one the best choreographers I know, and he just made all the movement really fun and specific for each dance of hers. He’s so smart with choreography and being able to fill a stage up with movement. During ’22,’ we also got to dance in the audience, which was neat to be able to see the crowd up close.

‘I Almost Do’

Taylor Swift in a Red Track-By-Track Video: The song ‘I Almost Do’ is a song I wrote about the conflict that you feel when you want to take someone back and you want to give it another try, but you know you can’t. You can’t because it’s hurt you so deeply that you know that you couldn’t bear to go through that again. So you’re sitting there and wondering where they are and hope that they think about you and that you’re almost picking up the phone call, but you just can’t. I think I needed to write this song in order to not call that person, actually. I think that writing the song was what I did instead of picking up the phone.

Photographer Christie Goodwin: [My favorite song to photograph on Red Tour was] possibly ‘I Almost Do’ because of the intimacy as she sits down on the B-stage and plays the song acoustic. The crowd is close and surrounds Taylor and there is a real sense of intimacy between Taylor and her fans that is beautiful to capture. Whichever artist I photograph, I will always try to capture that interaction if there is an opportunity.

‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’

Taylor Swift in conversation with The Country Daily: ‘We Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together’ was a song that just said something that I hadn’t said before. [It’s about] the moment where you’ve been in and out of a bad relationship and you are so done. You are so done in fact that it feels like a celebration to talk about how done you are.

Director Declan Whitebloom: I’ve always wanted to do a one-shot video and Taylor was up for it. I just thought, “how do we get from the beginning all the way through this whole tale of a romance?” Because that’s basically what it is. It’s the story of a romance from start to finish, through time and space and seasons and all that. So I had to come up with all these different places for her to go, and pick bits of the relationship to pick up on. But all in one shot… Taylor was so excited about it. And everyone just got really on-board. I remember her mum was there, and I think her dad came, too. It was a dream, it really was.

‘Stay Stay Stay’

Taylor Swift in a Red Track-By-Track Video: The song ‘Stay Stay Stay’ is a song that I wrote based on what I’ve seen of real relationships, where it’s not perfect, there are moments where you’re just so sick of that person and you get into a stupid fight, and it’s still worth it to stay in it, because there’s something about it that you can’t live without. In the bridge, it says “I’d like to hang out with you for my whole life,” and I think that’s probably the key to finding the one. You just want to hang out with them forever.

‘The Last Time’ Feat. Gary Lightbody

Taylor Swift in a Red Track-By-Track Video: This was a song that I wrote about something I had been going through. I picture a door and, on the outside of the door, standing outside in the cold, there’s this guy who’s left his girlfriend over and over again, and comes back and asks for a second chance over and over and over again. On the other side of the door, you have this girl standing there with tears in her eyes, wondering how she could possibly turn him away when she loves him this much, but she can’t get hurt again. It’s both of these people swearing that this would be the last time. She’s swearing it’s the last time she’s going to take him back, he’s swearing it’s the last time he’s going to leave her and hurt her. It’s a really intense song and I’m so proud to have Gary on the record.

Gary Lightbody in conversation with Rolling Stone: It was so fast. She works really fast. She’s extraordinary. We actually did that song, wrote it and recorded it in a day. And that was the version of it on the record which is very rare. Normally you write and record something with somebody and then down the line they’ll record it, if you’re lucky. With her, the whole thing was done in nine hours.

‘Holy Ground’

Taylor Swift in a Red Track-By-Track Video: The song ‘Holy Ground’ was a song that I wrote about the feeling I got after years had gone by and I finally appreciated a past relationship for what it was, rather than being bitter about what it didn’t end up being. And I was sitting there thinking about it after I’d just seen him and I just, I was just like, “You know what, that was good. It was good having that in my life.” and I wrote the song and I immediately heard Jeff Bhasker’s production. I hadn’t ever worked with Jeff, but he has done some amazing work. I love what he’s done on Fun’s record, and I love his diversity. He’s just so talented, and so I called him and I said “I wrote this song. I really want you to work on it with me.” And I played it for him and he was like, “Let’s go! This is great!” And he did such an amazing job on it.

‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’

Taylor Swift in conversation with Billboard: ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’ is really close to my heart. I remember it was after a show and I was on the bus thinking about this relationship that ended months and months before. The feeling wasn’t sadness and anger or those things anymore. It was wistful loss. And so I just got my guitar and I hit on the fact that I was thinking in terms of rhyming; I rhymed “magic” with “tragic,” changed a few things and ended it with “what a sad, beautiful, tragic love affair.” I wanted to tell the story in terms of a cloudy recollection of what went wrong. It’s kind of the murky gray, looking back on something you can’t change or get back.

‘The Lucky One’

Taylor Swift in a Red Track-By-Track Video: ‘The Lucky One’ is a song I wrote while I was in Australia. It kind of talks about some of my fears through telling the story of other people that I was inspired by. More than their stories being told, I’m pretty much singing about what I’m scared of in that song, ending up kind of caught up in this whole thing and lonely and feeling misunderstood and feeling like when people think you’re lucky that you’re really not. It kind of expresses my greatest fear of having this not end up being fun anymore, having it end up being a scary place. Some people get there, some people end up there. It’s a story song and it’s something I’m really proud of because it kind of goes to a place that I’m terrified of.

‘Everything Has Changed’ Feat. Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran in conversation with Songwriter Universe: We wrote a song on a trampoline, ate some apple pie and had a jam. It came in 20 minutes, really. It was a really simple song to write. We just had two guitars and strummed it out.

Director Philip Andelman: [The video storyline] was entirely Taylor’s idea!! I filled in the details and the various scenes, but she had the overall vision of it being a first-love story… I was always partial to the tattoo scene!

Actor Jack Lewis: I was six years old when I booked the ‘Everything Has Changed’ music video. We had never even heard of Ed Sheeran at the time. I thought it was just going to be a small piece of trivia from my childhood, but it was a surprise when Ava Ames and I were asked to reprise our roles to make the music video for ‘The Joker and the Queen’ earlier this year. It will always be an honor to be connected to two music legends and pop culture.

‘Starlight’

Taylor Swift in conversation with Wall Street Journal: I get a lot of style inspiration from the 1960s, so I’ll go and look at black and white pictures, and look at photos from the ‘50s and ’60s, and I came across this picture of these two kids dancing at a dance. It immediately made me think of like how much fun they must have had that night. It was back in the late ’40s. I ended up reading underneath that it was Ethel Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. And they were, like, 17. So I just kind of wrote that song from that place, not really knowing how they met or anything like that. And then her daughter, Rory, ended up coming to a show a couple weeks later and I told her about the song. And she was like, “you have to meet my mom, she would love to meet you.” So that was kind of what that song was about.

‘Begin Again’

Taylor Swift in conversation with The Country Daily: We started [the album cycle] with ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,’ which is like “we’re done,” and ‘Begin Again’ is much more of an introspective look on the fact that you don’t get to a point of being done with a relationship without experiencing some sort of hurt. This was a song that I wrote much later on after the relationship ended and I looked back at it and thought, “I really lost myself there.” That’s a hard thing to come to terms with, realizing that you’ve changed something about yourself every day, little by little, and woke up and really didn’t recognize yourself anymore.

Director Philip Andelman: ‘Begin Again’ was shot the day before my wife was due with our son, which was actually the reason we had to shoot in Paris (we live there). So there was a big added pressure on top of the usual on-set anxieties we always face! Being on the rooftops of Paris across from the Opera House (my favorite building in the city) at dusk, the light fading with each passing second, the wind picking up, Taylor giving her all in her final performance of the day was pretty special.

‘The Moment I Knew’

Taylor Swift in a Red Track-By-Track Video: ‘The Moment I Knew’ was a really difficult song for my friends and family to listen to, because it was about my 21st birthday party, and it was not a good party, as you can hear in the song. It was standing there, waiting for someone to show up who never did. It was a song that I felt was really important to put out for people to hear, because nobody likes that feeling of waiting for somebody who’s never gonna walk through the door.

‘Come Back…Be Here’

Taylor Swift in a Red Track-By-Track Video: ‘Come Back…Be Here’ is a song that I wrote with Dan Wilson about somebody I just met. It’s about the feeling of just meeting someone and having all these sparks and then they leave, they have to go somewhere else. It’s about the anxiety and wondering, “How am I gonna see you again? I want to. How’s this gonna happen?” There’s a lot of fear that’s involved with falling in love, especially when you’re dealing with distance.

‘Girl At Home’

Taylor Swift in a Red Track-By-Track Video: I wrote the song ‘Girl At Home’ about a guy who I knew had a girlfriend and I thought it was kind of gross that he was hitting on me. So I just kind of put myself in her position and thought about the fact that, if it had been years ago, I would have been flattered and, “Oh, wow, somebody’s flirting with me.” And then you get cheated on once or twice and you’re like, “Stop it! You have a girlfriend!” I guess that song was my response to some lessons I’ve learned in the past.

‘Better Man’

Taylor Swift in conversation with Amazon Music: I was on tour, and I wrote it alone in a hotel room. And I remember standing in front of a mirror… I think the first thing I thought of was, “I wish it wasn’t 4am, standing in a mirror, saying to myself, “you know you had to do it.” That was an actual visual from my life that ended up being the first thing I wrote, and then I expanded outward from there. And it was a song that I really thought belonged on the album and there were just too many songs I loved that I had written in that period of time, so some of them had to be left off. I think I chose ‘All Too Well’ over ‘Better Man.’ I think that was what happened.

See Also

Lauren Sanderson
‘Nothing New’ Feat. Phoebe Bridgers

Taylor Swift in the Lover Album Journals: [‘Nothing New’ is] about being scared of aging and things changing and losing what you have… It’s a really vulnerable song, but I think it’s important to say.

‘Babe’

Taylor Swift on Instagram: It’s a song that I wrote with Pat Monahan when I was making the Red album. I’m so happy that it gets its own life, I’m so happy that Sugarland wanted to record it [in 2018], and has done such a good job with it, and I’m so stoked to be able to sing on [their version], too.

Pat Monahan in conversation with ABC News: [We wrote] a song called ‘Babe.’ So it’s her song; I was just lucky enough to be a part of it with her, and I’m gonna ask the same of her in the future. She’s very talented, she’s a no-nonsense young kid. I’m not going through different relationships and breakups and all the stuff that young people do, so her perspective is very fresh. And I think that’s what I admire the most [about her].

‘Message In A Bottle’

Taylor Swift in conversation with Songwriter Universe: The reason why I keep [writing songs] is because it’s like a message in a bottle. You can put this message in a bottle, throw it out into the ocean, and maybe someday, the person that you wrote that song about is going to hear it and understand exactly how you felt. I think that’s what keeps drawing me to songwriting: the spontaneity of how you can get an idea at 4 in the morning or while walking through the airport, and also the fact that it’s conveying a message to someone that’s more real than what you had the courage to say in person.

Taylor Swift To a Fan on TikTok: ‘Message In A Bottle’ is EXACTLY what you think it is!! First song I ever wrote with Max [Martin] and Johan [Shellback], can’t wait for you to hear it 💃😘

‘I Bet You Think About Me’ Feat. Chris Stapleton

Taylor Swift in a Radio Promotional Clip: I’d always wanted to work with [Lori McKenna] and I wrote this with her at her house when I was playing Foxboro Stadium on the Speak Now Tour [in June 2011]. We wanted this song to be like a comedic, tongue-in-cheek, funny, not caring what anyone thinks about you sort of breakup song, because there are a lot of different types of heartbreak songs on Red. Some of them are very sincere, some of them are very stoic and heartbreaking and sad. We wanted this to be the moment where I was like, “I don’t care about anything.” And we wanted to make people laugh with it, and we wanted it to be sort of a drinking song, and I think that that’s what it ended up being.

Lori McKenna in conversation with Entertainment Focus: [Taylor was playing] two sold-out nights at Gillette Stadium. And she showed up at my house, day of the first show with this song. She pretty much had the ‘I Bet You Think…,’ she had the title. She had what she wanted to say. She kind of just wanted somebody to bounce stuff off of. And I’ve talked to Liz [Rose, fellow songwriter] about this a couple of times, because I was like, “Am I crazy? Do I remember this right?” She didn’t write down anything. She doesn’t write anything down. She just remembers. And it’s one of those real fun co-writes where you’re just the cheerleader.

‘Forever Winter’

THP Writer Sage Marie Grace: Taylor is gifted at making her lyrics hit you right where it hurts. “I’d say I love you even at your darkest, and please don’t go” is the perfect example of this. In my head, this lyric is about giving everything you have just so they don’t leave you, just so they stay, and I think Red as a whole shows that effortlessly.

‘Run’ Feat. Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran in conversation with Capital FM: We wrote ‘Run’ and then we wrote ‘Everything Has Changed’ maybe, like, a week later? And I remember always thinking, “Well, ‘Run’ is the one that’s gonna make the album.” ‘Run’ was always, like, my favorite one, but ‘Everything Has Changed’ just ended up sounding better, ‘cause I think we produced them differently or whatever, so ‘Everything Has Changed’ had made the album. ‘Run’ has just been there for years and years, and I’ve never really wanted to nudge Taylor about it, because it’s, you know, it’s her song and her thing. But I’ve always been secretly hoping that one day she’d be like, “Hey, this song was cool.” And so, yeah, we recorded that and it’s great, it’s really great. And I’m so happy it’s seeing the light of day.

‘The Very First Night’

THP Creative Director Madison Murray: ‘The Very First Night’ is a slick fusion of both sides of Red, including the wistful country vibes and the more dance-ready, pop energy. It sees Taylor missing someone without letting it feel too heavy, and it feels like a natural segue into her 1989 album, even drawing parallels to songs like ‘Out of the Woods.’

The Red Tour

Photographer Christie Goodwin: I remember being truly impressed by the scale of the production, from the very first rehearsal I witnessed. I just love the way Taylor visually tells a story throughout the whole performance, and how various sequences of the show just smoothly transition from one into the other.

Dancer Katee Shean: I think Taylor put on a VERY entertaining show from beginning to end. The backdrops, graphics, and size of the stage alone were impressive. The beginning of the show was always one of my favorite moments. We had a track that played before the show started and you could always feel the audience’s anticipation and excitement as soon as it cut to a blackout and the RED logo appeared on stage. The second Taylor made her reveal and came on stage, the crowd was always SO loud and it hyped all the dancers up knowing we were going to have a great show.

‘All Too Well’ – The Short Film

Director Declan Whitebloom: Taylor’s a director, and a very good one as well. It was always gonna happen. She was always super involved, even from when I first started working with her on ‘Mean.’ She knew what she wanted and, you know, was very, very, precise in that. She’s incredibly smart, as well as being an awesome singer-songwriter. She’s got an incredible vision and artistic sense, and as soon as I saw that she had been directing her own stuff, and now this short film, I was like, “of course.”

The Legacy

THP Writer Sage Marie Grace: Red, alongside Lover, helped me realize that the love I was seeking wasn’t the love I deserved, and it made me realize how much we force ourselves into this mindset of what love should be.

THP Editor Emily Miller: Red was one of the first albums I listened to growing up where I heard songs like ‘Begin Again’ and it was a breath of fresh air. A star musician saying people can love you for who you are even though someone else might not have, helped shape who I am today. It was the first time I heard someone say it’s okay to love yourself. I really believe that Taylor’s Version will also help another generation of young people discover a sense of self-confidence and empowerment.

THP Creative Director Madison Murray: Red has helped so many people through heartbreak, through falling in love again and learning to let your walls down, and more. It pushed Taylor into a new chapter of her storytelling and her career as a whole, all while becoming a fan favorite and a cult classic.

Now that we’ve heard from Taylor, her collaborators, and her fans on the THP team, we wanna hear from you! What are your favorite songs on Red? Has it helped you through a hard time? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! And for even more Taylor Swift content, click here.

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