By Adeeb Chowdhury
As the clock ticked closer to midnight Nov. 11, junior Margaret Lawrence and her friends waited with bated breath, constantly refreshing the front page of their Spotify accounts. Sitting beside them was a box of tissues, a bottle of wine, and an autographed picture of the artist whose latest album they were waiting for. At the stroke of midnight, Lawrence’s phone screen flashed on with the notification that Taylor Swift had finally released “Red (Taylor’s Version).”
Lawrence and her friends were among the numerous students who hosted listening parties for “Red (TV).” The highly anticipated project was a re-release of Swift’s fourth studio album “Red,” released in 2012. Since its release, the original album has been perceived as the bridge between Swift’s country pop roots and her subsequent electro-pop style, which was more fully fleshed out in later albums such as “1989” and “Reputation.”
“[The original] ‘Red’ has such a special place in my heart,” Lawrence said. “It was one of the first Taylor Swift albums I ever listened to and so far one of my favorite ones. It really made me a Swiftie and introduced me to her music. So listening to the re-release was such a nostalgic experience. It took me back to when I was like 10 and was listening to her for the first time.”
In 2019, Swift’s previous label Big Machine — which owns the masters to her first six albums — was acquired by talent manager Scooter Braun for $300,000,000, giving Braun ownership of Swift’s catalog against her wishes. In an effort to reclaim ownership of her own music, Swift announced that she would be releasing re-recordings of her first six albums, the first of which was “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” in April. The legal and cultural battle surrounding the ownership of her music has sparked extensive conversation worldwide regarding intellectual property and an artist’s right to their own work, with music industry leaders such as rapper and business mogul Kanye West — with whom Swift has historically had a shaky relationship with — offering to help her reclaim ownership of her albums and vocally supporting her re-recordings.
“I think it’s absolutely amazing what Taylor is doing,” Lawrence said. “It’s so brave and inspiring of Blondie — sorry, my friends and I call her Blondie sometimes — to literally re-record her old music and let us see how much she’s matured in the last two decades. I don’t listen to the old versions of ‘Fearless’ or ‘Red’ anymore. I only listen to the new versions, which she owns, so that her label doesn’t profit from them.”
On the night of Nov. 11, a few hours before “Red (TV) was scheduled for release, students sat ready to listen to the project on platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube. Many braced themselves for an emotional night.
“I just knew that tears would be shed,” Serena Ganesan, who also organized a small listening party in her dorm room in Kent Hall, said. “There was no doubt that it would be an emotional roller coaster. I kept a box of tissues and some wine ready at a moment’s notice.”
The reasons behind such an emotional response to the album were varied, ranging from personal nostalgia to the subject matter of the music to the real-life events surrounding the release of the album.
“I definitely felt nostalgic, it felt like I was pulled back to 2012 when I first heard this album,” Ganesan said. “It brought back vivid memories of my childhood. And of course, it’s literally a breakup album. The songs on this album are meant to be heartbreaking.”
Swift promoted the album’s release before midnight on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night with Seth Myers.” These talk shows served as a warm-up to the album, with students watching live just an hour before the actual music was released.
“It was a way to hear Taylor’s final thoughts on her album right before it was released,” Lawrence said. “I knew I couldn’t miss it. She looked so beautiful on the shows too.”
Finally, at midnight, “Red (TV)” was released as promised.
“I literally started screaming,” Ganesan said. “I was waiting on YouTube and I refreshed the page and there it was, the lyric videos to all the songs. It was a magical feeling. I popped open my bottle of wine and started listening immediately.”
The album consisted of 30 songs. Twenty of them were re-recordings from the original album’s deluxe edition, six were songs “from the Vault” that were meant to be on the original, two were brand new songs “Babe” and “Better Man,”one was the 2012 charity single “Ronan,” and the final track was the 10-minute long version of Swift’s famed song “All Too Well.”
“It was definitely a very long album,” Lawrence said. “But it deserved to be. There was a lot to unpack.”
The album’s release was an almost cinematic experience for devoted listeners. Students hosting listening parties sat listening through the night. Lyric videos on YouTube provided glimpses into artwork and graphics associated with the songs, as well as a video of Swift recording the 10-minute long “All Too Well.”
“I was excited to listen to it because it’s my favorite Taylor Swift album and it’s just so beautiful and so well-written,” sophomore Madelyn Macdonald said. “How it felt listening to it was just pure excitement and fun honestly.”
The full album clocked in at over 130 minutes long.
“We had to take a few breaks in between,” Lawrence said. “We had short snack breaks and stuff. But we managed to finish the album that night. It was a very rewarding experience. Great way to spend a Friday night, and I mean that unironically.”
Yuri Chikuda also joined a listening party for the album.
“It was definitely worth it,” Chikuda said. “I enjoyed being with friends and listening to the album with them, and talking about every single song after listening to it. It was definitely a unique experience.”
The listening parties weren’t over yet. The next day, Swift released a short film based on “All Too Well,” starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien. “All Too Well: The Short Film” was directed by Swift herself and was loosely based on her relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhall. Students gathered in their dorms to watch the film on YouTube as it premiered.
“The short film was so well made,” Chikuda said. “It was really well directed and seemed very artistic and sophisticated. The acting was great too. I watched it with some friends and we all loved it.”
The short film has now been viewed over 50 million times, and the 10-minute song has become a fan favorite.
“I did cry listening to ‘All Too Well’,” Macdonald said. “But it was a great cry.”
Romita Chakroborty also expressed her passion for the song.
“If ‘All Too Well’ 10-minute version was a person, I’d marry it,” Chakroborty said. “I love Taylor and how she turns heartbreak into business. ‘Red’ is one of my favorite albums.”
Other students voiced their admiration for the album despite not being “Swifties” or attending a listening party. Jamal Dornellian, who would not describe himself as a Taylor Swift fan, nonetheless expressed respect for the project.
“The thing is, I like Taylor Swift’s album,” Dornellian said. “However, I didn’t get to finish it. I like that she mixes old with new, and I guess you can say that she still has more to come.”
Although the rollout for “Red (TV)” is mostly over now, Swift’s fans say they still have a lot to look forward to.
“Taylor is known for hiding easter eggs and hints in her music and videos,” Ganesan said. “If you look closely, you can find clues about what she’s planning to release next. I think we’re going to get new stuff from her sooner than we think.”
Since its release, “Red (TV)” has broken a string of commercial records. It has received the most single-day streams for an album by a female artist of all time, and “All Too Well” has become the longest number-one track in Billboard history.