Taylor Swift’s emotive ‘Red’ shined at campus listening party

Nov. 14, 2021, 7:48 p.m.

In the cozy Alondra lounge, precisely one hour after the album dropped, Stanford students gathered to celebrate the re-release of the pop-country phenomenon that is Taylor Swift’s “Red.” 

Although the music and composition are largely identical to the original, the production quality of the songs in “Taylor’s Version” is noticeably improved. The percussive elements are significantly more polished and orchestral, while the clarity of the strings and guitars further enhances the listening experience; the improved quality in recordings is especially apparent in “The Last Time [feat. Gary Lightbody],” as the instrumentation neatly complements the more refined vocal performance from both artists.

“I can’t go back to the old Red,’” said listening party attendee Yared “Yayo” Avalos ’25.

The new album is still an emotional rollercoaster, just like the original. By the time the listening party reached “22,” people couldn’t help but abandon the sofas to jump around the room and shout the classic, coming-of-age lyrics. The cathartic adrenaline rush of fast-paced pop-bops was punctuated with heartbroken cries as listeners reflected on powerful ballads like “All Too Well,” “I Almost Do” and “Sad Beautiful Tragic.” 

“Despite the lack of coherent narrative, the album was able to capture the complex feeling of growing up and falling in and out of love. The messiness is kind of the point, isn’t it?” said Alondra resident and party attendee Vernita Zhai ’25.

Sentimentally, the re-release was an opportunity to reflect on how far we, the listeners, have grown since the last edition. While we find ourselves surrounded by new environments, friends and uncertainties, “Red (Taylor’s Version)” transports us back to our childhood bedrooms. 

“When ‘Red’ came out the first time, my friends didn’t listen to Taylor Swift, but now I’m surrounded by people who really appreciate the songs as I do,” said Sylvia Gabriel ’25. “I was embarrassed to even like her, you know. The tides have kind of turned — I’m able to let go of that self-consciousness now.”

Swift has clearly grown right along with her audience. The songs “From The Vault” were great additions to the album — the maturity in their content was probably why the songs didn’t make it in the initial cut, but their current release feels right. 

Of the vault songs, “Ronan” is particularly affecting; the listening party fell silent while reflecting upon the life of Ronan Thompson, who succumbed to cancer and passed away too soon. “What if I kept the hand-me-downs you won’t grow into?” sang Swift. “What if the miracle was even getting one moment with you?” 

A crowded room of people around a projector with Taylor Swift lyrics.
(Photo: BRYAN STEVEN MONGE SERRANO/The Stanford Daily).

Both “Better Man” and “Babe,” now sung by Swift, sounded better than the room anticipated, given the incredible initial releases of the songs by Little Big Town and Sugarland, respectively. “Message In A Bottle” was an unexpected 2010’s bop that I can foresee growing into a summer hit, with its carefree, liberated chorus; “Run” was a masterpiece and a glimpse into the exquisite delicacy of “+”-era Ed Sheeran. The cutting lyrics of “Nothing New” and the perfect collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers signaled another remarkable moment of maturity for Swift, especially considering that she wrote this song back in 2012.  “How can a person know everything / At eighteen but nothin’ at twenty-two?,“ she sings, offering a dreadful insight into what we might lose through chasing our goals. 

The final track, “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)”, turned out to be the favorite of many at the listening party. “You kept me like a secret / but I kept you like an oath” — Swift’s brutal honesty and lyricism left everyone in the room an emotional wreck in the best way possible. This new version of “All Too Well” is 10/10 worthy of your 10 minutes, a true must-listen. 

Overall, the album, and the event, was a success; the chanting of lyrics, little giggles and energy in the room made my first listening of this album a heartwarming experience. The listening party brought everyone together as each audience member worked to find a piece of themselves in the music and the community, “even if it makes us feel happy, sad or [like dancing],” said Jun Yang Ang ’25. 

Bhumikorn Kongtaveelert '25 is the news desk editor for Science & Technology. He is majoring in Computer Science and Art Practice with interest in remote sensing and the environment.

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