Red has always been a heartbreak album. Taylor Swift, the woman who is famous for her brutally honest heartbreak tracks, has gone so far as to call it her “only true breakup album.” This is the album that brought us her magum opus — “All Too Well.” That brought Taylor to conquer the Billboard charts for the first time with “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” That cemented her as a one-of-a-kind lyricist (and bridge-writer) with brutal phrases like “You call me up again just to break me like a promise/so casually cruel in the name of being honest.”
But it’s also Taylor’s fall album. Somewhere along the way, after its original October 2012 release date, it became a fall staple, a signpost for the turning of the seasons for Swifties everywhere — and yes, we are everywhere. It’s something about the color red, lyrics like “autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place,” her liner notes about maple lattes. Or maybe, it’s as simple as after hot girl summer, people are looking for sad girl fall. But no matter what makes it so, it is; Taylor went so far as to make a Tik Tok all about fall in preparation for Red’s re-release.
And for these reasons, it’s also an album about climate change. So today, as we’re gifted with the 30 track, critically acclaimed, Red (Taylor’s Version), we’re going to dig into it together. First a note for the uninitiated — Taylor Swift is rerecording her older records in order to gain control of the masters.
Red (Taylor’s Version) is a climate change album due to its focus on time. We see time in the autumn motifs, we hear time in the way the extremely long fade out of All Too Well (10 Minute Version) sounds like someone (the casually cruel ex??) in the process of forgetting, we feel time in the specificity of what its like to be 22 — “happy, free, confused, and lonely” — obviously. For the album announcement, Taylor went so far as to write, “I’ve always said that the world is a different place for the heartbroken. It moves on a different axis, at a different speed. Time skips backwards and forwards fleetingly.” I’m not even the first to talk about time in Red (Taylor’s Version), and it’s mere hours old! Laura Snapes’s review in The Guardian takes note of, “the album’s brutal obsession with time: how long it takes to get over someone; the shelf life of any young woman’s appeal; the pitiful plight of emotionally frigid ex-boyfriends forever doomed to stagnate in their obsessions with status over love.” Time is everywhere.
As we skirt across the 30 tracks, we lose track of time. We feel it speed up with new love and slow down with heartbreak. We lose ourselves completely in memories we’d thought were long forgotten. We struggle to remember whether it is 2012 or 2021. What enables this, and what also helps us eventually pull out of the reverie, is the season.
Humans have tried to measure time in so many ways. We’ve crafted calendars, invented watches, and even tried to understand time zones. But long before any of that, we had the seasons. Their inevitable change helps us to keep track of time marching forward, and their recurrence helps us to remember what we’ve left behind. They are central to our experience of time, because we’ve made our lives around the seasons. As hunter-gatherers and farmers, that was and is very literal. But we still celebrate holidays, eat, work, dress, and even, as Red (Taylor’s Version) shows us, feel our feelings in time with the seasons.
What Red (Taylor’s Version) does is crystallize something we all intuitively know to be true — that the seasons help us to remember and to move on. It’s why it is only natural that Taylor Swift’s heartbreak album is also her most seasonal. It’s also one of the reasons I’m so terrified of climate change.
Of course, there are a million reasons to be terrified of climate change — it’s life and death. But more existentially, how will life change when the seasons we could always count on, that have marched forward for time immemorial and come back to us each year, are no longer? Winter is shortening while summer lengthens. The weather that’s “normal” is becoming inconsequential. And it’s all happening so fast that our hearts and minds can’t possibly keep up. When we’re in the depths of despair, what will it be like when we can’t count on the regular change of season to pull us through? When we’re old and grey, how can we expect to remember our happiest moments without a first snowfall, a summer day at the beach, or a spring flower to jog our memory? Time is a fickle thing — climate change is fickler.
So I hope you listen to Red (Taylor’s Version) while you can still feel time warp across the autumns of your life, allowing you to remember every heartbreak, love, and special moment they contain and then charge forward again toward winter. Consider how time is tied up with the world around us. Admire the breathtaking joy of our seasons. Celebrate and mourn the climate we’re already starting to leave behind, because “it was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well.”