(You can access my full ranking and rating of all of Taylor Swift’s songs here!)
How does Red (Taylor’s Version) compare to the original? Taken overall, I think it compares very well. But that doesn’t mean every individual track is better. Here’s my assessment after listening to each back to back.
- State of Grace: TV. The new version has brighter electric guitars and much clearer vocals.
- Red: TV. It has crisper percussion (e.g., compare the intros), fuller vocals, and I like the ending better.
- Treacherous: OG. It’s a close call, but in TV I miss the heavier guitar in the chorus; the song is more poppy and has less depth.
- I Knew You Were Trouble: OG. The vocals in TV sound off and she sounds much less pained/upset in the bridge. She’s also softened the EDM emphasis of the song.
- All Too Well: OG. This is my favorite Taylor song so I don’t even know if I can take off the nostalgia glasses, but in the end, I think the OG has crunchier guitars and more emotive vocals in the early bridge.
- 22: TV. A tough call, but for me it comes down to this: The OG made “22” sound like “swimsuit,” but TV has better enunciation.
- I Almost Do: TV. Just not my favorite song in either version but the vocals are a bit better in TV.
- We Are Never Getting Back Together: OG. Lots of changes here. She doesn’t “perform” the vocals as well and the “whees” are weird; the spoken bit also falls flat.
- Stay Stay Stay: TV. This track showcases how TV is a reimagining of Red as a pop album. She’s shed the country accent but retained the sense of fun.
- The Last Time: TV. Setting aside my nostalgia for the OG track, TV is better. Gary Lightbody’s voice is more present and feels more in contact with Taylor’s vocals, which gives the song an “Exile” vibe. The revised instrumentation increases the sense of urgency.
- Holy Ground: TV. She’s emphasized electric over acoustic guitar, which fits the tonal repositioning of the album.
- Sad Beautiful Tragic: TV. This is one of my least favorite tracks in all of Swiftdom, but the instrumentals are a bit cleaner on the new version.
- The Lucky One: TV. The vocals sound less strained on the new version.
- Everything Has Changed: TV. The OG was great, but the new version makes it feel a bit restrained and claustrophobic by comparison. Swift and Sheeran seem more comfortable and confident, and the result, combined with crisper production, is much more intimate yet also somehow more epic. Maybe the most improved track.
- Starlight: TV. Taylor seems to bring the fictional storytelling sensibilities, honed during the Folklore/Evermore era, as she reconstructs this track.
- Begin Again: TV. It’s a testament to the quality of the OG that Taylor made this one such a close match. For the greater maturity in the vocals, I give the nod to the new take, but these are very similar.
- The Moment I Knew: TV. Right off the bat, the vocals are warmer, the guitar is clearer, and then the chorus hits and the new production makes it even more epic. Taken all together, the sense of sorrow and pain comes through more potently.
- Come Back… Be Here: OG. I had high hopes for this, the song I consider to be the great sleeper hit of the Red era (not sure we can consider “All Too Well” a sleeper anymore). The TV track somehow loses the soaring passion of the OG, and it falls flat. Compare especially from the bridge on; like some other TV tracks, the emotion just doesn’t feel as raw or real.
- Girl at Home: TV. The OG is unfairly maligned; it’s OK to have some cheesy fun, isn’t it? The new take reimagines the whole thing and dials the cheesiness up even further, which was a great choice.
- State of Grace (Acoustic Version): TV. Another track where her vocal maturity shines, turning this into a reflective, emotional powerhouse.
So, bottom line: TV is better than OG. I’m reminded that in 2014, after Daft Punk won the Grammy over Red, Swift skipped the after-parties, “went home and… cried a little bit, and … got In-N-Out Burger and ate a lot.” And then she reflected: “You have a few options when you don’t win an award. You can decide like, ‘Oh, they’re wrong, they all voted wrong.’ Or… you can say, ‘Maybe they’re right — maybe I did not make the record of my career.’ Maybe I need to fix the problem, which was that I have not been making sonically cohesive albums.”
She’s now achieved that sonic cohesion. The original was a bit of an eclectic mix, but with Taylor’s Version, she’s effectively repositioned Red as a primarily pop album (with, yes, a few country flourishes). Yes, some of the big hits don’t land quite as well, but taken all together, they and the other tracks have given life to a more polished work of art.