If Swift’s early-career flip of fairytale narratives had felt a little Disney, then Red is a Nora Ephron movie, ᴀssembling and magnifying precise details into swooping storytelling arcs. There’s a breathtaking sense of scale to its forward-thinking forays into EDM, dubstep and country-rock, with grand swells of emotion masterfully calibrated to hit pop’s bullseye.
The notion of “happily ever after” is a false god, she had realised; what was real was to write a heroine bruised by love and holding on to fragments of hope, as she does on Begin Again. Or, in All Too Well, to deliver a relationship postmortem so richly devastating that Stanford university now runs a course on it.
She would later lean into villainy, but Swift during her Red era knew that a burn is most savage when masquerading as aloe: “Loving him is like driving a new Maserati down a ᴅᴇᴀᴅ-end street,” as she sings on the тιтle track. And the album marks the birth of a Swiftian signature: the indelible goofy aside.
There is no “I’m the problem it’s me” without We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’s “like, ever”. It takes a 22-year-old’s brilliant audacity to claim a whole colour of the rainbow, and on Red, Swift seemed made of starlight, channelling intense emotion and creative hunger into her first truly great era. Owen Myers