When Taylor Swift was 15, she signed a contract with Big Machine Record Label. She released six albums for the company: Taylor Swift, Fearless, Speak Now, Red, 1989, and reputation. As Swift grew older and gained relationships with others in the music industry, she dealt with her fair share of drama. Perhaps one of the most fiery was that between her and Kanye West. At the 2009 Video Music Awards, West notoriously jumped on the stage after Swift was awarded the “Best Female Video” award for her hit single “You Belong With Me.” (Side note, why was there a “Best Female Video” award… seems like gender would have nothing to do with video quality). He did this in support of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” music video, claiming that it was one of the best videos of all time. This event was extremely disrespectful to Taylor and a rude introduction to the harsh industry, as she was only 15 and naive. There is something to be said about Beyoncé and other Black artists/actors repeatedly losing to arguably less deserving white candidates, and West is often subjected to racist comments by Swifties in the name of defending their idol, so the event and its impact are difficult to unpack. Regardless, it forever changed West and Swift’s relationship. There were some other altercations later between the two, but in the end, the specifics of the drama seemed blurry and petty.
However, in later years she would become involved in a battle with record executive Scooter Braun, and that drama was of a much larger scale and had financial implications.
Scott Borchetta was the owner of Big Machine Record Label when Swift signed, and the two were friendly for many years. He then handed ownership of the label over to Scooter Braun, who was an active online supporter of West and of Swift’s other opposers. Braun proved immediately that he solely intended to profit financially from Swift’s work, money that she would get no share of. The profits would continue to grow as more people listened to each album. Essentially, Braun and other investors will gain money off of her first six albums for as long as they are played.
But Swift had a plan. In order to regain control of her work and additionally decrease sales on her original recordings, she has been in the process of rerecording all six albums and releasing “From the Vault” songs that she wrote but never released. New and exciting features are dispersed throughout the first two re-recordings (Fearless (Taylor’s Version) was released April 2021), including Phoebe Bridgers, Maren Morris, Chris Stapleton, and more. These Vault songs are hinted at through cryptic social media puzzles before the re-release, much to the delight of devoted internet Swifties, racing to crack their codes.
When Red was released in 2012, it dominated the music world with hit songs such as “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” “Red,” and “22.” It’s also home of the coveted “All Too Well.” This album was nominated for “Album of the Year” and “Country Album of the Year” at the 56th Grammy Awards, however it did not win in either category.
Red, at its release was certainly special, however it gained a new level of prominence after the release of her next album, 1989. Although we didn’t know it then, Red would be her last album in the country genre, and now one can look through her first four albums and see their gradual transition to the pop genre. Its autumn-vibe fits with that theme nicely, as both autumn and Red are thought of as transition stages. Red changes from country to pop as leaves change color in the fall. The album has a special spot in many people’s hearts for various reasons, and the re-recording plus the Vault songs have rekindled that magical fall love so many of us felt when the album was first released.
I’ve now listened to the Vault songs in their entirety and here are my thoughts on them. Even though “Ronan” and “Babe” technically were released before Red (Taylor’s Version), I’ve still included them because they were not on the album originally.
Ronan (Taylor’s Version)
Swift released this charity single in 2012 after being inspired by an online blog named “Rockstar Ronan” run by Maya Thompson, who used the blog to document her child Ronan’s struggles with neuroblastoma, a form of cancer that commonly affects young children. Ronan unfortunately passed away, and Swift wrote the song about his life. The song is sad without knowing the backstory, but is devastating when you do know. The part where Swift softly sings “you were my best four years” is especially painful when you think of how young Ronan was, and I always think about how important but difficult this song must be for Thompson. She loves the song and is an avid Swift supporter online, speaking about how happy she is that “Ronan finally has a permanent home [on the album].”
Favorite Line: “Flowers pile up in the worst way, no one knows what to say.”
Better Man (Taylor’s Version)
This song feels like peak country-Swift songwriting. It’s sad at its core and the chorus is perfect for belting while crying. It reminds me of “You’re Not Sorry” and “Come In With The Rain,” both songs from her second album, Fearless. While it’s definitely not the most lyrically interesting on the album, it’s still great for singing along to and once it builds to the chorus, you can feel the emotion coming out from her voice.
Favorite Line: “Push my love away like it was some kind of loaded gun.”
Nothing New (Taylor’s Version) [Feat. Phoebe Bridgers]
Swift has received some backlash in the past for her lack of female features on her albums, but in this song, Phoebe Bridgers has her own verse. It’s sad, as many of these Vault songs are, and Bridgers’ gentle vocal style adds to that sadness. Being an avid Bridgers fan, I was excited for this song, and it did not disappoint. Although it seems to be about not being enough for a love interest, it resonates more with me around self confidence and self worth. I have to admit, this is not a song I can listen to at any given moment, only in times where I’m really ready to sit in sad self reflection. But it’s amazing in those moments.
Also – who else would write “People love an ingénue” in their song. Swift is simply showing off at this point.
Favorite Line: “How can a person know everything at eighteen, but nothin’ at twenty-two?”
Babe (Taylor’s Version)
This song was originally released in 2018 and Swift was only featured in it as it was a song by Sugarland. But in Red (Taylor’s Version), it’s all Taylor. This song is poppy and upbeat, which is good because it comes directly after three tear-jerkers, and the people need a break! The repeated “babe” is a singsong use of repetition and there’s subtle saxophone usage which both make this one of the more catchy songs in the Vault tracks.
Favorite Line: “I’m here on the kitchen floor, you call but I won’t hear it.”
Message In A Bottle (Taylor’s Version)
This song is another one that’s a bit more upbeat and happy. Swift strategically sandwiched three happy Vault songs in between two huge slices of heartache bread. It’s not an emotionally deep song; it gives very “Stay Stay Stay” vibes and it’s honestly hard to imagine that the same person who wrote “My Tears Ricochet” and “Champagne Problems” (two songs on Folklore and Evermore) also wrote this happy, fun song. It’s painfully repetitive, but I can imagine it being super fun to sing while driving down the highway next to the beach. In comparison to the other Vault songs, it isn’t as lyrically advanced, but considering Swift wrote these when she was much younger, it still has an impressive bridge in which she somehow manages to rhyme “London” with “wondering.” Classic.
Favorite Line: “Message in a bottle is all I can do / Standin’ here hopin’ it gets to you.”
I Bet You Think About Me (Taylor’s Version) [Feat. Chris Stapleton]
This is a whimsical, twangy song mainly consisting of insults towards one person and his new lover, riddled with words like “pedigree” and references to “cool indie concerts.” (What does Swift have against indie music? A certain song on this album also mentions indie music.) Although at times it does give very “I’m not like other girls” energy, I excuse it because it’s so fun to sing. And Chris Stapleton is in it the perfect amount, which is barely at all, and when he is he provides nice back up vocals for Taylor.
“I Bet You Think About Me” was accompanied by a music video directed by Swift’s friend, the actress Blake Lively. In the video, Swift acts like a child at a wedding of someone (presumably a past lover) and taunts him by making his guests laugh, eating the cake with her fingers, and playing with the children. Later on in the video she instantly matures, shedding her childish persona. But who doesn’t love a Taylor Swift music video full of destruction and angry men? See: The Music Videos for “Blank Space” and “The Man.”
Favorite Line: “But you know what they say, you can’t help who you fall for / And you and I fell like an early spring snow.”
Forever Winter (Taylor’s Version)
If the 10 minute version of “All Too Well” wasn’t on this list, this would be my favorite Vault song by far. Although you could angrily sing along to it, at its core it’s a very sad ballad, mourning the ending of a relationship, the feeling when you know something is turning sour but you’re helpless to save it. When she croons “Too young to know it gets better,” I think about Swift in her happy relationship with actor Joe Alwyn, and hope that line is somewhat of a message to her past self, telling her it will be okay.
Favorite Line: “Too young to know it gets better / I’ll be summer sun for you forever / Forever winter if you go.”
Run (Taylor’s Version) [Feat. Ed Sheeran]
Swift and Sheeran have been longtime friends and collaborators, which is fitting because they are both master songwriters. This song is a sweet duet; their voices mold perfectly together. It’s a little bit too repetitive, in the same way that “Babe” is, with the repetition of “run” over and over again. But in “Babe,” it’s more catchy, the repetition in this song gives it sort of a flat affect. It’s not my favorite song, but that also could be because I love “Everything Has Changed” which is another Swift/Sheeran collaboration, and this song does not resonate in the same way.
Favorite Line: “I could see this view a hundred times / Pale blue sky reflected in your eyes.”
The Very First Night (Taylor’s Version)
This song is placed at an odd point in the album, an upbeat joyful tune in the middle of two relatively slower, sad songs. It feels like all of the best parts of Fearless and 1989; every time it comes on it’s nearly impossible for me not to tap my feet to the beat. The chorus is infectiously catchy, which makes up for the fact that the bridge is nonexistent. Definitely a personal top Taylor song pick for driving or getting pumped up to do something. It abruptly ends, which is my only issue with it, because then you’re immediately thrown into the emotional monster that is the next song on the tracklist.
Favorite Line: “We broke the status quo, then we broke each other’s hearts.”
All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)
This song. I think I’ve listened to it 20 times since the album came out. Being an avid “All Too Well” fan for years, this was the track I was most anticipating. I had a few worries before it came out: Would 10 minutes ruin the song? Would it be too much? Maybe the song is perfect just how it is? But when I heard the first line of the song all of my worries washed away. It starts off much less country than the original version, even more so than in the shorter Taylor’s Version. Other than a less country feel, in general it sounds the same until you hear “And you were tossing me the car keys / ‘F**k the patriarchy’ keychain on the ground,” and after that line the song is never the same.
The original version of “All Too Well” was allegedly written about Swift’s relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhall when she was 20 and he was 29. “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” tells the same story as the original version, except it punches Gyllenhall right in the face rather than slaps him on the wrist. The short film accompanying the song artistically weaves easter eggs and references to that past relationship into the video. It took online Swifties about three hours to uncover almost all of the hidden meanings: a hat connected to old paparazzi photos, the keychain as a metaphor for fake feminism, an author as a symbol of a popstar, and more. One could travel down the internet Swiftie chain forever and never reach the end.
But all of the drama aside, both versions of the song are lyrically powerful; many deem it her best work in that category. Rolling Stone has listed it her best song of all time, which is majorly impressive considering she has released five albums since then. “All Too Well” was a glimpse into Swift’s songwriting genius that would later become evident in albums like Folklore and Evermore, and the 10 Minute Version reminds us how talented Swift has always been.
“And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punch line goes/
I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age
And did the twin flame bruise paint you blue?/
Just between us, did the love affair maim you, too?”
Swift’s original intention of this re-recording was to reclaim the ownership and the power of Red. But in her usual, over the top fashion, this album also puts an exciting spin on the classics that we know and love and introduces us to new songs that will surely become fan-favorites as the years go by.