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Mosaic broken hearts and the music that makes us

| Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

When I was growing up, my family went on a lot of road trips. Some were reasonable, only a few hours away in Illinois, and some were a bit more intense, like the semi-regular fourteen hour drive we took to see family in Georgia. In general, if we could drive, we drove. In return for forcing us children to sit still in a car for hours on end, my parents would usually give my brother and I iTunes money to buy some new distractions, whether that was downloading a few movies, a season of “Wizards of Waverly Place” or a new album. 

It was for one of these road trips, thankfully one of the shorter ones, that I decided on the latter option and spent my $10 on Taylor Swift’s “Red.” I had, of course, heard of Taylor Swift and liked the songs of hers I’d heard on the radio, but at 12 I had never considered doing a deep dive into her discography. On this day, however, I was intrigued by the album’s description, and was drawn to listen to the 30 second preview of “All Too Well.”

Here I must admit that the only reason I listened to that preview was because I was hit with a momentary bout of illiteracy. The album’s description (still live on iTunes descendant Apple Music, by the way) read: “The banjo pluck of the title track and acoustic ballad ‘All Too Well’ will resonate with country fans…” I guess, as a pre-teen, no one had ever explained to me what a title track was, so I believed that “All Too Well” was the title track. I thought the above sentence was referring to “All Too Well” in two different ways, and not once referring to the actual title track, “Red.” This is embarrassing to admit here, so please cut me some slack. I was curious how a banjo pluck could fit into an acoustic ballad, so I decided to preview the song, and eventually bought the whole album.

“Red” became a pretty monumental album in my life. It made me a Taylor Swift fan (have I mentioned I’m a Taylor Swift fan?), sound-tracked my bus rides and drives to school for the last ten years and has become my all-time favorite album. I grew up with it, and those songs cared for me through all kinds of love, heartbreaks and growing pains throughout the years. Taylor Swift’s “Red” is the music that made me.

“Red” is a breakup album, and largely an album about what it means to go through a breakup in your early 20s, but it was never just a breakup album to me. I didn’t go through my first breakup until three years after “Red” was released and didn’t first fall in love for another three years after that. I didn’t know what Swift was singing about in a concrete way, but I knew exactly how she felt. I wrote about the value in validating the emotions of teenage girls in a column last spring, and while that is certainly part of my attachment to the album, it goes beyond that. Listening to “Red” feels like coming home to my childhood bedroom after a bad day in seventh grade, to the arms of my mother after a break-up, to the driver’s seat of my boyfriend’s car, heat on and windows down, as we desperately tried to keep the engine from overheating on a road trip. It feels terrifyingly honest and overwhelmingly comforting at the same time.

And here I am now, the same age that Swift was when she wrote “Red,” awaiting the release of its re-recording – “Red (Taylor’s Version)” – this Friday. If you’re not aware of Swift’s re-recording project, I’ll give you the SparkNotes. After her label sold the rights to the master recordings of her first six albums not to her but to an outsider, Swift vowed to re-record each of those albums beat-for-beat, in an effort to devalue the original masters and gain the rights to her own work. She already released “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” back in April and saw massive success, so this week she’s releasing the re-recording of “Red.” Caught up yet?

Upon the release of the original “Red,” Swift was 22 years old, having written the album between the ages of 20 and 22. While I have yet to be feelin’ 22, I turn 21 and a half this week, which feels close enough. Anticipating the re-recorded “Red” knowing that I’m the same age as Swift was when she wrote these songs is a bit of a weird feeling. It feels kind of like catching up in age to an older sister – one who was supposed to get perpetually wiser but instead became frozen in time, her advice and thoughtful guidance frozen with her. 

I don’t think I can really outgrow music I love as much as I love “Red,” but at the same time, I’ll never be able to listen to it as a 12-year-old again. The longer I live with it, the more specific songs become tied to specific people, daydreams are replaced with memories, and the album becomes woven into my life, like two trees twisted, growing together. Great music that is loved greatly has the ability to do that – burrow into your life and be a part of who you become. 

So, I have kind of mixed feelings about the release of the re-recording this week. It’s nerve wracking to anticipate even minor changes to an album that has been such a constant in my life, but it’s also a unique experience to be able to revisit it in a new light, nearly ten years later. Ultimately, I think my excitement wins out (how could it not when a ten-minute version of “All Too Well” is coming?) and while I can’t imagine loving this album anymore, I’m anxiously awaiting the chance to let it burrow into me even further.

Ellie Konfrst is a senior studying political science with a minor in the Hesburgh Program for Public Service. Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, she’s excited people will once again be forced to listen to her extremely good takes. You can find her off campus trying to decide whether or not she’ll go to law school or bragging that Taylor Swift follows her on Tumblr. She can be reached at [email protected] or @elliekonfrst13 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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