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RED Era

2012-2014

In 2012, Taylor was 22 and rapidly becoming an icon of her generation. But with her growing fame and fortune, her life kept moving further and further away from the teen audience that had made her a star. As she prepared to release her fourth album RED, she said she started thinking a lot about where she wanted to go in life. Given her massive commercial and critical acclaim, it was hard to imagine how she would sustain her momentum. So when Taylor managed to grow up with a bona fide classic in RED, it was clear that she had set up what was to become one of the greatest careers in music history.
In her early 20s, Taylor was on top of the world. Apart from selling millions of albums and concert tickets, her image as “America’s Sweetheart” had made her an attractive advertising partner for Target, Sony, Walgreens, CoverGirl, Keds, Elizabeth Arden, and Diet Coke. She also appeared on the cover of every relevant magazine, from Rolling Stone, to Vogue, to Vanity Fair. Behind the scenes, it wasn’t all sunshine, though. In a 2020 episode of Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” podcast, Taylor recalled how she felt during the time:

«At 22, I was already watching newer, cooler artists come out every week. I was already feeling like, 'You know, shit. I'm on my fourth record, what can I offer people?' That was sort of when I was like, 'No, you know what? I don't want this to be the part of me that stays in this one place musically forever and bores people to death. It was an interesting wrestling match with my own fears of remaining stagnant that made RED the kind of joy ride that it ended up being.»

Taylor Swift
All this success didn’t stop Taylor from trying as hard as she could to remain her generation’s patron saint. There was a quality about her that was wonderful in its oddness. She was a poised adult, and yet she was undeniably childlike. She regularly tweeted about her cat, Meredith, and watched “a lot of TV”—mainly crime shows like Law And Order SVU and Grey’s Anatomy. And who could forget the face-painting parties? “My friends and I just try to compete to paint the coolest face.”
Table of Contents

Summering with the Kennedy Clan

Taylor talked about her achievements as if they were happening in the context of a wildly improbable dream—one from which she might wake at any moment. That included being a part of American royalty for a couple of months in 2012, when she dated Conor Kennedy. According to someone close to Taylor, her parents knew Rory Kennedy, Conor’s aunt, from being neighbors of hers in Malibu, and that is how Taylor became acquainted with the family. And then, in January of 2012, she was seen with Rory and her mother, Ethel Kennedy, at the Sundance Film Festival, where Rory was debuting her documentary, Ethel. After that, Taylor suddenly appeared to be in the Kennedy fold, visiting the family in Hyannis Port on the Fourth of July and sailing with them on Nantucket Sound. When Ethel Kennedy was asked what she would think of having Taylor as a “granddaughter-in-law,” she told the press, “We should be so lucky.” In the early fall, the relationship fizzled out, but Taylor’s bond with Ethel remained. She dedicated a song on RED, “Starlight,” to her.

Happy, Free, Confused and Lonely at the Same Time

Even after this more than extraordinary summer, Taylor seemed intent on living a “normal” life. In interviews, she talked about going to the grocery store or a park with the dreaminess most people would reserve for, well, any of the stuff Taylor did day to day (Photo shoots! Red carpets! Makeup and glitter!) — even if she had to walk wearing headphones so she “can’t hear the clicking” of the paparazzi. “I’m always analyzing everything, so I thought a lot about what my life might be like if this [fame] actually happened to me. I didn’t think I’d get to still be the same person. I would watch all these True Hollywood Stories, and it seemed like a lot of people didn’t get to live the life they loved once they’d made it.”

But Taylor seemed to have been able to bring the best of her “old life” into the frenzy of fame. “When you can still just call your best friend that you had in high school and talk about the same things you used to talk about, that’s when you know it’s okay.” When Taylor talked about love and relationships, she dwelled on them at length and in detail:

«My girlfriends and I are plagued by the idea, looking back, that [some boys] changed us. You look back and you think: 'I only wore black in that relationship. Or I started speaking differently. Or I started trying to act like a hipster. Or I cut off my friends and family because he wanted me to do that.' It's an unfortunate problem. I think that one thing I'm really afraid of is that magic doesn't last. That butterflies and daydreams and love, all these things that I hold so dear, are going to leave some day. I haven't had a relationship that's lasted for ever. I only know about them starting and ending. Those are my fears. I spend a lot of time balancing between faith and disbelief.»

Taylor Swift
Taylor’s tendency to romanticize did not go uncriticized. Detractors accused her of everything from peddling false fairytales to young girls, to continually complaining about ex-boyfriends. She dismissed those snarks curtly: “When we’re falling in love or out of it, that’s when we most need a song that says how we feel. Yeah, I write a lot of songs about boys. And I’m very happy to do that.”

Media Scrutiny

After the release of RED and the very public ending of her relationship with One Direction star Harry Styles, Taylor’s long media honeymoon came to a sudden halt. Her ubiquity had begun to stir what felt like the beginning of a backlash. Suddenly people—and not just haters on the internet but public figures—were making fun of her. It started with Ellen DeGeneres’s relentless ribbing every time Taylor appeared on her show and then progressed to the 2012 Country Music Awards in November 2012, at which hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley mocked her summer romance with Conor Kennedy. “Are they ever gonna get back together?” Paisley asked. “Never, ever, ever,” Underwood replied, referencing Taylor’s No. 1 “We Are Never Getting Back Together.” “Like, never.”

After baring her heart in hit songs, Taylor now found her love life—or some distorted version of it—treated as a joke. At the Golden Globes in February 2013, hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler got on stage and joked: “You know what, Taylor Swift, you stay away from Michael J. Fox’s son.” The joke wouldn’t have worked without the audience being aware of Swift’s highly scrutinized romantic life, the stuff of tabloid obsession. So the zinger hit home, and the audience exploded with laughter, and, as if it were middle school all over again, some went “Ooooooh.” “Or go for it, or go for it,” Poehler interjected. “No,” said Fey. “She needs some ‘me’ time to learn about herself.” That got another big laugh.

Taylor was in the ladies’ room at the time. So, she didn’t hear the sound of everybody who was anybody in Hollywood laughing at her. When she was discussing that moment in an interview with Vanity Fair a couple of weeks later, Taylor just smiled and said, “You know, Katie Couric is one of my favorite people because she said to me she had heard a quote that she loved”—from former secretary of state Madeleine Albright—“that said, ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’” The incident quickly became a much-followed story on the Web and Twitter. Understandably, the negative, and plainly sexist press really seemed to bug Taylor:

«I was just sort of like, ‘Oh well, you know, I can laugh at myself.’ But what it ended up adding to was this whole kind of everyone jumping on the bandwagon of ‘Taylor dates too much’—which, you know, if you want some big revelation, since 2010 I have dated exactly two people. And the fact that there are slide shows of a dozen guys that I either hugged on a red carpet or met for lunch or wrote a song with, but I apparently was, quote unquote, ‘linked’ to them—it’s just kind of ridiculous. I’m sick of the tabloids’ saying I obsess over guys. Why would you obsess over guys? They don’t like it.»

Taylor Swift
She smiled. “For a female to write about her feelings,” she said, “and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that’s taking something that potentially should be celebrated—a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way—that’s taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist. I’m work-crazy. That’s the thing that I’m crazy about, that I don’t stop thinking about, you know? I think they need to make up these angles because my actual personal life doesn’t have a shocking angle to it: I go to work. I come home. I occasionally go out with my friends. I occasionally go on dates. ‘She’s 23! She occasionally dates! She goes out to dinner with her friends sometimes!’ No one’s gonna click on that. They’re only gonna click on it if they ask some ludicrous question that isn’t slander because it’s got a question mark at the end of it.” In hindsight, Taylor is really proud of RED and its themes. She told Rolling Stone in 2020:

«I look back on RED as my true breakup album. Every other album has flickers of different things. But this was an album that I wrote specifically about pure, absolute, to the core heartbreak.»

Taylor Swift

The RED Tour

Despite the tabloid drama, in March 2013 Taylor embarked on her third concert tour, “The RED Tour.” It was her biggest yet, and it had all the trappings of a stadium-pop blockbuster. There were Jumbotrons and LED lights, multilevel stages and hydraulics and confetti drops, a seven-piece band, four backup singers, fifteen dancers, nearly as many costume changes. Yet the heart of a Taylor Swift show was intimacy: Introducing “Mean,” a song about bullying, Taylor stood at the lip of the stage, picking at a banjo. “I always wanted to know and I always used to daydream about what it would be like to stand on a really big stage and sing songs for a lot of people, songs that I had written … Daydreaming was kind of my No. 1 thing when I was little, because I didn’t have much of a social life going on. I didn’t always have 14,000 people wanting to hang out with me on a Saturday night.” The global tour, its sponsorship deals and merchandise sales eventually helped Taylor become the top earning musician of 2013, taking home a huge $39.7m. She reclaimed the top spot on Billboard’s Money Makers list after also holding the title in 2012 for the previous year.

Side Projects

Outside of music, Taylor made a cameo in the sitcom New Girl (2013), and had a supporting role in the film adaptation of The Giver (2014). In 2013, she co-wrote “Sweeter Than Fiction” with Jack Antonoff for the “One Chance” soundtrack, and received a “Best Original Song” nomination for it at the 71st Golden Globe Awards.

Sharing the Stage With Legends

2013 was the year of Taylor. It seemed like every other day, she added another award to her already endless collection. For example, in May she swept the Billboard Music Awards when she won eight of 11 awards, including “Top Artist” and “Top Billboard 200 Album” for RED. During one of her many acceptance speeches that night, she cheekily told the crowd: “You are the longest and best relationship I ever had.” She also gave an energetic performance of her track “22,” dancing around in high-waisted shorts and a t-shirt featuring a unicorn and a rainbow and emblazoned with the slogan, “Haters gonna hate”.

Another highlight came in June 2013, when Taylor joined the Rolling Stones onstage at Chicago’s United Center last night to perform “As Tears Go By.” She also joined Mick Jagger for a slightly exaggerated version of a formal dance, as if the two were crashing a ball at some palace. As she shared with her 28 million Twitter followers after the show, the night was clearly special for her: “Filing this under ‘never in my wildest dreams’. Thank you Rolling Stones for inviting me to Chicago to sing with you.”

Taylor Swift Education Center

During the RED era, the Swift-Nashville love affair still worked for both sides. She was country’s first truly global star, its ambassador not just to the nation’s mall-rat hordes but to Ireland and Brazil and Taiwan. She conferred modernity, cosmopolitanism, youth on a genre that traditionally has stood for the opposite values. The country Establishment may not be crazy about pop music, but it loved having a pop star in its midst, and was willing to follow Taylor anywhere she went, sending songs like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” to No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs charts. Nashville barely even flinched when confronted with “I Knew You Were Trouble.,” surely the only record with a dubstep bass-drop ever to get spins on country radio. “Country radio is much more like a family than any other group of people that I’ve met. They just say, ‘Look, we’ve known each other for years. You’ve stood by us, and we’ve stood by you. That’s how this works.’”

But Taylor’s relationship to country was not merely a matter of careerist calculation. Nashville is a song town, and Taylor has first and foremost always been a songwriter, steeped in Music Row’s values of craftsmanship and storytelling. That is also why she made a generous donation toward the country Establishment. In October 2013, she attended a gala ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Taylor Swift Education Center at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which she personally endowed with a $4 million donation: “I love being a part of the country-music community. I’m really excited about this music education center and the fact that right now they have three different classes going on.”

The center has a classroom space, a hands-on instrument room and ongoing education opportunities. Museum officials said the new center would increase educational opportunities sevenfold going forward. “We’ve been talking about different programs I can be involved in,” Taylor said. “I hate to call it a lecture because that sounds like I’m yelling at people, but we could do a Q&A talking to students here, and a songwriters’ discussion would be really fun to have at some point.” To this day, Taylor’s ties to Nashville are strong.

Pinnacle Award

Those feelings were, to say the least, reciprocated. Taylor was Nashville’s sweetheart; it couldn’t stop lavishing her with accolades and honors. In fall of 2013, the Nashville Songwriters Association International named her “Songwriter/Artist of the Year” for a record sixth time. She had been nominated for 21 Country Music Association Awards, and had won nine. Midway through November’s CMAs ceremony, a phalanx of the biggest stars in country—Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, George Strait, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, and Rascal Flatts—appeared onstage to present Taylor with the “Pinnacle Award,” country music’s highest honor that had only been given out once before, to Garth Brooks. The award was created to recognize “an artist who has achieved both national and international prominence through concert performances and record sales at levels unique in country music. The artist has also attained the highest degree of recognition within the broad expanse of music worldwide. The artist’s talent and presence will have a long-term positive impact on the appreciation of country music for generations to come.”

The rationale behind the decision to award it to Taylor was that she had taken country music to a new level, that because of her, its reach was wider and more influential than ever before. And that even though she was not just a country superstar but a superstar, period, she remained loyal to her country roots and continued to elevate the art form. Brooks won his when he was 43; Taylor was 23. This was huge. In the video accompanying the celebration, even bigger names congratulated Taylor – Carly Simon, Mick Jagger, Ethel Kennedy, Julia Roberts, to only name a few. Taylor was clearly moved by the love: “You’ve made me feel so special right now, thank you,” she said, tearing up. Tim McGraw probably stated what was on everyone’s mind that night: “While Taylor may be at the pinnacle now, who knows what new heights she decides to reach?”

Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

A big sign for what was to come was the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which aired in December 2013. Taylor was one of the main musical guests and joined in the fun on the runway with her own themed outfits, including a flamboyant Union Jack dress for her duet with Fall Out Boy on their song “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark,” and a stunning sparkling silver mini dress to perform her own hit “I Knew You Were Trouble.” for the show’s finale. Infamously, that evening Taylor became friends with supermodels Karlie Kloss, Gigi Hadid, Cara Delevingne, and Martha Hunt. Overall, the show featuring Taylor was such a hit that she was invited to perform on the show again the following year.

Duet With Jon Bon Jovi and the Duke of Cambridge

One more highlight of 2013 came when Taylor attended a fundraising gala for the Centrepoint charity at London’s Kensington Palace. There, she spontaneously decided to pull Prince William onstage with her and Jon Bon Jovi for an unplanned performance of “Livin’ on a Prayer.” While most people might be shy when attending a ball at a palace with literal royalty, Taylor high-fived the Prince and decided to go for it. During an interview, William opened up about the surreal experience: “When I sat down to watch Jon Bon Jovi do his performance, I thought, ‘That’s it. My job is done. I’ll get a dinner in a minute and I might be able to have a chat to some people and, you know, I’m off-duty a little bit now.’ Little did I think what was going to happen next. I’m sat next to Taylor Swift. She’s on my left. And after Jon does his first song, there’s a pause, and she turns to me. She puts her hand on my arm, looks me in the eye, and says, ‘Come on, William. Let’s go and sing.’ To this day, I still do not know what came over me. But frankly, if Taylor Swift looks you in the eye, touches your arm, and says, ‘Come with me….’ I got up like a puppy and went, ‘Yeah, okay, that seems like a great idea. I’ll follow you.’” It was certainly a moment to remember.

Leaving Country Music

After the whirlwind of 2013, Taylor was already thinking a lot about her next record. While on “The RED Tour”, she’d been writing songs and stockpiling ideas: reams of lyrics, thousands of voice memos in her iPhone. She played a few dates in London and Berlin in February and officially finished the tour in June in Asia. But she planned to spend much of 2014 writing and recording the new album, a prospect both exhilarating and terrifying to her: “I worry about everything. Some days I wake up in a mind-set of, like, ‘Okay, it’s been a good run.’ By afternoon, I could have a change of mood and feel like anything is possible and I can’t wait to make this kind of music I’ve never made before. And then by evening, I could be terrified of the whole thing again. And then at night, I’ll write a song before bed.” In 2020, Taylor looked back on that time, saying:

«I felt so proud and still feel so proud of my origins in Nashville. But at a certain point, I started to feel like, ‘Am I allowed to color outside the lines here?’ And it really was amazing, on RED, to realize, ‘Oh, I'm allowed in these rooms, I'm accepted in these rooms.’ That was something that freed me up for a world of change and challenge and innovation. I never would've had the bravery to make the full leap into pop music, if I hadn't been able to do what I did with RED and to work with the people that I worked with. I will always look back on it and think, ‘Wow, that was really the beginning of everything that I'm doing [now].»

Taylor Swift
In the moment though, she sounded much more carefree, while also being focused on the future: “The last year of my life was so much fun. Being 22—oh my God, I was single and happy and carefree and confused and didn’t care. And I’m still kind of that way. Like, yeah, I’m dealing with a little bit of a chaotic media circus right now, but that’ll die down in a few weeks when people realize there’s nothing left to talk about.”

Little did Taylor know that the next couple of years were going to be anything but quiet. She was about to become the biggest star on the planet.
General Information
Associated AlbumRED
Beginning of EraAugust 2012
End of Era
Tour
AestheticFall
Vintage
Hipster
Maple latte
Red, black and white
StyleRetro (1950s)
Vintage dresses
High-waisted shorts
Striped shirts
Laceup oxfords
Kitten heels
Ray-Ban sunglasses
Bangs and straight hair
Winged eyeliner
Red lipstick
ERA CHRONOLOGY
Speak Now Era (2010-2012)RED Era (2012-2014)1989 Era (2014-2016)
Announcement
Commercial
RED Era

RED (2012)

RED
(Taylor's Version)

RED Songs

The RED Tour

Taylor's Discography