October 22, 2012
Table of Contents
Exploring A New Sound
Martin and his frequent collaborator Shellback produced three songs on the album: “22“, “I Knew You Were Trouble.“, and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together“, all of which are characterized by the pair’s trademark synthesizers and electronic production. The final version of “Red” was produced by Swift, Chapman, and Dann Huff. Huff, who had produced for several country artists, worked with Taylor and Chapman on two other songs: “Starlight” and the Grammy-nominated “Begin Again“.
Another new collaborator was Jeff Bhasker, whose production of the song “We Are Young” (2011) by indie band Fun captivated Taylor by its drum instrumentation. Bhasker produced two songs: “Holy Ground” and “The Lucky One“. Taylor also worked with Butch Walker on the song “Everything Has Changed“, a duet with English singer Ed Sheeran. She admired Walker for “how he creates this really organic but emotionally charged music”. The songs “Treacherous” and “Come Back…Be Here” were produced by Dan Wilson, whose works with his band Semisonic served as an inspiration for Taylor. She enlisted musicians Gary Lightbody and Jacknife Lee of the indie band Snow Patrol, saying, “they can just hit you when they are singing about loss or longing”. Lee produced the song “The Last Time“, on which Lightbody is a featured vocalist.
Lyrics and Themes
Release and Promotion
Taylor and Big Machine implemented an extensive marketing plan for RED. On August 13, 2012, Taylor gave a live webchat via Google Hangouts, through which she announced the details of RED, including the release date and cover, and answered fan questions. She concurrently released the lead single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, which topped the US Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks. It was Taylor’s first No. 1 on the chart. An alternate version was released to US country radio. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart for ten weeks.
On September 22, 2012, Taylor announced that she would preview one song from RED each week on “Good Morning America,” as part of a four-week release countdown from September 24 until the album’s release week. The four songs — “Begin Again”, “Red”, “I Knew You Were Trouble.”, and “State of Grace” — were also released for digital download ahead of the album’s release. “Begin Again” was later released to US country radio as an official single on October 1, 2012. It peaked at No. 7 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Both the standard and deluxe versions of RED were released on October 22, 2012. In the US, the standard edition was available in digital and physical formats, and the deluxe edition containing six extra tracks was available exclusively for physical purchase at Target. Taylor also had tie-ins with corporations including Keds, Wal-Mart, and Papa John’s. A day after the release, Taylor began a cycle of television appearances, starting with a live performance on “Good Morning America.” She made many appearances on radio, giving interviews to as many as 72 stations, mostly in the US, and a few international outlets from South Africa, New Zealand, Spain, Germany, and Mexico. She also performed at awards shows including the MTV Video Music Awards, the Country Music Association Awards, and the American Music Awards.
RED was further promoted by a string of singles. “I Knew You Were Trouble.” was released to pop radio as an official single on November 27, 2012. It was a big hit on pop radio, peaking atop the Billboard Mainstream Top 40/Pop Songs for seven weeks. The single peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a top ten chart hit in Oceania and Europe. “22” was released to pop radio in March 2013, and “Red” was released to country radio in June 2013. The singles peaked at No. 20 and No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively. Other singles were “Everything Has Changed” and “The Last Time”; the latter had a limited release to UK radio.
RED received generally positive reviews from contemporary critics, most of whom commended Taylor’s songwriting. Jon Dolan from Rolling Stone lauded her autobiographical lyrics which are depicted in songs that “linger on like tattoos”. In a retrospective review published in 2019, Pitchfork‘s Brad Nelson described the album as Taylor’s fully-realized effort as a versatile songwriter, who explored her deeper observations and perspectives.
The album’s production polarized critics. While Taylor and Big Machine promoted RED as a country album, its diverse musical styles sparked a media debate over Taylor’s status as a country singer-songwriter. Music magazine Spin argued that it was hard to categorize RED, given that the genre country itself is “the most dynamically vibrant pop genre of the last decade or so”. Others noted that Taylor had always been more pop-oriented than country, and described RED as her inevitable move to mainstream pop. Taylor responded in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that country music “feels like home”, and dismissed the debate regarding her country status: “I leave the genre labeling to other people.” On a positive side, The Guardian‘s Kate Mossman described it as “one of the finest fantasies pop music has ever constructed”. Jon Caramanica from The New York Times agreed, calling the production a striking feature of RED which proves that Taylor is more of a pop star than a country singer.
RED debuted at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart, giving Taylor her third consecutive chart topper in the US. Its first week sales of 1.21 million was the third biggest debut in history for a female artist and became the fastest-selling album in over a decade. It made music history for claiming the biggest first week sales of all time by a country act, a record previously held by Garth Brooks. RED was also just the 18th album in United States history to sell one million copies in a single week. By the end of 2012, the album marked the fourth time Taylor had an album ranked in the year’s top three sellers.
The album was a huge global success as well, becoming Taylor’s first chart-topper in the UK. It also topped the album charts in Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand while charting in the top ten in every other major market including China. RED has sold over 7 million copies in the US and 14 million worldwide as of December 2018.
RED (Taylor's Version)
Impact and Legacy
RED appeared on many publications’ lists of the best albums of the 2010s. According to Metacritic, it was the fifteenth most acclaimed album of the decade. It was ranked within the top 10 by Insider (first), Uproxx (three), Billboard (four), Rolling Stone (four), the Tampa Bay Times (nine), and Stereogum (10). Taste of Country ranked RED as one of the best country albums of the decade. In 2020, Rolling Stone ranked RED at No. 99 on their revised list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
The New York Times critic Steven Hyden credited RED for emerging a new generation of indie artists, whose works are “aesthetically much closer to Swift’s pop than anything in the rock underground”. Fans and critics have dubbed RED an “autumnal album” due to its aesthetic and lyrical imagery. Jordan Sargent of Spin named RED “one of the best pop albums of our time”.
The album’s production straddling between country and pop inspired Taylor to venture into genres she had not tried before. The successful pop radio singles, specifically the dubstep-infused “I Knew You Were Trouble.”, served as a “signal flare” for her to collaborate again with pop producers Max Martin and Shellback, known for radio-friendly pop.