Taylor's "Old Self."
People are always talking about Taylor trying to “find her old self again” based on that line in All Too Well (I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it.) Some people think she still hasn’t, that whoever she was before Jake is lost and gone forever. Some people think she has, but only just, as it’s taken her a while to get back to that point. But what her “old self” really means seems to be the thing that most people disagree on - is it her clothes, her music style, the way she smiles in pictures…?
The thing is, Taylor had already found herself well before any of us even heard All Too Well. In all honesty, I believe Taylor found herself well over two years ago, on the day she decided to sit down and write Begin Again. I think the entire Red album is a from start to finish story of her losing herself, and then finding herself, again.
State of Grace opens the album with lines like “this love is brave and wild,” and “love is a ruthless game unless you play it good and right.” The song is about engaging in a love that is perhaps dangerous, but that Taylor thinks is brave instead of reckless - which is what she has always thought, and has always been proven wrong about. But, not this time, she thinks. This time I’ll be right.
Onto Treacherous where the theme of “dangerous but I kinda like it” continues on - “nothing safe is worth the drive, and I will follow you home.” Risking everything for a person because you truly believe they’ll be worth it in the end, no matter that your friends and family tell you he’s bad news, no matter that even you know he’s bad news…classic Taylor, again.
I Knew You Were Trouble, Treacherous’ evil twin, obviously represents the breakdown of what both State of Grace and Treacherous tried to peddle to us. SOG and Treacherous tried to get us thinking that this dangerous guy would be worth it, that he seemed like bad news, but he would prove himself in the end. IKYWT is the “fuck, was I stupid” of the album. “And the saddest fear comes creeping in, that you never loved me, or her, or anyone, or anything…” An underrated line, because I think it’s the start of Taylor losing herself on this album. Her saddest fear, the breakdown of everything she believed in, everything she’s always believed in, has just come true. That this love wasn’t brave, or wild, it was stupidly reckless and heartbreaking. Again. This line is so underrated because it’s the buildup to All Too Well, the very first glimpse at Taylor losing all the things she believed in.
I Almost Do, The Last Time, and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together are like triplets that represent the different phases of post break up destruction.I Almost Do is the story of Taylor shutting someone out of her life simply because to let them back in, even for the tiniest of moments, would be much, much too painful. But she still dreams about them, in vivid heartbreaking detail, and every time it’s like she can feel herself falling back into it. Almost. Of course, she catches herself every time, because she’s not like she was anymore. She refuses to be naive, silly enough to think she could ever make things work again.
The Last Time, however, is Taylor giving into those naive temptations…maybe just a couple times. Trying to salvage whatever was so “good and right” about the relationship, desperately clinging on to those last remaining bits of happiness.
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together sounds like the acceptance song. Happy and upbeat sounds like acceptance, right? But Taylor was still angry. Anger isn’t acceptance.
The real acceptance song is Sad Beautiful Tragic. SBT has no anger, no heightened emotions whatsoever. It’s dismally sad, to the point of just giving up, plain and simple. This was a love that Taylor had to give up, though, otherwise…that perfect, peppy forever love she wrote about in Stay Stay Stay was never going to be hers. That person she kept waiting for, the one who made her stop believing in the things that make her who she is, they weren’t ever going to come back. SBT is the final nail in the coffin, which is why it is appropriately the last sad song on the album.
Now, what three songs does Taylor choose to stack back to back to back as the ending songs?
1.) Everything Has Changed - a song about meeting someone who, in some way shape or form, is so amazing that it literally causes something in your life to change. What ‘everything’ is was left more or less to the imagination - but I think 'everything’ refers more to Taylor’s feelings about relationships and love, in a “Mine” kind of way. Taylor might have been wondering why anyone even bothers with love like she had been the last time she had gotten her heart truly broken, but then someone came into her life and had her start thinking that old familiar Fearless type of way again.
2.) Starlight - a song circa Mary’s Song that channels the energy of “forever love”, with magical stories about commonplace events, that don’t feel so commonplace when they’re about love, that thing that Taylor is so obsessed with. The line “don’t you dream impossible things?” always felt cryptic to me; the Ethel Kennedy story wasn’t a particularly enchanted or impossible one. But what I think Taylor was getting at with this was the idea that true love, forever love itself, is an impossible thing. But she dreams of it, finally, again, after I Knew You Were Trouble’s fatal let down.
3.) Begin Again - “I’ve been spending the last eight months, thinking all love ever does is break, and burn, and end. But on a Wednesday, in a Cafe’, I watched it begin again.” I think that not only did Taylor find love again, not only did she start believing in it again, but she also found herself again. Because believing in true love is so much of who Taylor is, that when it’s taken away, by that creeping fear from IKYWT, it’s like parts of herself go missing and she gets paralyzed. She needs to believe in forever love to truly be her old self.
With these things in mind, Red plays like a story about finding something so amazing that feels so real, and then losing it, and losing yourself along with it. Only to find it again, slowly, bit by bit, song by song, until…you watch it begin again.