After buying a used “Speak Now” CD from a garage sale in the summer of 2012, my 11-year-old self discovered Taylor Swift just in time to experience the original release of “Red.” Like every middle schooler in 2012, “22” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together” always got stuck in my head as they blasted on every radio station.
I couldn’t deny Taylor Swift was an amazing songwriter and performer, but I felt like I had to hide my love for her music in fear of being branded “basic.” With my One Direction obsession already firmly established, I couldn’t risk being the crazed Taylor Swift fan too.
“She only writes breakup songs about her ex-boyfriends,” “she’s crazy,” “she’s obsessive” — we’ve all heard the complaints. At 11, I couldn’t understand why merely mentioning her name elicited such criticism when she continued to rake in awards and break records. Now I see through the misogyny and the blatant dismissal of the sheer impact Swift has had on the music industry.
After hearing some classmates echo insults thrown around in the media or roll their eyes when I said I liked her music, I retreated into myself and tried to suppress my support for Swift.
With the release of “Red (Taylor’s Version)” last week, all I could think about was the young girl who felt ashamed for loving another mainstream musician. This time around, I get to allow that shy 11-year-old to unapologetically scream all the lyrics to “Red (Taylor’s Version)” at the top of her lungs.
Now at 20 years old, I can listen to the album from a whole new perspective. I’m the same age that Swift was when she was in a relationship with 29-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal. I can relate to her more closely than I ever could before because I now understand a 20-year-old’s point of view.
So many of us are hopeless romantics looking for a connection outside of a phone screen. Maybe we hyperfixate on the man who held the library door open for us, the woman who complimented our makeup or the person who we always pass on our way to class. When we fall, we fall hard and many of us want our love story to be downright cinematic.
Movies have taught us that love is electric, intense and burning red, which has left so many of us in search of someone who makes us feel like we’re on fire around them. All too often we seek the passion but not the person, and that only leaves us with a warped idea of what love should be. Even 11-year-old Catie (with no perception of what romantic love is) desperately wanted to one day experience a relationship with the emotion she only heard in Taylor Swift’s songs.
Despite my many fantasies involving much older celebrities, I cannot imagine realistically dating a 29-year-old at this stage in my life. The “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” directly addresses the age gap situation, and it’s been seared into my brain since its release.
Swift sings: “You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine, and that made me want to die,” and “And I was never good at telling jokes but the punchline goes, ‘I get older but your lovers stay my age.’”
Swift pours her soul into every song she writes, and somehow her words resonate with so many of us. She uses her heartbreaks and her mistakes to prove that we are not as alone as we think we are, and the “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” was released specifically for her fans. It’s too long to play on the radio, but she knows we’ll learn every new lyric and continue to cry every time.
For those of us who listened to Swift while growing up, we now get to experience all of her music again as adults and relive what it was like when we first listened to each song. My inner 11-year-old self can make up for all the time spent suppressing my Taylor Swift obsession by embracing “Red (Taylor’s Version).”
We’re around the same age she was when she first wrote these lyrics, and we can learn from her on a deeper level. There are some lyrics I would not have been able to fully comprehend or relate to at 11, or even 18. At 20, we’re facing more difficult questions and situations, and Swift has given us each the soundtrack to our life’s movie.
Her experiences mirror ours, and the rerecordings represent so much more than just reclaiming her music. She’s reliving her once-negative experiences with her fans who have changed the meaning of the songs for her. Swift used to cry after performances of “All Too Well”, but after her recent SNL performance of the ten minute version, she was smiling wide.
She’s gone through the tough times, and she’s living proof that we are all still worthy of love even after going through hell. “Red (Taylor’s Version)” is a deeply emotional album for her, but it can also be seen as a love letter to us. We’ve been by her side since the beginning, even if some of us felt silenced by other people’s opinions.
For the 11-year-olds who now get to grow up with “Red (Taylor’s Version)”, they get to proudly sing along to the music Swift owns herself. They’ll have her music to turn to just as we still do when we’re heartbroken.
This time, they won’t keep her like a secret, they’ll keep her like an oath.
11-year-old Catie Pusateri on the first day of sixth grade. Photo courtesy of Cathlin Pusateri.
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