How Taylor’s Version Became All About Jake Gyllenhaal.

When Taylor Swift revealed in 2019 that she would re-record her first six albums in order to regain ownership of her master recordings, new re-recordings of her songs were expected. What was not expected was the reappearance of the sexist takes that has frequented Taylor throughout most of her career. 

Taylor has faced a narrative since the beginning of her career. A narrative that places her as a boy-crazy girl who writes songs about the men who have broken up with her. Taylor has indeed written songs about her exes. So has every songwriter in history. For as long as music has existed, musicians have drawn inspiration from their personal lives to create music. It has never been used as a critique of any other artist, except Taylor Swift. Why is that?

It was not an easy time to be a teenage girl growing up in the public eye in the early and late 2000s. Child stars like Lindsay Lohan, Mischa Barton, Amanda Bynes, among others became the face of celebrity tabloids due to their public struggles. It became like clockwork to see what young female celebrity would become the media’s next target. Taylor who debuted in 2006, was 17 years old, releasing music akin to her own musical diary. A teenage girl being that candid and vulnerable about her dating life made her an easy target to ridicule. And ridiculed Taylor was.

Every failed relationship Taylor had, the perception formed she couldn’t keep a man without them breaking up with her. In retaliation, she wrote songs about them. The implication was you can’t date Taylor Swift without her writing a song about you. It became the belief Taylor could only write songs about her love life, specifically break-up songs. It wasn’t until Taylor began exploring her storytelling side with her albums Folklore (2020) and Evermore (2020), that no one could use that as criticism of Taylor anymore. She had outgrown their sexist critiques. That’s what makes the return of them so disappointing. 

Taylor Swift’s masters have been sold twice without her permission, most recently in 2020. To gain back ownership over her back catalog, Taylor made the decision to re-record her first six albums. This meant returning to her youth, her earlier heartbreaks, and reopening the door to criticism she had finally overcome. Taylor has most recently re-released Red (Taylor Version’s). The new version of the album has garnered praise from critics and fans alike, but it’s hard not to pay attention to how the album is being represented. 

Despite the album being called Red (Taylor’s Version). The story of the album has not been about Taylor at all. Instead what everyone is talking about regarding the album is the person it was (mostly) written about: Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s hardly unexpected that listeners of Red (Taylor’s Version) want to know more about the romance that inspired the record. However, the story of Red (Taylor’s Version) has shifted from one of Taylor Swift reclaiming ownership of her back catalog to Jake Gyllenhaal was a bad boyfriend. Taylor did not re-release Red to give the tabloids gossip to write about. She did it for herself. That is what has been lost in translation. 

Not only has the release of Red (Taylor’s Version) centered the focus onto Jake Gyllenhaal. It has also framed Taylor as the scorned woman who can’t get over him, despite having dated him a decade ago. Taylor is suddenly back presented as the same girl the media thought she was. The boy-crazy can only write break-up songs, girl. For a few years, that angle disappeared when talking about Taylor. There was no need to talk about her being “boy-crazy” when she had been in a stable relationship for five years. There was no need to say she only wrote break-up songs when she was writing songs that were so much more than that. 

The return to Taylor’s old albums has opened the door to old narratives. Old narratives that had no reason for existing in the first place. Taylor was not the first artist to draw inspiration for her songs from her personal life, but she was one of the few to be chastised for doing so. To see these damaging insults reappear hearkens back to the sexist criticism Taylor has faced her whole career. Taylor Swift has proven herself to be a capable singer-songwriter whose abilities extend beyond writing songs about her exes. Her decision to re-record her first six albums should be seen as a triumph. Not an invitation to discredit her talent. Again. 

My book Living Rent Free In My Head: Essays On Pop Culture comes out on August 2, 2022. Pre-order it now for only $3.15 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other vendors.


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