Max Martin, the talented Swedish producer and songwriter, has deftly shaped some of the world’s catchiest hits for musicians as diverse as Britney Spears and Maroon 5. On Taylor Swift’s transformative 2012 album, Red, Martin – 18 years older than Swift – helped the singer-songwriter start her transition into the mainstream pop world.
Produced and co-written by Martin, the smash hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” became Taylor’s first US No. 1 single. A sensational success, the song also topped the iTunes chart a record-breaking 50 minutes after its release.
The caustic lyrics, which included the lines “I’m really gonna miss you picking fights and me/Falling for it, screaming that I’m right and you/Would hide away and find your peace of mind/With some indie record that’s much cooler than mine” were allegedly targeted at former boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal, the actor Swift had dated for three months at the end of 2010. Swift delivered them with relish as she continued to show that she was the modern queen of break-up narrative songs; she said that Red as a whole was a chronicle of her “tumultuous, crazy adventures in love and loss.”
Another highlight on the 16-track album is the poignant ballad “All Too Well,” which conjures up the sweet image of two young lovers “dancing round the kitchen in the refrigerator light.” “‘All Too Well’ was the hardest to write because it took me a long time to filter through everything I wanted to say,” said Swift. “It started out being a 10-minute song, which you can’t put on an album. I had to filter it down to a story that could work in the form of a song.”
Overall, Red, which was released on October 22, 2012, marked a step further away from the country-infused pop with which Swift first made her name – a move epitomized by the cover photograph of an older, more chic-looking Swift than before. By this point, she had become a self-aware star, and the album includes the song “The Lucky One,” a cautionary tale about young celebrity.
But how does a teen country megastar go about reinventing herself? Musically, Swift added some new components to the mix, bringing in violins, violas, harps, and cellos under the direction of the experienced arranger Patrick Warren. As well as being an in-demand keyboardist – for eclectic musicians such as Tom Waits, Bettye LaVette, and Ray LaMontagne – Warren had a fine pedigree in overseeing string arrangements, a role he had previously undertaken on albums for Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, and Joe Cocker.
Red also features entertaining duets with Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody (“The Last Time”) and Ed Sheeran (“Everything Has Changed”), along with vintage country-based songs such as “Stay Stay Stay” and “I Almost Do.”
Though Red is a transitional album, entering more mainstream pop territory than Swift’s three previous albums, it shows her in confident, mature form, though still able to retain her confessional intimacy with her fans. It’s that quality that helped her reach such a mass following in the first place.