If I Was an Executive Producer

At this year’s Grammy Awards, Taylor Swift took home the award for Album of the Year, making her the first female artist to win the award as the lead artist of an album more than once.  She has also joined the ranks of Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, and U2 for winning Album of the Year as the lead artist more than once (Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder are the only two artists to win this award three times).

What's curiously interesting about Swift's wins is that both her winning albums - Fearless and 1989 - have a total of thirteen tracks, the only two of her albums to have that amount of tracks.  Swift has said for years that the number thirteen is her lucky charm...it's kind of intriguing that the two albums to have thirteen tracks went on to win the top prize of the music industry.

But, let’s look at her fourth album Red which was also nominated for the coveted Album of the Year Grammy, but lost to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.  It deserved the nomination because Red challenged what we think of contemporary country music, almost to the breaking point.  She added synths and dubstep beats onto the album that are unknown to the genre and still dared to call it country.  And it still fit in the spirit of country music – she was speaking her truths in the storybook tradition of country music, but did it in a rather unusual sonic way.  She took risks and it deserved the recognition it got.

The album, however great it is, still held a major flaw: it was too long.  The standard version holds a whopping sixteen tracks (which any self proclaimed Swiftie was/is overjoyed by this treat), something Swift did to give her fans everything that fit in the Red-era without having them to purchase a reissue a year after the release to gain three extra songs (remember: there was no Red: Platinum Edition like Fearless or tour CD/DVD like Speak Now).

However, if I was the executive producer on Red, I would’ve cut the album down to thirteen tracks.  This is not to fit in with Swift’s lucky charm, but because the extra tracks did in fact bloat and dilute the core theme of the album.  When she first announced Red, Swift described the album: “All the different emotions that are written about on this album are…about the kind of tumultuous, crazy, insane, intense, semi-toxic relationships that I’ve experienced… All those emotions…are red…. There’s nothing beige about any of those feelings.”  This intense passion is felt in the majority of the album, but as you continue on to the album towards its end, it starts to lose that intensity (and, by the way, it’s not only Taylor Swift that this happens/ed to.  I find most albums that exceed fourteen tracks tend to drag on…it’s to a point where you start to feel lost and lose track of where the album is going).

Here was the tracklisting Swift presented on Red in 2012 (*tracks that were presented as bonus tracks on the Target Edition):

  1. State of Grace
  2. Red
  3. Treacherous
  4. I Knew You Were Trouble.
  5. All Too Well
  6. 22
  7. I Almost Do
  8. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
  9. Stay Stay Stay
  10. The Last Time (featuring Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol)
  11. Holy Ground
  12. Sad Beautiful Tragic
  13. The Lucky One
  14. Everything Has Changed (featuring Ed Sheeran)
  15. Starlight
  16. Begin Again
  17. The Moment I Knew*
  18. Come Back…Be Here*
  19. Girl At Home*

The first thing as executive producer I did was airlift “Treacherous” out and replaced it with “Come Back…Be Here.”  I felt the transition from “Red” to “Come Back…Be Here” hit a stronger and sweeter note.  It also made me, as an objective listener, keep me listening on to “I Knew Were Trouble.”  I personally felt that “Treacherous” made it easy for the listener to get distract and stop listening or to simply skip to the next track.

When listening to Red, I think  the point where Swift starts to drift away from the Red theme is somewhere after “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”  So, I laid out those ten songs (counting the bonus tracks minus “Come Back Be Here” since I moved that to the beginning of the album), and ranked them based on which ones fit the albums best and which ones were catchy/couldn’t be left off.

This resulted with me cutting “Stay Stay Stay” and replacing it with “Girl At Home.”  While I like “Stay Stay Stay” very much – it’s fun and upbeat – it’s almost too cheerful.  I also think that “Girl At Home” is more whimsical and a better fit.  I then cut “Holy Ground,” “The Lucky One,” “Starlight,” and “The Moment I Knew.”  Some of these songs got cut because they just didn’t fit (e.g. “Starlight” represents the passionate spark of love, but I didn’t have enough space and I felt others were a bit stronger).  Others I felt didn’t really fit the theme of the album.  For example, I really like “The Lucky One” (if you remember, it was a #PhillipsSongOfTheDay), but I just can’t see it fitting into the Red theme.  It doesn’t spark passion, but describes a situation where Swift regrets her fame.  It’s kind of a downer.

My final act as executive producer was arranging the tracks to be sonically cohesive.  This I struggled with because I don’t think they overall tell a linear story, but I do think they fit well together sonically.

My edit of Red:

  1. State of Grace
  2. Red
  3. Come Back Be Here
  4. I Knew You Were Trouble
  5. All Too Well
  6. 22
  7. I Almost Do
  8. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
  9. Girl At Home
  10. The Last Time
  11. Sad Beautiful Tragic
  12. Everything Has Changed
  13. Begin Again

I need to end this post by saying that I admire every song Taylor Swift writes.  I think she is a very gifted songwriter and musician – she has a way of connecting words and beats that most can’t do.  This wasn’t in anyway to criticize or judge her, but a fun exercise of my love of crafting playlists and playing pretend-producer.  Again, I think Red is a phenomenal album and just wanted to see if it was possible to make it a thirteen track album…

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