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CW: manipulative relationship, gaslighting
The Toxic Age Gap Relationship That Brought Us ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’
It’s been two weeks since Taylor Swift broke Spotify with ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’, where she achieved the highest number of streams in an album’s first 24 hours of all time- a record she previously held herself with ‘Folklore’. Her 10-minute extended version of the classic should’ve-been-single ‘All Too Well’ is now her most-streamed song with over 66 million Spotify listens, which is unheard of for a song this long, especially since Taylor Swift fans have already heard over half of it.
The musician also broke the record for the longest live performance on Saturday Night Live of all time- can you BELIEVE they let her perform a 10-minute-long 10-year-old song on SNL!? She’s even released a ‘sad girl autumn’ acoustic piano version of the extended masterpiece.
But besides some excellent new crying material for sad girls and an abundance of Jake Gyllenhaal memes, the new song’s message has changed from the cry-worthy breakup song of the original to a reflection of a toxic and perhaps even manipulative relationship between a 20-year-old Taylor Swift and an actor 10 years her senior.
We’ve all seen the short film by now- actors Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien work seamlessly together to recreate the complex and confusing feelings young Taylor experienced in this one-sided relationship. Fans have expressed their discomfort in watching 19-year-old Sadie sink act alongside her 30-year-old co-star, because of the large age gap between the actors. Others pointed out that the difference in age is supposed to make us feel that way. After 10 years of reflection, Taylor perhaps feels that way too. The power of hindsight is what makes the film so heart-wrenching for those who know the real relationship that inspired it.
Swift has always been an expert lyricist, but a few of her newly added lines hit harder than usual. ‘’You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath’’ and ‘’You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would’ve been fine / and that made me want to die’’ are particularly stomach-sinking.
Taylor had not long entered adulthood and an industry that often chews women up and spits them out, while Gyllenhaal was a fully grown man with an established career when they started dating. While this 3-month relationship had a lasting impact on the singer’s life, as it was one of her first relationships as a newly twenty-something, for Gyllenhaal, it was likely just another short fling in a long line of many.
While new lyrics have introduced a more sinister theme to the song, a new light (or rather, darkness) has been cast on some of the old. ‘’I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it’’ becomes more soul-destroying the longer you think about it.
She first released ‘Red’ in 2012 when the breakup was still fresh, and she was going through one of those ‘’seems like the end of the world’’ separations everyone in their young adulthood experiences. Now, 10 years later, she’s realised that the fact her 30-year-old boyfriend was dating a girl barely out of her teenage years may have affected her more seriously than she’d thought at the time. Even though their relationship was only ‘’three months in the grave’’, it changed her forever.
Taylor has always been susceptible to a petty insult, and she didn’t disappoint fans with the line ‘’I’ll get older but your lovers stay my age”- a perfectly calculated dig at Jake Gyllenhaal, who is now 40 and whose current girlfriend is (you guessed it) over a decade younger at 25.
The song has not only changed a lot of perspectives on Taylor and Jake’s imbalanced relationship but has caused wider discourse about age gap relationships as a whole. With the recent rise in radical leftist feminism, a lot of us have started analysing more aspects of the patriarchy we hadn’t considered before. Can it be moral for a fully grown man to date a young woman who was a teenager less than a year before? Or is there always going to be an uneven power dynamic in these kinds of relationships?
A study from the US Census Bureau in 1999 reported that as many as 8.5% of married couples had age gaps of more than 10 years, and in 7.2% of these marriages, the man was older. It’s no surprise that older men often target much younger women when looking for partners, due to the system of patriarchy we all grow up in. This isn’t always an issue in relationships, but it can easily become one.
The song’s lyrics indicate that Gyllenhaal used Swift’s youth and inexperience of the world against her (and let’s face it, we all saw Dylan O’Brien’s expert gaslighting- how could that NOT be based on real-life events?), which is when age becomes more than just a number, but a tool for manipulation. It’s safe to say Gyllenhaal did more than just steal Taylor’s scarf.
‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’ tells just one story of a manipulative age gap relationship, which no doubt millions of others can relate to.
This record-breaking, game changing tune will no doubt remain Taylor Swift’s most streamed song of all time (at least until she re-records the next ‘Taylor’s Version’), which is a status it more than deserves to hold. The bittersweet recollection of a past love, and the haunting realisation that not all was what it seemed, make this heart-breaking nostalgic piece of music the most complex and three-dimensional song in Taylor’s discography.
Image courtesy of Silvestri Matteo