Also at Grantland, Molly Lambert contrasted the once-upon-a-time imagery of Swift’s earlier work to her new uncertainty:
She sounds increasingly ambivalent about the prospect of finding a fairy tale love and more focused on the memorable details of her experiences. The album sees Taylor exploring her emotions to their greatest heights and depths and realizing that maybe she is a little freaked out by being constantly that high or deep.
Despite her fondness for good manners and Betty Draper–style conservative ankle-grazing outfits, many of Taylor’s songs are incredible angry-scorned-woman anthems. She is fond of dropping specific details to make sure the guy will know the song is about him. She said that she wrote “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” to specifically torture her snobby indie-loving ex-boyfriend, knowing it would be omnipresent. While Alanis Morissette ran from the vengeful-woman label after “You Oughta Know,” Swift seemingly has no qualms about being labeled a crazy bitch for her vindictive lyrics. Her surety that she is neither one of those things makes her fearless about openly calling out those she feels have wronged her.
The New York Times‘ Jon Caramanica, in his lengthy review of the album, noted that her era of innocence is over:
Instead, she has to carve new territory: a nontransgressive, rose-colored female pop megastar, the likes of which haven’t been seen in decades. “Red” is an album of wildly divergent moods and sounds, but it rarely undermines her core values, even if she is at the stage of her career where no one would look askance at her for doing so.
That’s because Ms. Swift is post-gatekeeper: country radio no longer gets to define her, and pop radio has accepted her novel terms. Ms. Swift moves her own market, and Ms. Swift is patient.
This combination of calculation and instinct makes for a savvy musician, but does it make for an adult?
Ms. Swift has been keeping adulthood at bay for as long as she’s been singing. Even if she wanted to cling to her innocence, it’s no longer an option. Reporters ask her about her love life — her current beau is rumored to be Conor Kennedy, a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy — even if they get nowhere. She’s been interrogated so much about her signature wide-mouthed look of shock that, even if it were at one point authentic, it can never be again.