The Power Of RED


“Losing him was blue like I’d never known/missing him was dark gray all alone/forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you’ve never met/but loving him was red.” 


That is the chorus of Taylor Swift’s song “Red” which is the title track of her fourth album. She spends a lot of time on this record diving into the complexities of what the color red represents to her. 


Now why would an artist dedicate an entire record, tour, press, merch, and a whole two years of her career to a single color? I’ll tell you why: because red is so much more than a color. The things it has grown to represent are things that shape us as people, from our feelings to our fashion. 


In the prologue of the 2012 version of RED, Swift sings “My experiences in love have taught me difficult lessons, especially my experiences with crazy love. The red relationships. The ones that went from zero to a hundred miles per hour and then hit a wall and exploded. And it was awful. And ridiculous. And desperate. And thrilling.” 


These are adjectives on opposite sides of the spectrum used to describe red relationships. Awful. Thrilling. Two completely different feelings, and yet used to describe the same thing in a matter of seconds. 


Red has many sides, but I’d like to talk about what are the two most well known: love and hate. The two extremes. A lot of stories I’ve read in books or online often have one character hating then slowly but surely tolerating then loving another character. The fascinating thing of what’s just been described, and the scenarios given? One color represents all of it. 


In a study of color on Sage Journals, they wanted to examine the effects of color on college students, specifically the buildings in the campus quad. In the surveys they collected, the majority of the students said their favorite spot was a restaurant that was painted with bright pastel colors, and the majority’s least favorite spot was the cafeteria which was painted white. It is clear that the places painted with color grabbed and held people’s attention, and excited them more. Red was also a prominent color in the walkway leading into the quad. Angela Wright stated that red is what grabs people’s attention first, because it is often such a bright and eye-catching color, and that it also represents entertainment and excitement. In the background of the study, the color red was described as “basic” but also “powerful and strong.” It is a bright and lively color, and stimulating to the human mind – this is the side of red that represents love. 


When you think of love, I’d imagine an image of red hearts comes to mind. Red hearts have been a symbol of love for a long time, and have also become an iconic symbol. The combination of red and the most widely-known symbol of affection is one that makes a lot of sense. Love is a powerful emotion – it completely takes control of us – our minds, our hearts, our body. Modern media has captured love stories of all kinds through movies, shows, and as mentioned above music. 


One of the most iconic examples of this is Ross and Rachel in Friends. I think we can all agree they shared a deep red love that led them to do wild things. In Taylor Swift’s words it was definitely both “ridiculous” and “thrilling.” Don’t think you will ever be manipulated by the effects of love on the brain? Wait. You’ll see. 


Of course, life is not just black and white like how it has been portrayed in a sitcom-it has many sides to it. This idea applies to colors too, and red is no exception. It not only represents love, it represents another extreme emotion. Hate. Not even a nice-sounding word.


 Let’s look again at the Sage Journals study: they describe the dark side of red as being filled with “defiance” and “aggression.” The study also says research has shown the color red activates our “fight or flight” response. This makes sense as red is a very intense color, with the longest wavelength from our eyes’ point of view. This makes it appear closer to us than it is. It can give us a good jumpscare when it wants to. 


Red and green are popular colors among villains in stories and movies, for that jumpscare effect, and to make them look powerful and intimidating. Jafar’s red robes in Aladdin, Gaston’s red shirt and coat in Beauty and the Beast, and Captain Hook’s red jacket in Peter Pan are classic examples. Looking at comic book villains from Marvel, Red Skull, who literally has a red face and head from an experiment gone wrong is quite the sight to behold, and the Scarlet Witch aka Wanda Maximoff was recently seen as the villain of Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness, during which she sported an all red ensemble.


 It is an intense and powerful color donned by some intense and very powerful characters. It’s no wonder we are drawn to it: who wouldn’t want to feel some of its power?


Lora Redwine, a professor in the graphic design department at OSU had a lot to say about color. Everyone perceives color differently, and Redwine points out that color bias can have an especially large impact on how people see different colors. If we associate a memory with a certain color, that will change how we perceive it. This can be the same globally for different cultures. 


An example of this is the color of loss and mourning in the US is black, while in China it is white. Warm colors and cool colors have different meanings as well, with warm colors symbolizing the sun and warmth, and cool colors are more wet and purifying, Redwine says. When it comes to the mental side of the effects of color, Redwine offered a study done where a group of 20 students were exposed to different colors of light to see how it affects their feelings mentally. The students reported being in a state of well being when bathed in red light, and felt the both relaxing and arousing effects of the bright color. 


When asked specifically about the color red, Redwine wrote that she sees the color as “passionate, aggressive…powerful.” In the same sentence she also wrote she sees the color as lucky, and it makes her feel rich. Redwine says that when it comes to her own clothing and decor, she cares a lot about what colors she chooses. As for people around her? When she sees them wear red, she thinks it is a bold choice, and commends them for it. 



Red is a weird and wonderful color. It’s intense, yet beautiful. Angry yet lovely. Arguably the most interesting color out there. With great color comes great responsibility, and we need people like Swift who have the power and responsibility to take it on. It’s a statement. Is it one you’re bold enough to make? You know there’s only one way to find out. 


Remember, “love is a ruthless game unless you play it good and right.” -Taylor Swift.

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