When Taylor Swift announced that she would be releasing a 10-minute version of her 2012 breakup ballad “All Too Well” on her re-recorded album Red (Taylor’s Version), fans everywhere erupted into excitement. The original cut, already over five minutes long, was never released as a single, despite being one of Swift’s favorite songs off Red. Once the album was released in 2012, however, fans quickly gravitated to the song on their own and have been obsessed with its tragic story of a head-over-heels romance gone wrong. On a Thursday night, curled up in bed waiting for her new album to drop, I was in shambles when midnight arrived, immersing myself in an extended version of one of Swift’s most beloved songs.
“All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault),” has only been out for a couple of weeks, but is already smashing records. Overtaking Don McLean’s “American Pie” as the longest song to top Billboard’s Hot 100, the song provides more context to the original recording, supposedly recounting the break-up between Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal.
In the days following the release of Red (Taylor’s Version), I obsessively expressed my love for the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” to just about every person I know. While raving about the song to a friend, he asked me, “What makes this song so great?” Like many Swifties who also love the song, my immediate answer was, “it’s relatable,” but that wasn’t enough to convince him. What’s relatable about a breakup between two celebrities? Why are people obsessing over a song that’s far too long?
Perhaps the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” dropped right when I needed it most, which makes it all the more impactful. As a newly-single college student, the song hits close to home when I think about my own failed relationships. Throughout the song Swift dives into the gritty details of her failing relationship, weaponizing specific details in the face of gaslighting. In one of the song’s newly released verses, Swift describes a scene in which her then-boyfriend makes claims to feminism as he makes her drive his car: “You were tossing me the car keys / ‘Fuck the patriarchy’ / Keychain on the ground / We were always skipping town.” In these lines, Swift paints a heartbreaking picture of an arrogant boyfriend tossing the car keys to his naïve girlfriend, not even bothering to hand them to her as he makes his way to the passenger seat.
Although some may consider this a small inconvenience, this scene alone confronts a subtle evil many women face in relationships. For me, this verse reminded me of all the times guys have imposed negligence in the name of feminism — whether that be making me take a cab in an unfamiliar city when they could’ve picked me up from the airport or pushing the check across the table for me to pay, claiming that it’s because they believe in “gender equality.” By addressing these subtle moments that often go unnoticed, Swift is validating the disappointment and anger so many women feel when they’re forced into uncomfortable situations under the false pretext of feminism.
At the bridge’s close, Swift, despite being surrounded by friends and family for her 21st birthday, describes the loneliness and disappointment she felt while waiting for her significant other to arrive. Swift perfectly depicts the bitter irony of spending what should be one of life’s most exciting milestones mourning the absence of a careless boyfriend, but what I find even more heartbreaking about the scene is the way Swift recalls how her father “watched me watch the front door all night, willin’ you to come / And he said, ‘It’s supposed to be fun turning 21.’” Last year I spent my 21st birthday in the wake of a breakup and a global pandemic, so Swift’s retelling of her own tragic 21st celebration felt particularly personal. Young love is notorious for being an all-consuming experience, and I too can relate to the overwhelming feeling of falling in love and allowing my emotions toward a single person to overpower my own sense of self and better judgement.
The lesson here, which many 20-somethings have come to understand, is that it’s difficult for the people who love us — parents, siblings, friends — to watch us drown in our emotions, especially when they know that we’d be much better off without the person causing us harm. Here, Swift acknowledges that sometimes the people in our lives know us better than we know ourselves. This bridge took me right back to the time when my mom confronted me about the way my then-boyfriend was talking down to me, or the summer before my junior year of college when I cried to my parents, admitting that my relationship was falling apart and I needed to end things, to which my parents glanced at each other and sympathetically nodded their heads as if to say, “We’ve known this for months now.”
Some fans believe that the final two minutes of the song, where Swift repeats the line, “It was rare / I was there,” is a way for her to legitimize the gaslighting she’s experienced — in a world that’s so quick to tell women that they’re being dramatic, remembering the gritty details is often the only way to affirm that the pains we’ve experienced actually happened. Swift claims a significant amount of time and space to retell her experiences in “All Too Well,” which is a bold feat; most female songwriters are only allowed two or three minutes to unpack the emotional baggage of a painful breakup.
While Swift bravely confronts the small ways women have been slighted by their male partners, the song is more of a retrospective narrative than a pointed assertion pinning men as the sole perpetrators of unsuccessful relationships. I don’t think Swift’s intention was to blame men. Instead, I believe the song is meant to empower women to speak out when things don’t feel right and to claim the space they need to talk about what happened, without the fear of being slighted.
Although “All Too Well” is specific to Swift’s personal experiences, her attention to detail is what makes the song all the more relatable to any listener; Swift’s story is powerful, but the real punch behind the song is the suggestion that the small moments matter and shouldn’t be ignored. “All Too Well” made me feel seen in ways that I’ve never experienced with a song before: There’s a special kind of magic that exists when you realize that you’re not alone in the pains you’ve suffered, and that it’s OK to feel even the small things deeply.
Music Beat Editor Kaitlyn Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.