Taylor Swift, always right: Understanding the genius of 'All Too Well'

What can I say about “Red” that I haven’t already? It was the first album I ever reviewed for Recess. If I’m going to talk about anything on “Red,” new or old, there’s really no better place to start than “All Too Well.” The song I called the “crowning jewel of ‘Red,’ if not her entire discography” got a massive upgrade in a new (er, old) ten minute version, titled “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault).”

Of course, the most press-worthy aspect of the song is its renewed assault on a certain man: he’s a bit pretentious (his “fuck the patriarchy” keychain) and a lot cruel (not showing up for her 21st birthday). However, the real noteworthy story here isn’t how well Swift can drag an ex through the mud. Instead, understanding Swift’s genius requires a quick dive into Swiftian lore. 

Swift wrote and recorded “All Too Well” on tour, and apparently she cried the entire time she recorded it (reasonable). Somewhere along the line, the brisk five-minute track became almost ubiquitously considered her best, and its position in Swift’s discography loomed large. Consider a few of the recurring motifs in Swift’s discography that can trace their origins back to “All Too Well”: stolen clothing (ex: “Cardigan”), autumn (ex: “Daylight”) and childhood stories (ex: “Seven”). She performed the track everywhere from the Grammys to NPR, despite it never being a single. 

When Swift first recorded “All Too Well,” she was so distraught that she rambled on for a good ten plus minutes. When she relayed that to her fans, they naturally clamored for the longer version. Inevitably, its ever-growing mythical status among Swift’s fans motivated her to dig it out of whatever drawer it was hiding in, because that version became the ten minute version found on “Red (Taylor’s Version).”

After so much pomp and circumstance surrounding the longer “All Too Well,” you would think that there’s no way it could live up to its hype. You’d be wrong, though — the new version blows the shorter, more primitive “All Too Well” out of the water. How does a song twice the length manage to do that?

More of a good thing usually isn’t, but Swift tends to break that rule. Her most recent two studio albums, “Folklore” and “Evermore,” excel because Swift was freed from co-writers who reigned her writings in — rather, her wordy-yet-fluid songwriting translated into excellent storytelling. No song better encapsulates this than “Champagne Problems,” an “Evermore'' standout where Swift uses such precise diction that she leaves no room for anything but her heart-wrenching story of a marriage proposal gone wrong. 

In other words, Swift’s artistic intuition means her songwriting is usually perfectly fine all on its own. The less control Swift has over her music, the less authentic it is, and it reflects in the quality. It’s no coincidence that many of Swift’s best songs are ones she wrote all by herself: “State of Grace,” “Last Kiss,” “Lover” and “My Tears Ricochet,” among others. Swift herself knows this — it’s no secret that she stopped working with the titan Max Martin specifically because he wouldn’t let her write songs on her own. 

“All Too Well (10 Minute Version),” then, is really “All Too Well (Less Edited Version),” and it is better for it. The extended track length lets Swift tell even more of the heartbreak’s story in an unabridged relation of her struggles in a doomed relationship. Never do Swift’s lyrics feel redundant, despite the extended length. Instead, Swift brings in new angles with each addition: the nine-year age gap, her father’s growing disappointment and even the cathartic release of winter. They flesh out the story of “All Too Well,” giving it a depth not found anywhere else in Swift’s discography save the love triangle arc in “Folklore” that took three songs to tell. 

Regardless, “All Too Well (Ten Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” and its equally long name are bound for history: the song is set to be the longest track to ever chart at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s a testament to the public’s appreciation for the most authentic Swift. Hopefully for fans of good music everywhere, Swift will continue to refuse to reign in her generational songwriting talent, and we’ll get many more masterpieces like “All Too Well.”

Jonathan Pertile | Recess Editor

Jonathan Pertile is a Trinity senior and recess editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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