‘All Too Well’ is a one-off song, but what exactly makes it such a punch?
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The announcement of the 10-minute version of « All Too Well », which goes on Red ( Taylor’s version) set Taylor Swift fans into a frenzy.
The existence of the 10-minute cut was the subject of pop music (ahem) folklore up to this point; Taylor had mentioned its existence in interviews surrounding Red’s release and dropped snippets of text in lover journals, but most TS fans found the release of the extended, supposedly explicit original version of « All Too Well » just a pipe dream.Everything has changed to mimic Taylor’s own lyrics – and we’ll hear the 10-minute cut of the country-pop-power ballad for the first time on Friday, November 12th. Fans are most excited, despite Red (Taylor’s Version) A-list features like Phoebe Bridgers, Ed Sheeran and Chris Stapleton and never-before-heard bonus tracks.
In the Taylor Swift universe, « All Too Well » is a certified fan favorite. The album Red is widely considered to be the first Taylor Swift album to look at love with a really critical, mature, almost cynical look – in contrast to their previous albums, which were very focused on chaste, romantic fairy tales.
That’s not to say that their previous albums aren’t incredibly well-written – but Red is on a whole new level that really just comes from the age and experience of a songwriter. The purest distillation of this artistic development can be heard on « All Too Well » – everything that makes Taylor Swift’s songwriting so touching, so impressive is shown.
In a way, « All Too Well » is an unusual fan favorite; it was never a single and never got a music video. It’s long, especially for a pop song, and lasts five minutes and 29 seconds – and it undermines the traditional pop song structure of « verse-before-chorus-chorus » in an interesting way.
Swifties and music critics have gotten the idiosyncrasies of “All Too Well” long ago adopted; Rolling Stone described it as a « break-up ballad masterpiece, » and Slant Magazine called it « arguably the best song in the entire Swift catalog » (as did Music Junkee).
So let’s unzip what Taylor Swift’s main work “All Too Well” makes up – and why the ten minute version could be a game changer.
“I left my scarf there with your sister, and you still have it in your drawer now.”
Taylor Swift’s lyric prowess is at its best in All Too Well. Swift walks the listener through the story of this doomed relationship with evocative vignettes and short, detailed verse. Perhaps the most significant element of this imagery is the now infamous “All Too Well” scarf, which is said to be still gathering dust in a drawer at Maggie Gyllenhaal’s (it is common knowledge that “All Too Well” was written about Taylor’s relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal) .
Taylor determines the position of the scarf in the first verse, and it is the first clue we as listeners get that this relationship is now over. Then she leads us through the flashbacks – in the car, dances in the kitchen in the refrigerator light, chats with her lover’s mother; Then, in a devastatingly crucial way, bookends the fate of the scarf – kept by her ex to hold onto the lost innocence – in the last moments of the song.
One of the hardest things to master as a pop songwriter is that kind of concise storytelling. The writer’s job is to convey as much moody information and detail as possible in a sparse, catchy verse or chorus – and what is remarkable about « All Too Well » is the vivid nature of the images, how much detail Taylor has put into hers to fit brief, explanatory verses and how neatly the story is closed at the end of the song.
It not only lets us know what happened to the scarf, but also puts every vignette back in the spotlight towards the end of the song (“Wind in my hair, you were there, you remember it all / down thestairs, you were there you remember everything ”), which imitate the cruelty of memory; how those painful moments linger for hours in the middle of a sleepless night or flicker for seconds even on a good day.
Towards the end, Taylor changes from the line “I remember it” to the accusatory “You remember it” – a simple, effective one Embrace her own agency and her ex’s role in the demise of this relationship.
« You called me again just to break a promise / so casually cruel in the name of honesty … »
The Perhaps the most quoted and revered line on « All Too Well » is that tragic line from the first bridge section of the song, and for good reason. Before that bridge builds, Taylor slowly and surely builds up to this moment and leads us through the best moments of the relationship before it hits everything with this devastating line.
The relationship between lyric and vocal melody is a special, symbiotic – Often vocal melodies sound almost like the literary technique of onomatopoeia like the feeling behind the sung words. This line is a great example of that. Written in C major, All Too Well’s vocal melody lingers around middle C, a comfortable mid-to-low portion of Taylor’s vocal range. Even the choruses don’t really move far from here, they just go up a fifth to a G.
For this line and for the first and only time in ‘All Too Well’ Taylor sings a C5, a full octave ( eight notes) above middle C. It is the song’s highest note, a high section in Taylor’s pitch. and it feels cathartic, almost hysterical – like a friend talking about a breakup and, having kept their cool throughout the narrative up to this point, collapses, her voice rising and rising with emotion and pain. It’s the shining moment – the entire song builds on this bridge, both in the vocal melody, as well as in the lyric and the instrumental arrangement.
The structure of « All Too Well » is shaped by this climatic bridge. unusual for a mainstream artist’s pop song. Unimpressed by the traditional stanza / pre-chorus / chorus-pop structure, “All Too Well” is more like a folk song, with multiple stanzas that contain most of the story and choruses with constantly changing lyrics.Instead of one bridge, ‘All Too Well’ probably has two, with the first reaching the heights of the famous Break Me like a line of promise and the second acting as an outro, a clever, peppy play on the chorus vocal melody (“Because we’re back when I loved you so / back when you lost the one true thing that you ever knew « ) that flashes back those pre-made memories in quick succession and consolidates the lost love in moments over time.
The track also has an ongoing reference that is at the heart of Taylor Swift’s songwriting. Everyone can relate to the heartache described: the confusion, the unadulterated pain, the questions, accusations – « All Too Well » captures every contradicting feeling that accompanies a breakup. It’s a masterful example of the style of writing that makes Taylor Swift’s music so popular – her ability to write music that touches virtually everyone who hears it is unparalleled.
The upcoming release of the ten-minute version features tons of interesting hypotheses – will it expand the narrative of the lyrics or will it feel too indulgent compared to the abridged version? Will it add more to the layers and callbacks and intricacies of the song, or will the audience be able to determine why and how it was edited for the 5’29 version? Will it follow the same structure as the shorter version or will there be a whole new chord progression or section that comes out of the blue? And above all: HOW does the word « Fuck » fit into all of that!?!?
Whatever the result, « All Too Well » is a song that is unique in life, written by an artist on you critical turning point in her career.
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