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At midnight, a re-recorded version of Taylor Swift’s Red burst triumphantly into the world. In true Swift fashion, it’s a triumph; and there’s one particular song in the album that sheds new light on what the world has long suspected.
“All Too Well” is one of Swift’s most famous songs of all time — and now, with the 10-minute long version completing the re-released album, there seems to be no doubt that the song is — and has always been — about her relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
This song is everything that makes Swift a brilliant songwriter. It’s raw and visceral; as if someone (Gyllenhaal, presumably) has steadily chipped away at Swift’s heart with a hammer, leaving the pieces no outlet except to crumble out through every note of this song.
I say this because I’ve felt exactly the same – and that’s another thing that makes Swift so exceptional. She’s enduringly, unfailingly relatable, and I can’t remember relating to a song as much as I have to “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)”. Not because I, too, dated Jake Gyllenhaal (needless to say, I haven’t); but because I, too, kept my ex “like an oath”.
I haven’t always felt this way about Swift’s music. I remember when Red originally came out in 2012: I was a fresher in my first term at university. I listened to it; I enjoyed it; I think I enthused about it with the other freshers, in our college dining hall or via posts on Facebook. But for the most part, I had no idea what it was about.
When Red first came out, I’d never had a real relationship. I’d never had sex, and I’d certainly never had my heart broken. Swift herself said on an Instagram post earlier this year that, “musically and lyrically, Red resembled a heartbroken person. It was all over the place, a fractured mosaic of feelings that somehow all fit together in the end.”
The heartbreak in the album has always been clear; but when it first came out, I had no idea what she was talking about. I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about – when it came to relationships. I’d been doing just fine without one.
I had no idea that — less than a year later — I’d begin a relationship that would change my entire life: not just at the time, but for years afterwards. It’s a relationship I’ve struggled to move on from ever since; and so now, nine years later, the Red album hits differently.
And when I listened to “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)” this morning, I sat there, frozen, as I listened to the words that could have been written about my life. I’ve listened to the original song since my break-up, but it’s never resonated with me as much as the extended version did this morning.
Maybe it’s the unfiltered, unflinching outpour of heartbreak, all the more evident for the song’s extended length; but it’s the first time I’ve truly seen my break-up experience mirrored elsewhere, which is a testament to Swift’s songwriting prowess.
For years after we split, I lived in the memories – like Swift, I remembered them “all too well”. I’d submerge myself in them before I went to sleep at night; I’d read the same sentence in my book over and over on the tube while sitting across from someone who wore the same aftershave as my ex.
We didn’t do the same things as Swift and Gyllenhaal — there was no “dancing round the kitchen in the refrigerator light” for us — but my memories of our time together may as well have been kept in a glass-fronted museum case. They’ve stayed perfectly intact, each detail sharply defined.
That Christmas, for example. I watched the Downton Abbey Christmas special with my family and grandparents — except I didn’t actually watch a second of it, because I texted my boyfriend throughout: my thumbs moving steadily for the full two hours.
The following Christmas, when I was single, I drank too much wine and snapped at my family on Boxing Day. My granny took me aside. “I remember, last year, how you couldn’t put your phone down,” she said, gently: and I burst into tears because I, too, could remember that “all too well”.
Unlike Swift, I wasn’t stood up on my 21st birthday: but I was struggling more than I could ever have thought possible with my break-up. I was consumed with heartbreak when I hit that birthday milestone; so when Swift sings that her dad told her, “It’s supposed to be fun turning 21,” that packs a punch.
“I might be okay, but I’m not fine at all” — that famous line — encapsulates how I felt that year, and it encapsulates it all the more now for the further insight we’ve been given into Swift’s emotions, memories and feelings about her relationship with Gyllenhaal.
Despite now knowing that the song is almost certainly about Gyllenhaal, I can never know how Swift truly felt when she wrote that song – but I feel like she knows how I felt in the years following my break-up. For me, that’s the sign of a true artist.
She writes about her experience in a way that invites others in; her honesty encourages others to work through their own pain. She makes people feel seen, while sharing her own, deeply personal emotions with the world: and I, for one, plan on getting to know the re-recorded version of Red “all too well”.