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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

The 10-minute version of "All Too Well" is a pop magnum opus

10 minutes, 13 seconds.

111 lines of lyrics.

It's a daunting feat to attempt, but Taylor Swift passed her own test with flying colors.

When it comes to Taylor Swift and her music, I'm not a passionate fan, but I also don't hate her output; I'm definitely more positive about her work than I am negative.

Sure, when I was younger I shunned her music like most younger guys did; we didn't even try to listen to the music, but we heard it anyway, and we ranted about how everything she does is a breakup song and that maybe she just isn't good at this love thing.

Come 1989 (2014), though, and I began to really start liking some of her output. I can now look back and realize how she was maturing and beginning to show more dimensionality as she definitively broke from her country roots. In going back and listening to her earlier albums, "All Too Well" stood out to me as one of her strongest works, and definitely my favorite of her 'breakup songs.' As Swift revisits her relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal through various vignettes, she gradually moves from more tender memories to a condemnation of her ex for breaking her down — all bookended by the recollection of a scarf which, according to Swift, is still at his sister Maggie's house.

In Swift's own words, "All Too Well" is "so casually cruel in the name of being honest." Her transition from heartfelt reminiscing to scathing critique is so seamless, and how she wrote it just feels genuine. I'm also musically impressed by the song because of just how much dynamism and variation she got out of largely repeating the same four chords for nearly five and a half minutes.

I was floored when I heard Swift would be putting out an extended version of "All Too Well" as the closer of Red (Taylor's Version). Even when I read how the 10-minute cut was how the song was originally written and envisioned, I remained skeptical. I thought to myself: there's a reason artists whittle down their longer and grander ideas they have — for one, it's to make them more manageable to work with, and for two, it's to make sure nothing is overdone. Plus, "All Too Well" is already one of her longest tracks to begin with; why extend it?

Sure, songs of that extreme length can occasionally work — cue Coldplay's album-closing masterpiece "Coloratura" from their newest record — but those have got to be one-in-a-million.

Then I listened to the 10-minute version, and I wondered why the hell I ever had a doubt in Swift's craft and songwriting. It was clear from a first listen that this was the way the song was meant to be, and that it will surely be the definitive version of "All Too Well" forevermore (see what I did there, Swifties?) ...I guess this year, 10-minute diamonds from some of the world's most established pop artists are two-in-a-million.

My biggest takeaway from the 10-minute version of "All Too Well" is just how much more personal and biting the new lyrics are. Swift's original lyrics remain powerful on their own, but the lyrics that were brought back for this version go into much greater detail and take much more profound digs at Gyllenhaal, adding a new dimension that makes the track feel all the more heartfelt than it already was.

It was hard for me to catch my breath and keep pace with the lyrics to the brand-new third verse (which starts "They say all's well that ends well"). As if the latter portion about Jake missing Taylor's 21st birthday party and not even calling her wasn't enough, there's the earlier section in which he blames their age difference for their difficulties. The payoff for that remark comes in the fourth and final verse, when Swift remarks:

I was never good at telling jokes, but the punch line goes
I'll get older, but your lovers stay my age

Those two lines are tied for my favorite lyrics from the new version, because of how Swift uses them to turn a demeaning remark right back in her ex's face. Even though she's singing this song, she's moved on and has matured plenty... while he, now 40, continues to date girls who are in their 20s (which just doesn't give off good vibes to me... ugh).

My other favorite 'new' lyrics are "You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath," from the second chorus. These lyrics fit right in with the narrative Swift established in the song's initial form. She took the relationship more seriously and was more devoted to it than he ever was, which made the heartbreak of their split all the more painful for her. The "secret / oath" line and other (re)additions demonstrate how Swift never lost sight of the essence of "All Too Well," going all the way back to the fateful recording session when the song first took shape (here's a clip from The Tonight Show detailing that session and more).

As great as the original release of "All Too Well" was, this new release far outdoes it. I'd be remiss to not give credit to co-producer Jack Antonoff (also of Bleachers and fun. fame) for his role in curating the new edition. The production — which notably leans more toward pop than the original, another reflection of Swift's growth — never feels stagnant, developing even as the track winds down. I'm especially enamored with the final quarter or so of the tracks, which beautifully opens up through half-time drums and a reconfigured chord progression. Both feel so fresh and emotional, especially given the weight and sheer length of the music which have preceded it. If I weren't already sold on this new version after the first seven and a half minutes, the final section alone would've been enough to convince me.

I shouldn't be blown away by this 10-minute version of "All Too Well" being as great as it is... but I am, simply because of how much the new material validates the track's length and listeners' attention. In an entertainment-filled world replete with distractions, keeping hold of an audience in a single artistic space for ten minutes is a phenomenal feat. Taylor Swift and her team do that and then some with a revamped — no, a revitalized version of perhaps her greatest song, which in its first day of release has firmly established itself as the track's definitive version.


Postscript: I wrote this article before the Swift-directed short film was released, largely because I wanted to talk about the song in purely sonic terms. However, the film premiered on YouTube before I published this article, and I was so impressed by it that I had to at least quickly mention it here. It's a great capturing of "All Too Well" as Taylor herself thinks of it, starring Stranger Things' Sadie Sink and Teen Wolf and Maze Runner trilogy alumnus Dylan O'Brien. Enjoy:


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