“All Too Well” has been Taylor Swift’s greatest song ever since its release on her “Red” album in 2012. It’s always been the best—even when most fans were too busy dressing up like hipsters, making fun of their exes, and vowing never ever to get back together to recognize the genius of the understated deep cut.
On Friday, Taylor re-released a longer version of the 2012 masterpiece and in 10 minutes destroyed the best song of all time.
The remake derails early with a sharp “f-ck the patriarchy,” but never recovers. Despite what Federalist readers might assume, the biggest problem is hardly its not-so-subtle political jab and profanity. The real problem is what it symbolizes: the death of a pure and relatable coming-of-age heartbreak song and the precocious girl who invited us to relate to it.
The beauty of the original is manifold. Its simple acoustics allow the song to adopt the raw emotion of the song without getting in the way, leading to two separate and gut-wrenching climaxes near the end. Just when you think the song is falling, it rises and grips you again.
Though Taylor is known for being a brilliant lyricist, the words in “All Too Well” are her crown jewel. With phrases like, “I might be okay but I’m not fine at all,” “I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to,” and “You call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest,” the songwriter put poignant words to some of the most universal feelings of heartbreak and longing.
But perhaps the most defining characteristic of the song’s appeal is the imagery it evokes— relatable imagery of young romance that struck us first when we were in the throes but remains true and nostalgic no matter how far back that era sinks into our pasts. The storytelling in “All Too Well” is so good that it doesn’t need a music video. Instead, it creates a vivid montage in the mind of the listener, with its perfect blend of specificity and vagueness allowing listeners to visualize their own experiences in the scenes she describes.
Maybe you’ve never ever actually danced around the kitchen in the refrigerator light, but you’ve likely almost blown a red light or stop sign distracted by the one in your passenger seat (or been the cause of distraction). You can clearly recall some version of a mother telling adoring stories about her son’s Little League days while flipping through embarrassing family photos. You remember the specifics of heartless phone calls and receiving your own belongings or returning someone else’s that were once precious until they were nauseating. These are the scenes that resurface whenever “All Too Well” plays.
“All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” loses nearly all of that. An overproduced and droning accompaniment flattens the tune, eradicating the unplugged ebbs and flows of the acoustic version. The final minute and a half of the song are needlessly repetitive, like they were included just to round out the length to 10 minutes.
And while the new version includes the original striking lyrics, they get drowned out by less universally relatable and therefore less evocative ones. In fact, though Swift says the 10-minute version is actually the original, which she cut down for the initial “Red” release almost a decade ago, the additional lyrics sound like grown-up “Folklore”-era Taylor, not like young and acoustic 2012 Taylor.
It’s true the star was 22 when she released the song for the first time, so she wasn’t a child. But the lyrics speak of days “long gone,” with the original evoking first loves and mutual inexperience with descriptions like “your sweet disposition, and my wide-eyed gaze.” These are lost in the new iteration, with curveballs like a big age gap, “shame,” and “weeping in a party bathroom” with an actress.
Of course, Taylor is free to write about her own experiences, such as her breakup with Jake Gyllenhaal over a nine-year age gap, which was ostensibly the impetus for this song. After all, hers are the experiences that fans have related to throughout the course of her stylistic evolution.
But classics and greats are such for a reason, and I wish Taylor would have left her greatest song alone. The original “All Too Well” will always get turned up in my car. The new version will probably get skipped.