All Too Well

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"All Too Well"
Song by Taylor Swift
from the album Red
ReleasedOctober 22, 2012
Genre
Length5:28
LabelBig Machine
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)

"All Too Well" is a song recorded by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. It was written by Swift and Liz Rose and produced by Swift and Nathan Chapman. The song was the first Swift wrote for her fourth studio album Red (2012). "All Too Well" is a country and soft rock power ballad that narrates a devastating heartache using vivid imagery.

"All Too Well" received widespread acclaim from critics and consistently ranks as one of Swift's best-ever songs. Critics lauded the song's evocative lyrics that portray emotional tumult with intricate details. The song appeared in several publications' lists of the best songs of the 2010s decade, and has earned cult status among Swift's fans.[2][3] "All Too Well" peaked at number 80 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 59 on the Canadian Hot 100. It was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for moving over 500,000 units in the country. It received its debut performance at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards on January 26, 2014.

Background and release[edit]

"All Too Well" was the first song Swift wrote for her album Red.[4][5] While collaborating with different writers on Red, Swift wrote the song along with Liz Rose, with whom she had written many songs on her earlier albums. Rose has said that Swift unexpectedly asked her to help write the song as a one-off project after not having collaborated with Swift for some years.[6] Swift started writing the song by herself unexpectedly:

"The lyric I’m most proud of is from "All Too Well": "And you call me up again just to break me like a promise / so casually cruel in the name of being honest." That was something I came up with while ranting during a soundcheck. I was just playing these chords over and over onstage and my band joined in and I went on a rant. Those were some of the lines I thought of. [...] I was going through a really hard time then, and my band joined in playing, and one of the first things that I came up with, just, like, spat out, was "And you call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest.""[7]

Swift has also said that the song was "the hardest to write on the album", saying: "it took me a really long time to filter through everything I wanted to put in the song without it being a 10-minute song, which you can’t put on an album. I wanted a story that could work in the form of a song and I called my co-writer Liz Rose and said, ‘Come over, we’ve gotta filter this down,’ and it took me a really long time to get it."[8] Rose also said that the song was originally "10, 12 or 15 minutes long" before cutting down to "the important pieces".[6] In a later interview, Rose described "All Too Well" as originally being "probably a 20-minute song when [Swift] called me."[9] Even after cutting it down, the song is the longest track on the album, clocking in at five minutes and twenty-eight seconds (5:28).

The song's studio recording was produced by Nathan Chapman and Swift. Its secret message in Red's liner notes is "MAPLE LATTES".[10][11][12]

Composition and lyrics[edit]

"All Too Well" runs five minutes and twenty-eight seconds[13] with a tempo of 94 beats per minute in the key of C major.[14] Swift's vocals range from F3 to D5.[14] Instruments used in the song include acoustic and electric guitars, keyboard, drums, and bass.[15]

The lyrics of the song center around themes of memory.[16] Swift sings "I can picture it after all these days," "Time won't fly it's like I'm paralyzed by it," and of course "I remember it all too well."[15] The events of the song occur in fall,[17] with "autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place."[15] Swift paints a picture of her former relationship with highly detailed vignettes of her and her ex,[18] singing that they were "singing in the car getting lost upstate," and "dancing round the kitchen in the refrigerator light."[15] Brittany Spanos of Rolling Stone writes that the song describes "the pain of having to piece one's self back together again"[19] after relationship ends. Swift sings "I'd like to be my old self again / but I'm still trying to find it."[15] NPR writes that the song is more mature than her previous works, and Swift "owns up to her naivete" and "mourns the loss of her innocence" as she comes of age.[20]

Critical reception[edit]

Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone writes that Swift "[spins] a tragic tale of doomed love and scarves and autumn leaves and maple lattes" and that the song is "full of killer moments," also stating that "No other song does such a stellar job of showing off her ability to blow up a trivial little detail into a legendary heartache."[21] Brittany Spanos of Rolling Stone writes that the song is a "is a masterpiece of the break-up ballad form."[19] Billboard describes the song as "sumptuous country."[22]

Slant Magazine particularly lauded the song within its review, saying "'All Too Well' is arguably the finest song in Swift's entire catalogue," stating that after a slow, melodic build of hyper-detailed memories from her relationship it "crescendos from coffeehouse folk to arena rock... until she unleashes one of her best-ever lines ("You call me up again just to break me like a promise/So casually cruel in the name of being honest") and the song explodes into a full-on bloodletting."[23] Idolator stated that of all of the songs on Red, "All Too Well" "hits the hardest... reaching an almost hysterical unraveling."[24] Nate Jones of Vulture writes that Swift "delivers the knockout blow in the bridge[16]” calling herself a "crumpled up piece of paper lying here."

The song consistently ranks at the top of Swift's discography.[18][25][16][21][26] Pitchfork ranked "All Too Well" as the 57th best song of the 2010s, applauding "her emotional intelligence, her candor, her economy of words, her ability to find beauty in vulnerability."[27]

Chart performance[edit]

The week her album Red was released, all of the songs charted in different countries due to its strong digital sale downloads. With this, the song debuted at number 80 on Billboard Hot 100, number 22 on the Digital Song Sales chart,[28] number 59 on the Canadian Hot 100 and number 17 on the Hot Country Songs.

Live performances[edit]

On January 26, 2014, Swift performed "All Too Well" at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.[29] Wearing a dramatic beaded gown with sequin detailing and a long train streaming out behind her,[30] she sang while playing piano on a low lit stage, before being joined by a live band midway through the performance. Her performance was praised and received a standing ovation.[31][32] Swift's headbanging at the song's climax gained significant media coverage.[30][33][34] Sean Thomas of The Slanted called it the "performance of the night,"[35] and Amy Sciarretto of Pop Crush hailed it as "unforgettable."[36]

Swift also performed the song live throughout her Red Tour, while playing the piano.[37] On August 21, 2015, Swift performed the song in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, the only time on The 1989 World Tour.[38] On February 4, 2017, Swift performed the song as part of the Super Saturday Night show in Houston, Texas.[39]

Swift performed an acoustic version of the song on the first show of her Reputation Stadium Tour in Glendale, Arizona on May 8, 2018, the fifth show in Pasadena, California on May 19, 2018 and the last show of the U.S. leg of the tour in Arlington, Texas on October 6, 2018. The latter of which appeared in her Netflix concert film of the same name. On September 10, 2019, Swift performed the song as part of the City of Lover concert.[40] On October 11, 2019, she performed the song at a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR Music.[41]

Legacy[edit]

"All Too Well" is the most critically acclaimed song in Swift's catalog, frequently lauded by critics and fans in retrospective reviews. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone ranked "All Too Well" as the best song in Swift's catalog, writing, "No other song does such a stellar job of showing off her ability to blow up a trivial little detail into a legendary heartache."[42] Sheffield also ranked the song as the best song of the 2010s decade.[43] Hannah Mylrea of NME also placed the song at number one in her ranking of Swift's songs, dubbing it Swift's "magnum opus" and exemplary of her songwriting prowess. Mylrea wrote that the ballad conveys the heartache resulting from a painful breakup, visualizing "a tale of lost scarves and autumn days as she jumps between different points—both good and bad—in a relationship".[44]

Rolling Stone placed the song at number 29 of its list of The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century So Far (2018) and at number 5 on its list of The 100 Best Songs of the 2010s.[45][46] "All Too Well" featured on 2010s-decade-end lists by Uproxx (number 10),[47] Stereogum (number 14),[48] and Pitchfork (number 57).[49] It was included in unranked 2010s-decade-end lists by Time[50] and Parade.[51] It also ranked at number 13 on NPR's list of the top 25 songs of the decade, determined by audience polls.[52] The song has achieved a cult following within Swift's fanbase and despite not being a single, is one of the most widely recognized songs among the fans.[53] Swift herself mentioned this unexpected popularity during her Reputation Stadium Tour.[54] The original lyrics are included in the deluxe versions of Swift's seventh studio album, Lover.[55]

"Scarf" in popular culture[edit]

"All Too Well" opens with the lines "I walked through the door with you / the air was cold / but something about it felt like home somehow / and I left my scarf there at your sister's house / and you've still got it in your drawer even now."[15] Brad Nelson writes in The Atlantic that the scarf is a "Chekhov's gun" whose "reappearance" in the final verse "is thoughtful and brutal: 'But you keep my old scarf from that very first week / cause it reminds you of innocence / and it smells like me' ".[56] The missing scarf quickly became a "fantastic pop culture mystery" that has created much online buzz among Taylor Swift fans.[17] According to the lyrics of the song, the scarf was originally lost at Maggie Gyllenhaal's house, but Gyllenhaal says that she has no idea where the scarf is, and did not understand why people asked her about it until an interviewer explained the lyrics to her in 2017.[57] Both the song and the scarf are so significant to Swift's discography that Rolling Stone writes that it "should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."[21] The scarf has become a symbol in Swift's fandom, inspiring jokes, memes, and interview questions.[58] It has even inspired numerous fan fictions in other fandoms. Writer Kaitlyn Tiffany of The Verge described the scarf as "the green dock light of our time."[11]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from Tidal.[59]

  • Taylor Swift – vocals, songwriter, producer
  • Liz Rose – songwriter
  • Nathan Chapman – producer, acoustic guitar, studio personnel
  • Justin Niebank – mixer, studio personnel
  • Hank Williams – mastering engineer, studio personnel
  • Drew Bollman – assistant mixer, studio personnel
  • Brian David Willis – assistant recording engineer, studio personnel

Charts[edit]

Chart (2012–13) Peak
position
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[60] 59
US Billboard Hot 100[61] 80
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[62] 17
US Country Airplay (Billboard)[63] 58

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
United States (RIAA)[64] Gold 500,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

References[edit]

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External links[edit]