All Too Well

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

"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 is the fifth track on Swift's fourth studio album, Red (2012), which was released on October 22, 2012, through Big Machine Records. Swift wrote the song with Liz Rose and produced it with Nathan Chapman as the first song written for Red. "All Too Well" is a country rock and soft rock power ballad that describes heartache ensued from a devastating break-up, by narrating expository details from Swift's vivid memory.

Since the release of Red, "All Too Well" has received widespread acclaim from critics and has been consistently ranked as one of Swift's best songs. Reviews laud the song's evocative lyrics that portray emotional tumult with intricate specifics and introspection. The song appeared in several publications' lists of the best songs of the 2010s decade, and has earned a cult following, with frequent references to the scarf mentioned in the lyrics.[1][2]

Commercially, "All Too Well" debuted at number 80 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 17 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, 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. Swift debuted "All Too Well" live at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards on January 26, 2014, to appraisal. It was performed several times on The Red Tour and the Reputation Stadium Tour, and at various one-off concerts.

Background and release[edit]

Swift began writing the song during rehearsals for the Speak Now World Tour, accompanied by her band

"All Too Well" was the first song Swift wrote for her album Red, having penned the lyrics almost two years before the album's release.[3] 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.[4] Swift started writing the song by herself unexpectedly while on her Speak Now World Tour:

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.

— Swift on the beginnings of writing "All Too Well", Popdust[5]

In an interview with Good Morning America, Swift 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."[6] Rose also said that the song was originally "10, 12 or 15 minutes long" before cutting down to "the important pieces".[4] In a later interview, Rose described "All Too Well" as originally being "probably a 20-minute song when [Swift] called me."[7] 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). In a 2020 interview on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums podcast, Swift later confirmed that the original version was about 10 minutes long and also revealed that it was explicit.[8] The song's studio recording was produced by Nathan Chapman and Swift.[9]

When we did ‘All Too Well,’ I hadn’t heard from her in awhile. She hadn’t really been writing. [...] I was in my driveway and my phone rings, and it’s Taylor saying, ‘Man, I’ve got this thing and I really need you to help me with it. Can you write today? What are you doing today?’ So I gave those guys the keys to my storage place, told them to put all my stuff into storage and drove over to Taylor’s. It was the first song she wrote for that record, I think. She had a story and she wanted to say something specific. She had a lot of information. I just let her go. She already had a melody and she started singing some words, and I started writing things down, saying, ‘Ok, let’s use this, let’s use that.’ She mentioned a plaid shirt, and I wrote that down in a corner, and when we got to the end, I said, ‘Let’s put the plaid shirt in there.’ That turned into one of the best lines: ‘After plaid shirt days and nights when you made me your own/Now you mail back my things and I walk home alone/But you keep my old scarf from that very first week/’Cause it reminds you of innocence and it smells like me.’ It was the most emotional, in-depth song we’ve ever written.

— Liz Rose on her collaboration with Swift on "All Too Well", Rolling Stone[10]

"All Too Well" is widely speculated to be about actor Jake Gyllenhaal,[11][12] who Swift dated from October to December 2010,[13] though he claimed to not have known the song was written about him in a 2015 interview with Howard Stern.[14] An unnamed insider allegedly confirmed Gyllenhaal as the song's subject to Us Weekly in 2012.[15] The song's secret message in Red's liner notes is "MAPLE LATTES",[16][17][18] which some sources theorized was a reference to a Thanksgiving date in which Swift and Gyllenhaal both ordered maple lattes at a Park Slope, Brooklyn coffee shop.[19]

The first of four Target-exclusive deluxe editions of Swift's 2019 album Lover contained her old diary, in which some of the scrapped lyrics of "All Too Well" can be found: "There we are again / You're crying on the phone / Realized you lost the one real thing you've ever known" was the original bridge of the song, while the original opening lines were "I walked through the door with you / The air was cold / Pictures on the fireplace, you're showing me around." Additional original lyrics included "There we are again / When you blew the candle out / Took this blazing love and steered it right into the ground / Running scared, I was there," and "You'll mail back my things in a box with no note / Except for that scarf from the very first week / Yeah you keep it in your drawer 'cause it smells like me."[20][21]

Following a dispute with Scooter Braun and Big Machine Records over the rights to the masters of her first six studio albums, including Red, Swift announced her intention to re-record each of the albums under her new label, Republic Records. On June 18, 2021, Swift announced that Red (Taylor's Version) would be released on November 12, 2021. In the social media post announcing the album, she wrote, "This will be the first time you hear all 30 songs that were meant to go on Red. And hey, one of them is even ten minutes long," driving widespread speculation that the original 10-minute version of "All Too Well" might be included on Red (Taylor's Version), which was confirmed by Swift releasing the official tracklist on August 6, 2021.[22]

Composition and lyrics[edit]

"All Too Well" is a country,[23] country rock,[24] power pop,[25] and soft rock[26] power ballad[11] vividly narrating the difficulty of moving on from a crushing heartbreak. It runs for runs five minutes and twenty-eight seconds, making it the longest track on the album.[24] Musically, the song is set in the key of C major with a tempo of 94 beats per minute. Swift's vocals range from F3 to D5.[27] The song is instrumented by used in the song include acoustic and electric guitars, keyboard, drums, and bass.[9] The song follows the track five pattern noted by music critics, in which the fifth track on Swift's albums are the most "anguish-filled" songs, featuring "stabbing lyrics and climactic bridges."[28] Often categorized as Red's emotional centerpiece by critics,[29] Brad Nelson of Pitchfork identified the song as the climax of Red's overarching theme that "Nothing dies without leaving some trace of itself."[30] The lyrics see Swift long for the memories of the relationship[31] that have been frozen in time:[23]

Swift sings "I can picture it after all these days," "Time won't fly / It's like I'm paralyzed by it," and "I remember it all too well."[32] Rebecca Farley of Refinery29 described the lyrics as blameless,[26] lamenting the negative space left by a breakup and recounting the lost memories.[30] Brittany Spanos of Rolling Stone writes that the song describes "the pain of having to piece one's self back together again"[33] after a relationship ends. The song crescendos from a slow, folk-inspired intro to an arena rock bridge,[24][26] where Swift sings "And you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest / I'm a crumpled up piece of paper lying here / 'Cause I remember it all, all, all / Too well."[32] The events are set mainly in autumn,[34] with Swift singing "Autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place / And I can picture it after all these days" in the first verse.[32] Ginny Montalbano of the University of Texas at Austin's Country Music Project highlighted the song's unique structure Swift used to accommodate the song's dramatic details.[24]

The song opens with the lyric "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." The scarf is mentioned again towards the end of the song: "But you keep my old scarf from that very first week / 'Cause it reminds you of innocence and it smells like me / You can't get rid of it 'cause you remember it all too well."[32] Nelson compared the scarf to a Chekhov's gun, symbolizing the persisting emotional flame of their romance long after it has physically ended.[30]

Critical reception[edit]

"All Too Well" has received widespread acclaim from critics, who have lauded it as one of Swift's best-written songs for its heavily detailed and powerful lyrics.[20][24] Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone wrote that Swift "[spins] a tragic tale of doomed love and scarves and autumn leaves and maple lattes."[35] Brittany Spanos also of Rolling Stone wrote that the song is a "masterpiece of the break-up ballad form".[33] In a track-by-track review of Red, Billboard described the song as a "sumptuous country" track that sees Swift mourns the memories "of a romance that has seemingly been buried in time."[23] Writing for Slant Magazine, Jonathan Keefe chose "All Too Well" as "arguably the finest song in Swift's entire catalogue:" it "crescendos from coffeehouse folk to arena rock [...] until she unleashes one of her best-ever lines [...] and the song explodes into a full-on bloodletting."[36]

In Sam Lansky's review of Red published in Idolator, he stated that of all of the songs on Red, "All Too Well" "hits the hardest... reaching an almost hysterical unraveling."[37] In a ranking of her discography (127 songs at the time of publication), Nate Jones of Vulture ranked "All Too Well" as her second-best song, praising its "string of impeccably observed details" and describing the song as a "kaleidoscopic swirl of images", choosing it as one of her most memorable songs.[31] J. English of NPR praised its maturity compared to her earlier work, writing that Swift "mourns the loss of her innocence" while simultaneously acknowledging her naïveté as she comes of age.[38] In a review of Red, John Dolan of Rolling Stone remarked the song's imagery especially in the lyric "We're dancing 'round the kitchen in the refrigerator light",[39] while Michael Robbins of Spin described that same lyric as "gorgeous".

Ginny Montalbano of the Country Music Project, published by the University of Texas at Austin noted the song's cult status among critics and fans alike. Montalbano highlighted her vocal performance, underscoring her "progress and mastery of vocals throughout this passionate, intense ballad." The review also praised the unique specificity and vulnerability of the lyrics: "[Swift] channeled an obscene amount of pain and emotion into a piece of art, a wide audience responded, and that has cemented this song's special place in her career."[24] Rebecca Farley of Refinery29 similarly praised her lyricism, opining that the song's "details fall in step with a clear narrative" and applauding the song's depiction of the nostalgic and inconsistent emotions following heartbreak. Farley also pinpointed the song's "blameless" lyrics, exemplifying the song's maturity compared to her past catalogue of breakup songs.[26] Similarly, Jon Caramanica, writing for The New York Times hailed the petulance of her shouts, resulting in a song that "swells until it erupts."[40]

Publications often pick "All Too Well" as one of the best songs of Swift's career and one of the best songs of the 2010s decade. It consistently tops the rankings of Swift's discography.[24][41] Hannah Mylrea of NME dubbed "All Too Well" Swift's magnum opus, with "some of Swift's best ever couplets" offsetting the "small, painful details" portrayed throughout the song.[41] In a selection of the best songs from each of her albums, Seija Rankin and Lauren Huff chose "All Too Well" as the best song on Red: "The chill-inducing musical build, the sense of place it creates, and the gut wrenching line 'You call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest' all make this a song for the ages."[42] "All Too Well" was placed at number 69 on the 2021 revision of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.[43]

Commercial performance[edit]

The week her album Red was released, all of the songs charted in different countries due to strong digital sale downloads. On the issue date November 10, 2012, "All Too Well" debuted at number 80 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 22 on the Digital Song Sales chart,[44] number 59 on the Canadian Hot 100, and number 17 on the Hot Country Songs chart. On July 23, 2018, "All Too Well" was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over 500,000 units in the country.

Live performances[edit]

Swift performing "All Too Well" on the Red Tour in 2012

On January 26, 2014, Swift performed "All Too Well" at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, where Red was nominated for Album of the Year and Best Country Album.[45] Wearing a dramatic beaded gown with sequin detailing and a long train streaming out behind her,[46] 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.[47][48] Swift's headbanging at the song's climax gained significant media coverage.[46][49][50] Sean Thomas of The Slanted called it the "performance of the night,"[51] and Amy Sciarretto of Pop Crush hailed it as "unforgettable."[52]

Swift also performed the song live throughout her Red Tour, while playing the piano.[53] On August 21, 2015, Swift performed the song in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, the only time on The 1989 World Tour.[54] On February 4, 2017, Swift performed the song as part of the Super Saturday Night show in Houston.[55]

Swift performed an acoustic version of the song on the first show of her Reputation Stadium Tour in Glendale, Arizona on May 8, 2018,[56] the fifth show in Pasadena, California on May 19, 2018,[57] 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.[58] On September 10, 2019, Swift performed the song as part of the City of Lover concert.[59] On October 11, 2019, she performed the song at a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR Music.[60]

Legacy[edit]

Taylor Swift Twitter
@taylorswift13

"All Too Well" was never a single, and it always blows my mind that it is consistently one of the loudest songs the crowd sings when I play it. Moments like this defined the Reputation Stadium Tour for me, and I can't wait for you to see it in full starting at 12:01 AM 12/31 PST

December 29, 2018[61]

"All Too Well" is the most critically acclaimed song in Swift's catalog, and is frequently lauded by critics and fans in retrospective reviews. In 2019 and 2021 revisions, Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone consistently 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."[62][63] Sheffield ranked the song as the best song of the 2010s decade, writing that "Every detail of 'All Too Well' is the calculating flourish of a master [...] 'All Too Well' peaks about six times, then calms... then she rips up her masterpiece and starts the song over."[64] "All Too Well" also topped Hannah Mylrea of NME's ranking of Swift's songs, regarding it as 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".[41]

Uproxx ranked it as the 10th best song of the decade, writing that "Swift manages to be both a character and a visitor in her own memories,"[65] while Stereogum chose it as the 14th best, opining that "Swift's knack for perfectly pointed observations" make the song a "perfect distillation of love found and lost."[66] Pitchfork ranked the song as the 57th best song of the 2010s, applauding "her emotional intelligence, her candor, her economy of words, [and]her ability to find beauty in vulnerability."[67] Rolling Stone placed "All Too Well" at number 29 of its list of The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century So Far (2018)[68] and at number 5 on its list of The 100 Best Songs of the 2010s.[69] It was included in unranked 2010s-decade-end lists by Time[70] and Parade.[71] It also ranked at number 13 on NPR's list of the top 25 songs of the decade, determined by audience polls.[72] In 2021, Rolling Stone placed the song at number 69 on its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[43]

The song has achieved a cult following within Swift's fanbase, and despite not being a single, it is one of Swift's most widely recognized songs.[73] Swift herself remarked this unexpected popularity during her Reputation Stadium Tour:[74]

It's weird because I feel like this song has two lives to it in my brain. In my brain, there's the life of this song, where this song was born out of catharsis and venting and trying to get over something and trying to understand it and process it. And then there's the life where it went out into the world and you turned this song into something completely different for me. You turned this song into a collage of memories of watching you scream the words to this song, or seeing pictures that you post to me of you haven written words to this song in your diary, or you showing me your wrist, and you have a tattoo of the lyrics to this song underneath your skin. And that is how you have changed the song "All Too Well" for me.

On March 29, 2019, American singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly released a cover of "All Too Well". Kelly said he wanted to be a part of "the powerful feeling" the song gave him when he first heard it. He further described: "it teleports you to old magic feelings, the little perfect moments in a relationship way ahead of its doom. It shows you how happiness with someone can feel so infinite and true. But it calls to the end of things and it shows the color of the flame. It fucks you up."[76] Swift responded to the cover affirmatively.[77] Irish singer Niall Horan has also covered the song on his Instagram livestream.[25]

The scarf[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."[32] Brad Nelson writes in The Atlantic that the scarf is a Chekhov's gun whose reappearance in the final verse ("But you keep my old scarf from that very first week / 'cause it reminds you of innocence / and it smells like me) is thoughtful and "brutal". He explained the missing scarf quickly became a "fantastic pop culture mystery" that has created much online buzz.[78] According to the lyrics, the scarf was originally lost at the residence of American actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, sister of Jake Gyllenhaal, but when enquired about this in 2017, Maggie Gyllenhaal stated 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.[79] According to music journalist Rob Sheffield, both the song and the scarf are so significant to Swift's discography that it "should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."[35] The scarf has become a symbol in Swift's fandom, inspiring jokes, memes, and interview questions.[80] 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."[17]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits are adapted from the liner notes of Red.[81]

  • Taylor Swift – vocals, songwriting, production
  • Liz Rose – songwriting
  • Nathan Chapman – production, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, backing vocals, engineering
  • LeAnn "Goddess" Bennet – production coordinator
  • Drew Bollman – assistant mixer
  • Jason Campbell – production coordinator
  • Mike "Frog" Griffith – production coordinator
  • Brian David Willis – assistant engineer
  • Hank Williams – mastering
  • Justin Niebank – mixing

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (2012–13) Peak
position
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[82] 59
US Billboard Hot 100[83] 80
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[84] 17
US Country Airplay (Billboard)[85] 58

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
United States (RIAA)[86] Gold 500,000double-dagger

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

Re-recorded versions[edit]

"All Too Well (Taylor's Version)"
Song by Taylor Swift
from the album Red (Taylor's Version)
LabelRepublic
Songwriter(s)

On August 6, 2021, Swift announced that a re-recorded version of "All Too Well", titled "All Too Well (Taylor's Version)", would be included as the fifth track on her second re-recorded album Red (Taylor's Version), which is set for release on November 12, 2021, through Republic Records. Additionally, Swift announced that the original ten-minute long version of "All Too Well" would be released as the 30th and final track of the album.[87]

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