Since Taylor Swift casually announced its existence in an interview during her “Red” press tour in 2012, devoted fans (better known as Swifties) have dreamed of one day having an extended version of “All Too Well.” And on Nov. 12, over nine years after the original was released, they finally got their wish with the release of “Red (Taylor’s Version),” accompanied by a reflective short film directed by the singer herself.
“Basically, when I was writing the ‘Red’ album, I knew I had a favorite on the album and it was a song called ‘All Too Well.’ But oftentimes my personal favorites don’t line up with songs that end up being singles or having videos. I always just have these favorites where I’m like ‘That one’s just my favorite,’” said Swift in an interview on “The Tonight Show.” “But what happened on this album was this song became the fans’ favorite on its own. My favorite and their favorite song aligned.”
It’s true. “All Too Well” has long been a staple for diehard Swifties. I’ve been singing all the lyrics to that song since before I even fully understood what it meant. (The “Red” album came out when I was in elementary school.) Even today, my roommate and I sing (scream) the song on all of our car trips, a staple on our car playlist that will never get skipped. We couldn’t even bear waiting the duration of the album (it serves as the gut-punching grand finale), listening to the track as soon as the clock struck 12. As the same familiar opening chords played, we, along with millions of other Swifties all over the world, prepared ourselves for the narrative to further expand and unfold.
“All Too Well” has always been about Swift’s short-lived relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal in 2010 when she was 20 and he was 29. However, while the original track features a cohesive storyline, “All Too Well (Ten Minute Version)” does not (in the best possible way). It’s much more raw and real. The lyrics are far more revealing and damning. While the song has always been reflective, “Taylor’s Version” offers an even deeper perspective into how Swift was feeling both during and after the end of their three-month-long romance.
The added lyrics suggest a power imbalance in the relationship because of their age gap. “You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine / And that made me want to die,” sings Swift in the third verse. “All Too Well: The Short Film” further emphasizes this, as stars Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien intentionally have a decade between them, close to the nine years between Swift and Gyllenhaal.
Because of this, it’s uncomfortable to watch them kiss in the autumn foliage, the montage-heavy video beginning with the pair on “An Upstate Escape.” While their relationship is legal, we know this doesn’t end well for Sink’s character.
“And I was thinking on the drive down, any time now / He’s gonna say it’s love / you never called it what it was / ‘Til we were dead and gone and buried / Check the pulse and come back swearing it’s the same / After three months in the grave,” sings Swift over footage of an angry O’Brien yelling on the phone as Sink waits for him in the car in the short film’s second chapter, “The First Crack in the Glass.” “And then you wondered where it went to as I reached for you / But all I felt was shame and you held my lifeless frame,” Swift continues as the two look at each other from a distance. Within this part of the short film, O’Brien looks quite terrifying, a hollowness behind his eyes, while Sink appears more nervous, unsure of what to make of this new side of her boyfriend.
This is followed by a “Marriage Story”-esque fight scene in which Sink confronts O’Brien for dropping her hand and ignoring her at a dinner with her friends and he dismisses her, quick to call her selfish for even feeling that way.
It’s details like this, both lyrically and visually, that make the memory come alive. The inclusion of these specificities — a “f— the patriarchy” keychain, an actress checking on Swift as she breaks down in a party bathroom and a forgotten 21st birthday party — truly paint these events as something you would remember all too well, even years down the line.
As someone who’s grown up listening to and loving Swift, I’ve borne witness to the changing public narrative surrounding her. Despite being only 11 years old when “Red” came out, I vividly remember her being the butt of far too many jokes about having a lot of ex-boyfriends and how she was demonized by the media for writing songs about her own life experiences. In recent years, there’s certainly been a shift, many recognizing the unfairness of it all. Now, artists who candidly sing about their relationships such as Olivia Rodrigo (who has often cited Swift as one of her inspirations) are celebrated, rather than villainized, for doing so.
After listening to “All Too Well (Ten Minute Version)” and watching the short film, it’s even more frustrating to see how Swift was constantly ridiculed for the number of relationships she’d been in, especially knowing how young she was at the time (and how much older, and seemingly manipulative, these exes were). Perhaps “All Too Well (Ten Minute Version)” wouldn’t have been as widely accepted by the general public in 2012. It’s more fitting that it releases in 2021, giving Swift a chance to share the memory again, with an audience who will understand.
However, she is the one who gets the last laugh, beginning the added fifth verse with a bit of biting truth about her now-ex: “And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punch line goes / ‘I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age.’”
The ending of the short film mirrors the ending that we have in real life, which sees Sink’s character, “13 Years Gone,” now played by Swift, attending a reading for her book titled “All Too Well,” finally sharing her story with eager fans ready to hear it. Swift did the same thing, showing both the short film and playing “All Too Well (Ten Minute Version)” at an AMC in New York City.
“It was my favorite. It was about something very personal to me. It was very hard to perform it live. Now for me, honestly, this song is 100% about us and for you,” she said, just before playing the song to an audience full of Swifties, who were always ready to hear her full side of the story.