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How Taylor Swift’s 10-minute “All Too Well” surpasses her original

Taylor Swift has been teasing a 10-minute version of one of her old songs for years. It’s finally here.

Taylor Swift’s 10-minute “All Too Well.”

After almost 10 years, it’s finally here. Taylor Swift’s long-rumored, never-before-heard 10-minute version of her 2012 hit “All Too Well” is finally seeing the light of day as Swift releases her fully re-recorded Red. The full version is a strikingly vulnerable piece of songcraft, even for heartbreak queen Taylor Swift. It surpasses the original.

“All Too Well” has always been a bit of an oddity as a Taylor Swift hit. Red was the album in which Swift began transitioning from country pop star to pure pop star, collaborating with Swedish pop master Max Martin to turn out sharp-edged earworms like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” “All Too Well,” in contrast, is shaggier and looser than its peers on the album, and was never released as a single. It was in a way a throwback even in 2012: It saw Swift returning to her early songwriting partner Liz Rose, with whom she wrote her first singles “Tim McGraw” and “Teardrops on My Guitar” as a teenager and with whom she hasn’t worked since.

Regardless, “All Too Well” became a fan favorite and a popular choice for Swift’s best song. It’s a breakup song, rumored to be about Swift’s split with Jake Gyllenhaal, and it shows off Swift’s ability to build a whole love story around a single telling detail — in this case, the scarf Swift’s narrator leaves with her ex, still in a drawer at his sister’s house. (That would be, I suppose, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s house. And I would be remiss not to note that Swift is selling a version of the much-mythologized scarf.) What’s most touching about the song is Swift’s insistence on her own dignity even at age 21, her repeated assertion that even if her older ex refuses to admit their relationship was meaningful, “I was there, I remember it all too well.”

In the years since “All Too Well” first dropped, both Rose and Swift have talked about a longer version of the song, a first draft that clocked in at 10 minutes long, that served as a catharsis for all that Swift wanted to get out about her ex. And now, she’s finally given it a proper studio recording and included it as a bonus track on the newly re-released Red. Improbably, it lives up to the years of teases and hype-building.

While the first “All Too Well” worked because it demanded that we give Swift the respect she is due, the 10-minute “All Too Well” improves upon the original by making us privy to her humiliations first. The new verses include descriptions of her ex condescending to her about their age gap, of him charming Swift’s dad “like you’re on a late-night show” before standing her up on her 21st birthday, of Swift crying in the bathroom at a Hollywood party. “That made me want to die,” she sings, and it’s hard not to believe her.

Swift has written a lot of songs about the ways her exes have wronged her, but she’s rarely been quite as vulnerable and open as she is here. Like: Imagine dating a movie star when you were 20 and he was 30, feeling really grown-up and sophisticated and like maybe you’d found the one, and then having him tell you that maybe it would have worked out if you weren’t 10 years younger than him. God! The sheer cringing awfulness of the idea, the infuriating passing of the blame. She says, “You kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath,” and, well, right? That’s how those relationships work, in those moments when one person is fully invested and the other ashamed and wary.

There’s just enough detail in Swift’s songwriting to give her story the ring of truth — and the ex she’s conjuring up here is so condescending, so glib and casually cruel, that it lands harder than ever when Swift insists, with understandable fervor, “It was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well.” She’s shown herself to us at her lowest, and that means the respect she demands in the chorus feels absolutely fully earned.

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