At the time, 20-year-old Swift and 29-year-old Gyllenhaal had been reportedly dating for about six weeks. By the end of the year, the relationship would be over. But instead of becoming a short-lived celebrity relationship lost to time, it would inspire an album that eventually sold more than 7 million copies. And possibly more important for Swift’s fiercely loyal fan base, the split led to a wrenching breakup ballad that is deeply meaningful to her listeners and was recently named by Rolling Stone as one of the greatest songs of all time.
The album was “Red,” released in 2012, and the song was “All Too Well” — a track that, even as Swift transformed into a pop megastar, is still widely considered the best song she has written in her 15-year career.
Now, “All Too Well” is back in the spotlight in the most unusual way. After a contentious dispute with her former Nashville record label over the lucrative master recordings of her first six albums, Swift announced in 2019 that she would rerecord each album so she would fully own it. On Friday, Swift officially dropped the new “Red (Taylor’s Version).” The fifth track was still “All Too Well” — but in a twist, the final tune was “All Too Well (10 Minute Version),” with previously unreleased lyrics that fans have been obsessing over for years.
To understand why the 10-minute version has become such a frenzied topic in Taylor Swift lore, you must understand the nature of the Taylor Swift fan. As you may know, Swift became famous for sharing real stories of her personal life and relationships in her songs. Even as she always coyly declined to name names, she dropped clues in the liner notes, which would send fans (and tabloids) into a tailspin to decode them. She also started her career in country music, a genre where even the biggest stars are expected to treat fans like friends, so her relatability to listeners remains on a higher level than most superstars.
Part of the reason “All Too Well” stood out, along with its razor-sharp lyrics (the most-quoted: “You call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest”), is that it was packed with specific details as the devastated narrator reflected on the happiest memories of a failed relationship. Swift, naturally, didn’t reveal the identity of her paramour — but she did everything except include Gyllenhaal’s photo in the liner notes, as the song’s clue was “MAPLE LATTE.” You might remember that was the beverage the couple was carrying through Brooklyn on their photographed Thanksgiving walk.
Over the last decade, as the song became a classic in the Swift catalogue, fans have taken great pleasure in lightly tormenting Gyllenhaal, whom Swift expertly roasted throughout multiple songs on the album. The actor, who does not like to be asked about Swift, once made the mistake of posting a childhood photo of himself on Instagram, and fans flooded the comments with the “All Too Well” line, “You used to be a little kid with glasses in a twin-sized bed.” The picture is now deleted.
Another trope became “the scarf,” thanks to the lyric, “I left my scarf there at your sister’s house, and you’ve still got it in your drawer, even now.” The aforementioned Thanksgiving took place with Gyllenhaal’s sister, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, who was in some of the paparazzi photos — and Jake has since been spotted with a scarf that looks awfully similar to the one Swift was wearing that day. (Maggie professed ignorance when this topic came up a few years ago on Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live,” though said “everyone asks” her about it.)
Then, as if the song needed even more hype, Swift and her co-writer, legendary Nashville writer Liz Rose, eventually confirmed that an extended version existed. In a 2020 interview with Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums podcast (“Red” ranked No. 99), Swift said she came up with the lyrics for “All Too Well” during rehearsals with her band on a day when she felt like “a broken human.” She kept writing, and before she knew it the song was 10 minutes long. So she called Rose for some editing.
“Taylor said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this song that I’ve written and it’s this really long idea and I could really use some help to fix it. Do you think you could do that this afternoon?’” Rose told The Washington Post in a 2016 interview. Rose, battling a sinus infection and in the middle of a move, knew that no one declines a songwriting session with Swift. So she said “Sure!,” grabbed some tissues, tossed her keys to the movers, and headed out.
Swift never intended to release the unedited version, but the clamoring from fans was too much to resist. “This will be the first time you hear all 30 songs that were meant to go on Red,” she wrote in a social media post in June, casually adding, “And hey, one of them is even ten minutes long.” Later, she announced that it would be accompanied by a short film.
Obviously, the Swift fandom lost its mind. Fans have turned a clip of the ballad into a meme on TikTok, showing how they’re preparing for the emotional experience of hearing the sure-to-be devastating updated lyrics: Some record themselves searching for the perfect corner of their home where they can have a full-on breakdown, while others just lie on the ground in the rain.
For what it’s worth, Gyllenhaal may want to stay off the Internet this weekend; the extended lyrics continue to paint him in an unflattering light. Swift brings up the incident where Gyllenhaal skips her 21st birthday — an offense detailed in another “Red” track, “The Moment I Knew” — and recalls his trying to impress her father by telling “self-effacing jokes, sipping coffee like you were on a late-night show.”
“You said if we had been closer in age, maybe it would have been fine, and that made me want to die,” Swift sings, further twisting the knife with, “I was never good at telling jokes, but the punchline goes, ‘I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age.’” (Gyllenhaal, now 40, is dating 25-year-old model Jeanne Cadieu.)
Perhaps the most surprising fact of the impact of “All Too Well” was that it was just an album track. Swift said as much during the Rolling Stone podcast, adding that she didn’t expect the song to take on a life of its own, primarily because it wasn’t a radio single and didn’t have a music video. She was shocked when fans started constantly requesting it.
“I truly can’t believe it now when I play it live and everybody in the crowd knows every word,” Swift said. “That’s one of the most beautiful things about this album for me when I look back on it: Like, wow, I really didn’t pick that one. I thought it was too dark, too sad, too intense … so it’s fun when things surprise you like that.”