‘All Too Well’, the emotional core of Taylor Swift’s 2012 album ‘Red’, was never meant to become as big as it has. As she points out at the New York premiere of a new short film that accompanies the 10-minute version of the fan favourite, “a record label didn’t pick this song as a single, we never made a video for it”.
But even in the original version, the pop megastar’s poignant narrative struck a deep chord with seemingly all who heard it. It birthed an unlikely pop culture icon in an inanimate object – the scarf she left “at [an ex’s] sister’s house / And you’ve still got it in your drawer even now”. The first incarnation cut deep with its brutally raw depictions of a romance gone west and a young woman left trying to make sense of the debris.
The 10-minute version, released last night (November 12) on the re-recorded ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’, could have gone one of two ways – its punch diluted by new verses, or given even more devastating bite. As the world discovered this morning, it was the latter – new lyrics woven into its fabric that could turn even the hardest of hearts into a quivering wreck. “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,” Swift sings at one point, adding later: “And then you wondered where it went as I reached for you / But all I felt was shame and you held my lifeless frame.”
As if that wasn’t ruinous enough, Swift has made her debut short film to go with the expanded tear-jerker and it highlights the emotional power of her unrivalled storytelling. That’s in part thanks to some electric performances from Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink and Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien, but it would be nothing without the vulnerable creativity of the songwriter herself, who also wrote the story for the short.
The film follows the storyline of the song, Sink playing a version of Swift’s scarf-wearing protagonist and O’Brien her boyfriend who’s years older than her (“Fuck that guy,” he tells the crowd at the premiere after it screens). Split into different mini acts, subtitled things like “The First Crack In The Glass” and “The Reeling”, the added dramatic depiction makes sure that, if Swift’s words previously left you unaffected, there’s no danger of you escaping unblemished now. Cinema staff handing out packets of ‘All Too Well’ tissues before the screening began was, in hindsight, a very necessary move.
Even as she’s transforming the song into a short film, though, Swift still has more twists up her sleeve. When she appears as the older version of Sink’s character at the end of the movie, she inhabits a role that veers from the pop star you might expect. It’s a subtle shift, but one that proves once again that Swift is always searching for ways to give her storytelling new life – and, so far, is the undisputed champion of that approach.