Last Saturday, Taylor Swift performed a ten minute, extended rendition of her bitter break up song from 2012, entitled ‘All Too Well,’ on the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. The performance was enhanced by a short feature film playing in the background, and the incredibly personal tribute to her past relationship was met with an overwhelmingly good response— as fans tried to decipher both the implicit meaning of the song, and enjoyed the deeply personal glimpse at a relationship that has for a long time been kept a Hollywood secret.
That relationship, of course, was the singer’s brief romance with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, best known for starring in films such as Brokeback Mountain and Donnie Darko; the actor has for a long time, made an effort to keep his private life a secret. And although he only dated Taylor Swift for a few months back in 2010, the actor was still touchy about the subject when asked about it even as late as 2017. Swift, who was 20 during the romance, was best known for her wildly popular, and deeply personal, breakup songs. This seemed antithetical to Gyllenhaal’s whole style, so it made sense that upon the initial release of her 2012 album entitled ‘Red,’ the song was cut to about half its length— with the deeply personal components kept out.
However, that was then and this is now. And since Taylor Swift began to fight her former label for ownership rights to her songs, she has been releasing music on her terms— and not anyone else’s. To a certain extent, this effort has involved rewriting the history of Taylor Swift, and rediscovering the complex human being behind the lyrics that enthralled an entire generation of ‘Swifties.’
The new, ten minute long version of ‘All Too Well’ comes off as an angrier, more resilient and defiant song than its predecessor— a change that indicates deeply personal changes within the singer’s own life within the past ten years. During her performance on Saturday Night Live, the singer appeared aggressive and rebellious, standing alone on the stage with just a guitar, belting zingers towards Gyllenhaal with her short film playing in the background. Much like all of her other re-releases, the new versions have become indicative not only of Taylor Swift’s growth as an artist over the course of the last ten years— but of her growth as a human being.
With that being said, the song was full of zinger’s aimed towards her former beau— including a line in which she observes: “And I was never good at telling jokes but the punch line goes / I’ll get older but your lovers stay my age”— a reference to Gyllenhaal’s penchant for younger women (his current girlfriend is 25 and he is 40).
So overall, the song stands as more than just a breakup song. It is a song about a person trying to make sense of a relationship that was built on an unequal power equilibrium. It is a song about a person trying to maintain their equilibrium after being subjected to an unstable relationship which she was at first unable to perceive. Because of this, the song seems to age with the singer, and only continues to grow as she herself matures.