Taylor Swift fans were forever changed when she released the song “All Too Well” on her album Red in 2012. From the moment the five-plus minute song came out, fans were instantly transported into the history of one of Taylor’s past romances. Like with most of Taylor’s songs, “All Too Well” was based on a true story from her life, but the specificities in the lyrics took things to a level that no other Taylor song had gone to before.
“All Too Well” [was difficult to write emotionally] because it took me a really long time to filter through everything I wanted to put in the song without it being a 10 minute song, which you can’t put on an album,” Taylor explained in 2012. “I wanted a story that could work in the form of a song and I called my co-writer LizRose and said, ‘Come over, we gotta filter this down.’ And it took me a really long time to get it.”
The History of ‘All Too Well’
Taylor first released “All Too Well” on her album Red in 2012 and it was instantly a fan favorite. “It was a day when I was just, like, a broken human, walking into rehearsal, just feeling terrible about what was going on in my personal life,” Taylor said on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums podcast in 2020. “I just started playing four chords over and over again and the band started kicking in. People just started playing along with me, I think they could tell I was really going through it. I just started singing and riffing and ab-libbing this song that basically was “All Too Well.” It literally just was that song, but it had probably seven extra verses and it included the f-word.”
This wasn’t the first time that it had been publicly revealed that “All Too Well” was originally much longer than the 5 minutes and 29 seconds that fans heard on Red. For years, Swifties begged Taylor to release the full, ten-minute version, and in 2021, they finally got their wish. At the end of 2020, Taylor began the process of re-recording her first six albums so she could earn the rights to the songs. In addition to re-recording all the original songs, Taylor also included previously un-released songs that didn’t make the albums the first time around. When she dropped Red (Taylor’s Version) in Nov. 2021, that included the full, 10-minute version of “All Too Well.”
Taylor did this as a gift to her fans, who helped the song take on a life of its own over the years. Taylor even performed “All Too Well” at the 2014 Grammy Awards, despite the fact that it was never a single. “It’s fun when things surprise you like that,” she admitted. Taylor wrote “All Too Well” when she was in one of her most heartbroken states, but has said that the song now brings her joy because of the way her fans have reacted to it.
In addition to dropping a 10-minute audio version of “All Too Well” in Nov. 2021, Taylor also released a short film for the song. The film stars Dylan O’Brien and Sadie Sink in the lead roles, with Taylor also popping in at the end for a surprise appearance. She performed the full 10-minute version on Saturday Night Live in an unprecedented performance, as well.
Who Is ‘All Too Well’ By Taylor Swift Written About?
It’s no secret that Taylor wrote “All Too Well” about her brief relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal. Even though Taylor has never explicitly said this herself, there are many, many hints that point to Jake. The very first clue was in Taylor’s album liner notes for Red. Back in the day, Taylor used to capitalize certain letters in the lyrics that were written out in the liner of her records. The capitalized letters always spelled out a hidden message that was meant to give more insight into who or what the song was about. For “All Too Well,” the liner note was “Maple Lattes.” When Taylor and Jake were dating, they were photographed carrying coffee cups while strolling around New York City, and a coffee shop employee confirmed to People at the time that they ordered specialty maple lattes during their visit to the store on Thanksgiving Day 2010.
Of course, the song was also released on the first album Taylor dropped following her breakup from Jake. Many of the songs on Red are seemingly about the handsome actor. However, “All Too Well” tells the full story of the pair’s relationship, and the 10-minute version adds even more insight.
The very first verse of “All Too Well” references the Thanksgiving that Taylor and Jake spent together in 2010. After getting maple lattes, they spent the holiday with his sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal, in Brooklyn. “I left my scarf there, at your sister’s house and you still got it, in your drawer, even now,” Taylor sings, referencing the black scarf she was wearing that day. The “scarf” has become an important symbol for Swifties.
In the second verse, Taylor continues, “You used to be a little kid with glasses in a twin-sized bed,” and yes, Jake did have glasses when he was a kid — we’ve seen the photos to prove it! In the 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” Taylor gives another direct hint about Jake, singing, “You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine, and that made me want to die.” The exes have a nine-year age gap. She referenced their ages again later in the song, adding, “I was never good at telling jokes, but the punchline goes, I get older but your lovers stay my age.” Jake’s current girlfriend, Jeanne Cadieu, is only 26 years old.
The 10 minute version of “All Too Well” also references Brooklyn, where Taylor spent a lot of time with Jake. She also sings about the song’s subject missing her 21st birthday party, and Taylor turned 21 amidst her relationship with Jake. Another Red song, “The Moment I Knew,” is about this specific heartbreak, as well.
Taylor Swift & Jake Gyllenhaal’s Relationship History
Taylor and Jake first dated for three months between October 2010 and January 2011. She was 20 and he was 29 when they first got together. The two were first linked when they were spotted at Saturday Night Live together in Oct. 2010. Although the two mostly kept their relationship out of the public eye, they were photographed strolling around New York City together on Thanksgiving 2010. Taylor was also seen with Jake’s sister, Maggie, on the holiday. Reports of their breakup first surfaced in Jan. 2011, with Us Weekly reporting, “Jake just told her it wasn’t working out. Taylor is really upset and hurt. She feels really burned by him.”
However, the “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” lyrics reveal that Taylor and Jake tried to secretly reconnect a few months after breaking up. “You never called it what it was, ’til we were dead and gone and buried, check the pulse and come back swearin’ it’s the same, after three months in the grave,” Taylor sings on the song. Later on, she croons about how Jake didn’t want anyone to know about how they were giving things another go. “There we are again when nobody had to know, you kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath,” she reveals.
Red also featured the song “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which is also speculated to be about Jake. The song title says it all, with the lyrics telling the story of an ex who wants to get back together time and time again — only, finally, the narrator is no longer having it. This tracks with the theory that Taylor and Jake had gotten back together before she called it off for good.
What Did Jake Gyllenhaal Say About ‘All Too Well?
In February 2022, Jake addressed “All Too Well” for the first time. “It has nothing to do with me,” he told Esquire. “It’s about her relationship with her fans. It is her expression. Artists tap into personal experiences for inspiration, and I don’t begrudge anyone that.” Despite his level-headed response, Jake also made sure to reference the hate he’d been getting from Taylor fans over the years. “At some point, I think it’s important when supporters get unruly that we feel a responsibility to have them be civil and not allow for cyberbullying in one’s name,” he said. However, he also made it clear that his life had not been threatened by Taylor’s fans.
Meanwhile, during a 2017 interview on Watch What Happens Live, Maggie was asked if she still had Taylor’s scarf at her house. “I never understood why everybody asked me about this scarf,” Maggie admitted. “What is this?” Andy Cohen explained the situation, and Maggie still played coy. “I am in the dark about the scarf,” she said. “It’s totally possible. I don’t know. I have been asked this before.” Of course, a deeper read of the lyrics reveal that it’s JAKE who is supposed to have the scarf (in his drawer), not Maggie!
During a 2013 interview, Taylor also revealed Jake’s reaction to the Red album in general. Although she didn’t name him directly in the interview, it’s widely theorized that her quote was about him, due to most of the album being about him. “He was like, ‘I just listened to the album and that was a really bittersweet experience for me. It was like going through a photo album,'” Taylor recalled. “That was nice. Nicer than, like, the ranting crazy e-mails I got from this one dude.”