As a songwriter, Taylor Swift is obsessed with time. She can both summon nostalgia and interrogate it, using her own reflections on how her past has impacted her present to transport her listeners. “I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22” isn’t just her party girl anthem — it’s a mission statement, and a (deliberate?) commentary on one of her great songwriting gifts: her ability to evoke different seasons of life.
This power is as evident as it’s ever been on Red (Taylor’s Version), which she released to enormous acclaim last week. While re-releasing her early albums may have begun as a shrewd business move, it has morphed into a triumphant creative challenge. She’s combing over old diaries with the wisdom of age, preserving the raw love and heartbreak of her earlier 20s while finessing the rough bumps of inexperience. And nowhere is that more apparent than on “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” — the rough draft of the fan favorite that is now here in all its unsparing scope. Ten minutes might sound like a self-indulgent b-side for only the most obsessive Swiftie, but in bringing it to SNL, Swift demonstrated why she’s made it the focal point of this release. It’s a stunner.
The background features scenes from the short film Swift wrote and directed for the song, which dramatizes the story told in the lyrics to compelling effect, but the song is evocative enough that it doesn’t really need it. Tiny details like a missing scarf and paternal bon mots are reminders of just how universal the personal can be, and this breakup anthem sinks its teeth into you and doesn’t let up for the entirety of its runtime.
On modern TV — as in modern pop — 10 minutes is an eternity. It’s doubtful that you’ll see many more 10 minute performances on Saturday Night Live. That’s probably for the best. There’s no huge need for more 10-minute songs out there, because there aren’t too many artists out there who can bend time the way Swift can.