Why Taylor Swift's 'All Too Well' Defines a Generation of Listeners

Let me set the scene for you: it's 2012, your seventh grade crush Josh just told all of his friends he likes Emily (not you), and you're going home from a 4:30 soccer practice at the end of fall. Leaves are crunchy and brown and you are contemplating why you ever agreed to go to the mall with Emily because it's her fault Josh doesn't want to go to the new Harry Potter release with you Sunday. You throw on Taylor Swift's "All Too Well" while you take your dog for a walk, wondering what you could have ever done to turn Josh away. 

Sounds familiar, right? 

Or do you prefer the college version of the song, screaming the lyrics in the shower at 10p.m. - not because your sad, but because it feels so good to let it out. 

phone with picture of taylor swift's red on the screen Photo by Omid Armin from Unsplash Hate or love Taylor Swift, there is one thing you have to admit: "All Too Well" is a lyrical masterpiece. But why does it hit so hard home for so many people? 

Premiering in 2012, Taylor supposedly wrote the song about her ex-boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal and feared the song wouldn't be relatable to any of her fans. Boy, was she wrong. 

The best thing about "All Too Well" is it's applicability to pretty much every person that's ever been in a relationship, ever. Nothing about the song screams 2010's or young love or lustful romances; the demureness and simplicity of Swift's lyrics can bring any listener back to a specific moment in their life - big or small. 

Oh, your sweet disposition and my wide-eyed gaze

We're singing in the car, getting lost upstate

Autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place 

And I can picture it after all these days 

Each verse brings a different stage of a relationship into view: her first verse focuses on the simplicity and timidness of a new and developing relationship. The kind that makes your toes curl, your cheeks pink, your belly full - you don't need to have lived this exact experience Taylor sings about to understand the moment she's referring to. It makes me think of my first real date and the excitement of simply feeling real feelings for the first time. Even though this experience was years after the songs premiere, I still come back to the lyrics and remember how I felt like Taylor in that moment. 

And I know it's long gone and 

That magic's not here no more 

And I might be okay

But I'm not fine at all 

I'm telling you, this line hits so. hard. every. time. And I'm in a happy relationship! These lyrics remind you of what it feels like to struggle to move on from something - whether it be a relationship, a period in your life, or a dream. Whether you're 13 or 30, you can find something in the line that makes you reminisce on some moment in your past, big or small. You can hear the pain in Taylor's voice in her lyrical patterns (or in the gritting of my own vocal chords while I try and harmonize with Taylor in the shower). 

Maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much 

But maybe this thing was a masterpiece, 'til you tore it all up 

The amazing thing about our generation is that we're fascinated with heartbreak. We sing about it, we write about it, we dramatize it on tv and in movies: heartbreak is the foundation of our social lives. So, when Taylor recognizes the beauty that is created in any relationship - whether it lasts two hours or two years - we, just, get it. 

I want you all to sing along with this next part. Ready? Here we go. 

Red scarf on an antler Photo by Oscar Keys from Unsplash But you keep my old scarf from that very first week 

'Cause it reminds you of innocence and it smells like me 

You can't get rid of it, 'cause you remember it all too well, yeah 

'Cause there we are again, when I loved you so 

Back before you lost the one real thing you've ever known

It was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well 

Do I even have to explain myself? 

We all have that thing we can't get back from someone: whether it be a piece of clothing or a piece of yourself, we surrender something in a relationship that we can't get back. Even though that period of life has ended, we can recognize how our life has touched someone else's. And that's hard to simply "get over." 

I sang this song at 12, I sang this song at 16, and I sing it now at 20. I sang it after my first major breakup and I felt like I had taken something from my ex-boyfriend that I wasn't ready to give back. I sang this song when I was single to remind myself that romance is more than just Tinder and Snapchat. I sing this song now at 4 p.m., serenading my roommate while she does her bio homework, ruthlessly annoyed with me but shamefully singing along because she just, can't, help it. 

We grew with the song, and the song grew with us. 

The physical beauty of the song is the growth Taylor and her fans have gone through since it was originally performed in 2012. Taylor almost always performs the song on the piano: during her first performances, she almost always held back tears the entire performance (All Too Well isn't quite a short song - it's original copy was 24 minutes, but Swift cut it to six). But as Taylor and we grew older, the song became celebratory of everywhere we had been and everywhere we are going. 

So, next time you feel the urge to put on "All Too Well" while you drive home from work, let it fill you up.