Why Taylor Swift’s ‘All Too Well’ Deserves to Win the Song of the Year Grammy

This year’s batch of Grammy nominations, particularly for Song and Record of the Year, is one of the most boring and predictable assortment of Spotify “Top 50 – USA” entries one could assemble—plus, another Brandi Carlile tune that no one outside of the Recording Academy has heard.

It’s not that these songs are necessarily bad or undeserving of formal recognition (sans that particularly cursed DJ Khaled nomination). Beyoncé’s “BREAK MY SOUL,” Lizzo’s “About Damn Time,” and Steve Lacy’s “Bad Habit” are genuinely well-produced and deliciously nostalgic singles. And Harry Styles’ perfectly fine “As It Was” feels like it should get some sort of trophy for its yearlong chokehold on society. Still, these songs grouped together don’t really represent the best or most compelling pieces of work the industry had to offer over the past year. Nor are many of these choices even slightly surprising or idiosyncratic. (Adele scoring four noms for the culturally non-existent “comeback” single “Easy On Me”? Who would’ve guessed?)

Still, I do think one nominee for Song of the Year could make a particularly exciting and fascinating winner at February’s inevitable snoozefest of a ceremony, where Beyoncé will inevitably go home with less than she deserves, and it’s actually not “BREAK MY SOUL.” (Sorry, but it’s nominated for, like, 10 other things!) I’m talking about Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Short Film).” Yes, the music video—I mean, film—is somehow nominated in a song category.

Cue the booing! I know, I know: the idea of Swift winning yet another Grammy in the year 2023 is the exact opposite of “exciting” or “fascinating” to a large sector of people on the internet who simply don’t understand the Recording Academy’s nearly 15-year-long boner for the “Antihero” singer. (With this week’s nominations, she now boasts 46 nods and 11 wins overall.) Plus, the likelihood that she could beat Beyoncé in a major category at the Grammys yet again—and several other Black artists—will most likely continue a series of conversations about racism and favoritism within the routinely stubborn voting body.

However, Swift’s decision to revisit and broaden what’s arguably her most acclaimed ballad on Red (Taylor’s Version) last November was one of the most interesting artistic endeavors to come out of a lukewarm year of formulaic pop hits. (While I think the “short film” was a commendable effort, I’m solely talking about the song itself.)

Swift’s decision to revisit and broaden what’s arguably her most acclaimed ballad was one of the most interesting artistic endeavors to come out of a lukewarm year of formulaic pop hits.

In our current media landscape that appeases short attention spans, a 10-minute-long power ballad consuming the culture and dominating the charts—even if it’s sung by the most popular woman on the planet—is momentous. Likewise, I interpreted this achievement as an inadvertent middle-finger to the sped-up TikTok remixes currently ruining artists’ lives, in addition to Swift having a lot to get off her chest about a certain Brokeback Mountain actor. I guess I’m hoping that the Grammys rewarding this song will be the first step in dismantling bite-size video culture.

While Swift’s presence in pop culture is nearly inescapable—including now in the midst of a national Ticketmaster disaster—there was something refreshing about the anticipation leading up to the re-recording of “All Too Well” as opposed to having it force-fed to the public through social media, like some of the other nominees (ahem, “As It Was”). There’s also the fact that the extended song is just plain good and an improvement on the original track, from Swift’s increasingly impressive vocal performance to classically memorable lyrics like “I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age,” or the smirking mention of her ex-lover’s “‘fuck the patriarchy’ keychain.”

Then, of course, there’s the story within the song. Though it becomes rather syrupy toward the end (like much of Swift’s writing), it manages to painfully illustrate the experience of being a young woman in love with a cold, older man— and the inherent power imbalance of that kind of relationship—in a more cutting way than the original track. The sharp, seasoned perspective she brings to the song’s addendum feels like the product of hindsight, although she claims the new lyrics are drafts from when she first wrote it over a decade ago.

On a more cynical note, it’s also just a clever marketing move to reissue a song about a short-lived, fever-dream romance with one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. It’s the perfect marriage of Swift’s interest in interrogating the female experience and the more calculated, business-minded side of the pop star.

Additionally, I should mention that while I identify as a Swiftie, I was never particularly in love with the original “All Too Well.” For a long time, I was actually confused when critics referred to it as her magnum opus, as opposed to something off of her breakthrough album Speak Now or her first full-bodied venture into pop, 1989. And yet, the new version of “All Too Well” and the excitement it stirred up among her fanbase converted me after just a few listens. It made me think of all the people who came to love or even discover the song through its re-recording. It was Swift doing the service TikTok provides for so many classic songs of yesteryear, except she did it all on her own.

If the Song of the Year award—which Swift has shockingly never won, despite being nominated six times—isn’t necessarily about “excellence” anymore, it should also consider the impact a song leaves behind and the statement a musician is making, either about a particular subject matter or their own artistry. The 10-minute version of “All Too Well” does both impressively. And while Swift has experienced plenty of luck in the other major categories in years past (including a record-breaking three Album of the Year wins), this victory would feel the most right.

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