As of this writing, Taylor Swift’s ten-minute version of “All Too Well” is at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 and has been there for a week. Of course, Taylor makes great music, and this ten-minute ballad is a gorgeous song as well as apparently a juicy piece of celebrity gossip about her relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal.
But “All too well” and the Red the album as a whole is a masterpiece because it captures a very specific breaking emotion: realizing that someone doesn’t deserve you. Rather than deny the beauty of the relationship, Taylor insists her partner didn’t appreciate what they had: “You lost the only real thing you ever knew / It was rare, I was there, I remember it too well. “
Consider the relationship messages behind some of the other Top 100 songs right now. # 2 on the charts, Adele’s “Easy on Me” apologizes: “Take it easy, baby / I was still a kid / I didn’t have the chance to / Feel the world around me / I didn’t have time to choose / What I chose to do. “” Good 4 U “by Olivia Rodrigo focuses on the experience of rejection:”I lost my mind I spent the night / Crying on my bathroom floor / But you’re not affected, I really don’t understand / But I guess it’s good for you. “” STAY “, by Justin Bieber and The Kid LAROI, is the opposite of a hymn to breaking up:”Know I can’t find anyone else as good as you / I need you to stay, I need you to stay, hey.âOf course, the emotions of being rejected and wanting to get someone back are natural.
But Taylor, even in a song about rejection like “All Too Well,” is willing to dwell on those sad feelings while taking back her power in the relationship and exposing bad behavior on the other side (like being “casually cruel in the name of honesty“).
Throughout the album, Taylor makes it clear that while she’s not perfect, her standards are high and if they aren’t met, she’s happy to walk away. Many women internalize accounts that their standards are too high, that they should be ashamed to leave not only good enough relationships, but also toxic or bad ones, and that they don’t deserve to be treated with respect. To these women, Red reminds us that we don’t have to put up with all behaviors. Red shows what it feels like to have the self-confidence to leave something behind if it’s not right for you.
When knowing that you should go doesn’t make it easy
The most obvious example of this relationship message that empowers women is âBetter Man,â where Taylor ponders a relationship with a toxic ex. In the song, she embodies positive self-talk after leaving an abusive relationship, while also being realistic about the difficulty of letting go:
I know I’m probably better off alone /
Than to love a man who didn’t know what he had when he had it /
And I see the permanent damage you’ve done to me /
Never again, I just wish I could forget when it was magic.
Throughout the song, Taylor does not insist on this man’s behavior: “I know I’m probably better off on my own / Than needing a man who could change his mind / Anytime. . . your jealousy, oh I can hear it now / Talking to me like I’m still here. “But she also recognizes how much she loved this man, and how difficult it was to let him go:”I wish it wasn’t 4 in the morning standing in front of the mirror / Telling me, “You know you had to do this” / I know the bravest thing I ever did was to to run.”
For those of us familiar with the stat that it takes an average of seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship, these are powerful lines. Swift writes from the perspective of a woman who has left a relationship that she knows was not good for her, encouraging herself not to go back.
Swift’s music also makes it clear that keeping her man higher doesn’t mean she doesn’t like him. This means that she is not ready to tolerate bad behavior and is ready to face the facts when she sees that the behavior is not changing. This is the beautiful insight of the song: she misses him, and she wish he was a better man. But it is not. “We might still be in love / If you were a better man / You would have been that one / If you were a better man.“
Staying in an abusive relationship with the hope that things will improve is empowering or co-dependent behavior: “hoping they get sweet again / like it was at the beginning. “But having healthy boundaries means knowing when it’s time to say no, go out, say goodbye. With this song, Taylor shows us that it’s okay to know your worth and walk away, despite the difficulty.
The difference between being forgiving and being a doormat
“Babe” is a song about dating a cheating ex. Another song (like “Better Man”) that Taylor gave to another band and is only now recording, “Babe” is a song that emphasizes the broken promises of an unfaithful partner and recognizes that the days of second chances are over.
The opening of the song’s first verse is another example of Taylor capturing a very specific rupture emotion, which is not the rage and disdain that sometimes characterizes his rupture ballads: “What a pity / I didn’t want to be the one to run away.Like in “Better Man,” she just wishes the bad behavior hadn’t happened. She doesn’t globalize it into a huge enmity between her and her ex, but she’s also steadfast in the face of the reality that he’s crossed his border and that there are consequences to that: “what about your promises, promises?âAll of her dreams and love are still there, and they make the breakup more painful for her, but she doesn’t blame herself and sticks to the reality of the situation.
Such a waste /
Taking the pictures and the plans that we made, yeah /
And it’s strange how your face doesn’t look so innocent /
Your secret has its consequence and it’s on you, baby.
Having limits means you don’t have to give someone something you don’t want. Can you give a cheating partner a second chance? Sure. But Taylor reminds us that there is nothing wrong with having a limit here. Those who struggle with boundary issues often find it difficult to stick to something beyond personal conviction, and this song is a great model for tracking the consequences when a partner crosses boundaries: “you said no one else. . . You really blew up, baby / We don’t go through this one, baby. ”
The catchy “Girl at Home” is all about holding a stranger accountable for his behavior towards his own partner and towards her. “Don’t look at me, you have a girl at home and everyone knows itShe said, calling a man for trying to move when he was already taken.
I don’t even know her /
But I feel a responsibility to do what is honest and right /
It’s kind of like a code, yeah /
And you got closer and closer, and crossed so many lines. /
And that would be a great proposition /
If I were a stupid girl /
But darling I’m no exception /
This is what I have learned before.
Sticking to his values ââis a limit for Taylor here. She doesn’t have any illusions about being a perfect moral standard: she recognizes that she has made mistakes like this in the past. But that’s its limit, and there are consequences for “cross so many lines.”
In a way, it is more difficult to be clear on our limits with strangers. Especially as women, who are encouraged to submit and who sometimes carry the burden of the consequences of the actions of others, it can be difficult to call someone on their behavior towards us or towards others if we do not know them. . But Taylor knows that she and the other woman in this situation deserve better. Empathy for others is also empathy for herself: “And yeah, I might go with / If I hadn’t been like her once. ”
With this empathy in place, Taylor maintains her limits unequivocally: “I just want to make sure / You get it perfectly, you’re the kind of man who makes me sad. . . Call a cab, lose my number, you’re about to lose your daughter / Call a cab, lose my number, let’s consider this lesson learned.âShe owes this man nothing, and doesn’t hesitate to teach him a lesson in the process.
A mirror to the relationship challenges of modern women
As women, we don’t like to say, even in retrospect, “he didn’t deserve me.” It seems vain or self-centered. We much prefer phrases like “we just weren’t the right person” or “it’s not you, it’s me”. But Taylor, like a neutral older sister, gives the advice we sometimes need as women: you can do better. By modeling what it feels like to have high standards and be willing to say goodbye when those aren’t met, Taylor opens up that possibility to us. If someone doesn’t treat you well, you can leave.