‘All Too Well’: Why the internet developed an emotional connection to a decade-old Taylor Swift song, according to experts

  • A collective sob washed over social media when Taylor Swift released “Red (Taylor’s Version)”.
  • A highlight on the re-release of her 2012 album featured a 10-minute version of “All Too Well.”

When Taylor Swift dropped her 10-minute version of “All Too Well” on November 12, a sob washed over social media.

“The way we are all collectively crying and relating to all too well has me genuinely concerned,” one Twitter user wrote, summing up the effect Swift’s song was having on the internet generation.

“All Too Well” was originally Swift’s favorite track on her 2012 album “Red,” she told Seth Meyers in a recent interview, after writing it while on tour in 2010. Her record label didn’t want to release it as a single because they didn’t think it would be a hit. But as reported by Insider’s Callie Ahlgrim, for “Swifties” — the name given to Swift’s loyal fans — the song became a firm favorite.

The integral parts of the song are nothing new, with the chorus and chord progressions the same as the original. Yet it set the internet ablaze, with red-scarf emojis taking over Twitter in reference to one of the song’s lyrics, and fans flocking to “cancel” and even threaten the famous men they think the song is about.

The extreme online response could be down to a handful of reasons, according to experts, including the nostalgia related to songs from our past, and the intensely loyal relationship Swift has fostered between herself and those who sing, dance, and weep along to her music. We looked into why “All Too Well” hit different this time around.

There’s a scientific reason why it may have a stronger emotional pull than a brand new song

Swiftie Eve Santos, who has been a fan of Swift’s since 2009, told Insider she felt “nostalgic and emotional” when she heard the extended version of “All Too Well,” which she’d been listening to for years.

“Her songs, even when they’re decades old, always feel familiar,” she said. “She sings and writes them as if they’re about your life too.”

There may be a scientific reason why a re-release was particularly poignant.

'All Too Well': Why the internet developed an emotional connection to a decade-old Taylor Swift song, according to experts
Taylor Swift performs “All Too Well” at the 2014 Grammy Awards.Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Research has found that humans tend to hold onto the music we heard while we were growing up particularly tightly. As teenagers, hormones and intensity of feelings mean we soak up songs and the emotions behind them more than we do when we’re older.

Dr Frederick Barrett, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins who has studied the nostalgic and therapeutic powers of music, told Insider a song can be a rich kind of memory cue. Similarly to how memories can come flooding back when you walk into a house and it has the same smell as the home you grew up in, music can be “a key in a lock that unlocks a network of memories or associations,” he said.

Swift’s “All Too Well” may have dredged up a specific emotional response in people who remember it coming out when they were in their teens or early 20s, known as “period nostalgia.”

“People describe this period nostalgia as remembering a golden age, a time in the past where things were better,” Barrett said. “And so you feel kind of joy and fondness for that, but also a bit of a sense of loss about not having that anymore.”

Emily Simonian, a licensed therapist at Thriveworks in Washington DC who has a BA in contemporary music, told Insider that the new version of “All Too Well” may transport listeners back in time to their younger selves.

“In a way, you’re re-experiencing the state of mind you were in when listening to songs you liked as a kid or teenager,” she said. “It’s a somatic experience — almost like emotional time-traveling.”

Swift’s ability to engage with her fans online has created a powerful connection to her life

Swift has a powerful connection to her fans, which also contributes to why “All Too Well” was such a sensation. The music video, which Swift held a premier for, has been viewed 41 million times on YouTube.

Swift engages in a dialogue with her fanbase through Tumblr posts, memes, and more recently TikTok. Simonian told Insider it allows her to connect with them on a deeper level than many celebrities do.

“This creates the perception of a real-life closeness more like a friendship rather than just a distant celebrity idolization,” Simonian said. “This absolutely contributes to the success of her re-releases because fans are emotionally invested in Taylor in a personal and emotional way.”

Swift is famously secretive about her love life, except when it comes to her music. That’s why fans analyze and pick apart every single lyric, and search tirelessly for the Easter eggs Swift leaves for them in her album art and social media posts.

This is certainly true of Santos, who finds even more to relate to when she decodes the meaning of Swift’s songs.

“When you dissect it and connect it to other songs she’s written, they form this tapestry of stories,” she said. “She’s really making it a personal experience for us.”

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.

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