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Writer and musician Eilish Gilligan talks about the new release of Red, how the Taylor’s Version project is transforming the music industry, and the unique relationship she has with her fans.

How Taylor Swift won by taking control of the narrative



Last week Taylor Swift re-released one of her most critically acclaimed albums, Red. The re-recording is the result of a complicated financial and legal battle over who owns the rights to the original versions of her songs.

Red (Taylor’s Version) features all of the songs on the original album, plus a bunch of new tracks and a 10 minute long version of her iconic song ‘All Too Well’, where she takes some pretty pointed shots at a very famous ex-boyfriend.

This week on The Culture, we’re joined by writer and musician Eilish Gilligan to talk about the new release of Red, how the Taylor’s Version project is transforming the music industry, and the unique relationship she has with her fans.

Guest: Eilish Gilligan, musician and writer

Show Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

OSMAN:

Hey there, welcome to The Culture, a weekly show about the latest in the world of pop culture, arts, entertainment and leaving your scarf at your ex-boyfriend’s sister’s house!

I’m Osman Faruqi, and for the past few days I have been slowly losing my mind trying to decode all the hidden messages, secret lyrics and easter eggs planted by Taylor Swift in the re-release of her critically acclaimed and phenomenally successful album, Red.

‘Red’ is Taylor’s fourth studio album, and it was recorded and released a decade ago. It marked a turning point for the artist, as Swift started to shift away from country, and more fully embraced pop - producing hugely successful tracks like ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ and ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’.

Last week Taylor Swift released a new version of Red, called Taylor’s version, it’s the result of a complicated financial and legal battle over who owns the rights to the original versions of her songs.

Red (Taylor’s Version) features all of the songs on the original album, re-recorded by Taylor Swift. Plus, a bunch of new tracks and a 10 minute long version of her iconic song, ‘All too well’ - where she takes some pretty pointed shots at a very famous ex-boyfriend.

To talk about the new release of Red, the way that Taylor Swift is still transforming the music industry, and the unique relationship with her fans, I’m very excited to welcome to The Culture singer and songwriter Eilish Giligan. Eilish, thank you so much for coming on the show! 

EILISH: 

Thank you for letting me talk about Taylor Swift.

 

OSMAN:

I've read two of your pieces this week. You wrote a piece about how Taylor's process in terms of re-recording and re-releasing her music is a really important moment for the ownership of women artists in particular. And you've also written a very detailed, very comprehensive track by track breakdown of what every song on Red is actually about. 

 

And I'm so glad you have, because I learnt a lot, and I also want to talk about both of those things in terms of what this record, and Taylor Swift right now, kind of means in terms of music and the relationship between artists, and the work that they create. But there's a few things we need to talk to before we get there. I get the feeling having read your stuff that you're a pretty big Taylor head…

 

EILISH: 

I've been a fan of Taylor Swift, I think, from about 2012. One of the benefits of being like a chronic blogger is that you can kind of track back over when you started listening to a particular artist...

 

OSMAN:

Where do you blog?

 

EILISH: 

I used to have a blogspot...

OSMAN:

Nice. OG.

EILISH: 

...that I started-- yes, that I started in year 12, and I'm obviously like, ageing myself here. But I looked back today on a very specific blog post that I wrote about Taylor Swift just when ‘Red’ came out. 

TAPE: ‘RED’ - TAYLOR SWIFT (ORIGINAL)

EILISH: 

And I was saying stuff like...Oh, I just think she's really wholesome, and I just think, like, she writes music that's deeply accessible to the masses, which is something I'm really interested in… and like, trying to kind of defend my love of her music, which I think is something that young women such as myself had to do a lot back in the day, and less so now.

TAPE: ‘RED’ - TAYLOR SWIFT (ORIGINAL)

OSMAN:

Taylor was really important to that debate. Like, we kind of talk about poptimism now and how, like everyone loves pop music and that sort of, turning your nose up at that thing. That was such a big deal throughout most of like, music history. And I feel like Taylor Swift was sort of the face of this battle?

EILISH: 

Yeah.

OSMAN:

Her detractors were like, Oh, she's a woman doing country pop ballads, like, that's not real music. But then the case kept being made... No, no... She's an incredible songwriter, a talented performing musician. And it seems like she helped push that debate forward.

TAPE: ‘RED’ - TAYLOR SWIFT (ORIGINAL)

EILISH: 

She just kind of kept on doing what she was doing and kind of kept her blinders on in terms of just focussing on feeding her fans. And obviously, the fan base got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger over the years. But she's never really taken those blinders off, if that makes sense, even though she's like, arguably the biggest musician in the entire world and has been for several years now, everything that she does, even in press this week, she was just saying everything that she does is for the fans only.

Archival tape -- Taylor Swift:

“One of the things about the whole discussion over music ownership is that this was something that started out as a really hard thing I went through. The fans are the people who turned it into something very empowering where, when they were just saying to me over and over again…we want to listen to your versions… if you re-do it, that’s what we will listen to. 

 

So if they hadn’t done that, I don’t think I'd be having this amazing, exciting experience of being here. And you're here, and there’s a short film. And one of my favourite songs ever written. And so, that’s all the fans doing. So this is really... I just wanted to think about what I could do over the course of one week that would make them as happy… or try to make them as happy as me. 

 

OSMAN:

So, let's talk about the fact that she's re-releasing her music. That's ultimately why we're here, why we're talking about ‘Red’, the ‘Red’ re-release has just come out. It's the second of her album she's re-released. Earlier this year, she re-released ‘Fearless’. I kind of went mad when that album came out. Like I was, I was so fascinated by the concept of an artist re-releasing music they made, like, ten years ago. And I remember ‘Like a love story’, which is a song I really like of hers, and I listened to both versions back to back for like... eight hours. 

TAPE: ‘LOVE STORY’ - TAYLOR SWIFT (TAYLOR’S VERSION)

OSMAN:

And I'm like, What is different here?

EILISH: 

Yeah.

OSMAN:

And the closest I could come up with was like, maybe the strings are a little bit louder in the mix, but now I think I'm going crazy. I can't really tell anymore. I want to get into this, this discussion about what it means to re-release music both from, like, a kind of commercial artistic perspective, as well as just what it sounds like as a listener. 

 

But the story behind the decision to release the music is kind of fascinating, not even kind of fascinating. One of the most interesting music stories of all time. There's so many layers to it. We could talk about it for three hours. But I think, I'd love to hear you kind of break down how we got to a point, and what the main the main reasons are for us now being at a point in 2021, where Taylor Swift, one of the biggest pop artists of all time, is choosing to spend so much time and energy and resources to re-record and re-release her albums. Where do we start with this? 

EILISH: 

Well, it starts when Taylor Swift was 15... [Chuckles]

OSMAN:

Great place to start.

EILISH: 

And she signed a deal with a man called Scott Borchetta, and he is the CEO, owner, director, of a record label called Big Machine. So she signed a 13 year deal. And that is obviously a very long contract…

 

OSMAN:

Like that almost the entire life, she'd lived up until that point as a 15 year old, the idea of signing away the next 13 years of your life is pretty extraordinary.

 

EILISH: 

Yeah, I mean it's the way that the music industry used to work back then, and it doesn't anymore, thankfully. Oh, well, it does for some people, but it's much less common to see those kind of contracts now. So she signed this really long deal, and in signing that deal, she signed away her master recordings. So, this is where it gets a little bit confusing. Master recordings are the original recording of a song. So for example, ‘You Belong With Me’, the version that was recorded in 2006, or whenever it was recorded... that version. Taylor Swift is able to re-record her masters, or different masters, because she owns the copyright to the actual song. 

 

OSMAN:

Right.

 

EILISH: 

Does that make sense? 

 

OSMAN:

But that, that specific recording recorded in that studio at that time that was released belongs to the label Big Machine. Yes, but the lyrics, the music to it, that's Taylor Swift that she can record later on whenever she wants.

 

EILISH: 

Exactly. So all those masters held by Big Machine, owned by Big Machine in perpetuity, blah blah blah. So...

 

OSMAN:

And whenever someone buys that or streams it, that record label gets a significant chunk of the money?

 

EILISH: 

Yes. Exactly. 

 

OSMAN:

Ok.

 

EILISH: 

And if anyone wants to put it in their movie, then they have to pay money to whoever owns that master recording. So come 2019. Taylor Swift's album deal with Big Machine wraps up. She's fulfilled her duties to them, and she's moved on to Universal now. And the deal that she signed with Universal, actually, just as a fun kind of a side - she owns her masters, in that deal. So she owns ‘Lover’, which is the next album that came out on that label. She owns ‘Folklore’, She owns ‘Evermore’.

 

OSMAN:

And that's pretty unusual, right? 

 

EILISH: 

Yes!

 

OSMAN:

Most artists are unable to do that.

 

EILISH: 

Absolutely, that's, like, really unusual and a part of her signing that deal. I remember she made a big Instagram post about it. She wrote this whole long thing. And in that long post, she said, I'm really interested in advocating for artists rights, and this is something that's very special to me, and I'm very happy to say that I own all future master recordings under this deal with Universal. So that was a huge thing at the time as well. And then in 2019, Big Machine was acquired by Scooter Braun.

 

Archival tape -- Taylor Swift:

The bad blood singer calling it “my worst case scenario” blasting Braun who she alleges, “publicly bullied her” along with Bieber and West. Just this weekend, it was announced that Braun acquired her former label Big Machine. Which owns so many of her deeply personal recordings for 3 million dollars. In a passionate and unfiltered tumblr post - Swift writing “my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it”. 

 

EILISH: 

Scooter Braun is very well known for managing Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, and he is a huge player in the music industry. He also helped facilitate Kanye West's music video ‘Famous’, in which Taylor Swift is depicted as a naked body. He was working with Kanye West at the time, and Taylor Swift alleges that he bullied her on social media alongside Justin Bieber when the whole Kim Kardashian Snake Day thing was happening.

 

OSMAN:

We don't really have time to explain that whole thing. 

 

EILISH: 

No we don’t… [Laughs]

 

OSMAN:

If you want to, if you're listening, you should take a break and just Google, Kim, Kanye, Taylor, Snake - do it. But I think the point there is that Taylor has a very, very, very checkered relationship with both Kanye and Taylor that involves the VMAs and involves leaked messages. It goes deep. And so, Scooter Braun is a guy who, for all intents and purposes, is sort of sides with Kim and Kanye. 

 

EILISH: 

Yes.

 

OSMAN:

And he then ends up owning master recordings for her first 13 years worth of music.

 

EILISH: 

I think the thing actually that happens after that is also kind of interesting and representative of what Taylor Swift is kind of fighting against here. 

 

OSMAN:

Hmm. 

 

EILISH: 

So basically a year or so down the line, Scooter Braun actually sold Big Machine because he acquired Big Machine, the original record label that Taylor Swift signed to, which meant that he acquired her masters... her original masters. And then he ended up actually selling Big Machine, selling the Masters to Shamrock Holdings, which now, funnily enough, is owned by Disney. 

 

OSMAN:

[Laughs]

 

EILISH: 

So…[Laughs]... it's a very long story. It's very complicated. But I think the main point here is that Taylor Swift, the writer of these songs, the person, the reason why these songs exist, does not own these masters. And she tried to get them back, according to her allegedly…

 

OSMAN:

Off Scooter Braun…

 

EILISH: 

Off Scooter Braun and then off Shamrock Holdings. And she was unable to acquire them back. Therefore, she announced the re-recording project.

Archival tape -- Taylor Swift on the Seth Meyers show:

You probably don’t know this, but most of your favourite artists do not own their work. I made it very clear that I wanted to be able to buy my own music back. That opportunity was not given to me, and it was sold to somebody else. And so I just figured - I was the one who made this music first, I can just make it again

 

Archival tape -- Seth Meyers:

Yeh

 

Archival tape -- Taylor swift: 

And so that is what we are doing. 

 

OSMAN:

It's so interesting because I remember when that news broke, you know when Taylor Swift did that Instagram post and the term masters, which you know you're in the music industry, you understand what that means. But I think for most regular people, even deep fans, this distinction between songwriting credits, and master recordings, and who owns what, we were kind of naive to it. And it sort of seems to be this kind of battle that represented so much more than just Taylor Swift VS big machine, it seemed to be really a battle about the artist owning what they make.

 

EILISH: 

Yeah

 

OSMAN:

And I think the fact that her masters are now having gone from her label, to a music manager, to a private equity company called Shamrock Holdings, to Disney, summarises so effectively that people just see that as like an asset. This is a financial thing for us to profit from.  

 

EILISH: 

Yes.

 

OSMAN:

We don't really care about the artistic integrity there and it seems like she really sparked that conversation.

 

EILISH: 

Absolutely. And I think that's why I wanted to mention that it's changed hands a few times, because I think it gets all caught up in this like, very similar to how people get very caught up in the idea of like Taylor Swift wrote this song about Jake Gyllenhaal, and it's all about like name dropping all this stuff. It's not so much about her ‘feud’, quote unquote with Scooter Braun, per se. It's more about the fact that her master recordings, the things that she slaved over, the things that she made, are being kind of handed around like hot potatoes amongst very, very, very rich people

 

OSMAN:

As the result of a deal she signed when she was 15. 

 

EILISH: 

Exactly!

 

OSMAN:

Which I think is important.

 

EILISH: 

Exactly not to say that, like Taylor Swift isn’t a very, very rich person. And I know some more sceptical people amongst the music community are kind of saying that, Oh, she's just doing it as a cash grab and like, blah blah blah - Honestly, as someone who has been screwed over by the music industry, even at a tiny level, tiny independent level compared to Taylor Swift, it is just nice to see somebody put their foot down. Someone who is arguably the most powerful musician in the world right now and a woman just say, ‘no, no, we're not doing this, I'm really upset that I can't get my masters back and I'll just make new ones because I have the resources to do that and the fan base who will follow me on that journey’.

 

OSMAN:

Yeah, and it's not the only time Taylor has kind of used her clout and standing to kind of cause a seismic shift in the music industry. A few years ago, Apple Music had a policy of not paying artists royalties when their music was streamed by people who were under a trial period for Apple Music. Taylor said, well, you're not going to get my music if you do that. And Apple then reversed its position. And yeah, that benefits her. But it also benefits every musician who was being screwed over by that system. 

 

EILISH: 

Yeah.

 

OSMAN:

I think it's such an interesting debate - what you're referencing - this idea that she's so rich, she's so successful, this is just about her making more money. And it's kind of like both things can be true to an extent, like she is very rich. She's a very successful re-recording her own music and re-releasing it means that she now gets all the money from it. But it has also started a really important conversation, and I don't know how much it's flowing through yet. But if younger artists coming up through the scene now are aware of this, you can imagine 15 years ago when your Taylor Swift new signings record master recordings, whatever, what does that matter? You know, the whole concept of the value of music now is so different to what it was back then. 

 

EILISH: 

Yeah.

 

OSMAN:

And if younger artists are coming through and saying ‘no, no masses are important to me,’ and they are striking deals with labels where they own that, that seems to be a good thing. 

 

EILISH: 

It's important, because it's very difficult to make money as a musician and master recordings, earning the rights to your own master recordings is a way to make money in the music industry just straight up and down. So yes, it's really important, and I know she could be doing more. I know it's like she could be using the money from the re-recordings to fund legal funds of artists who are trapped in contracts. And I think that's very true, and maybe she should be doing that. But at the same time, we're still having this conversation, which I think is really good. And I know a lot of people, like even my own family, messaged me and said, like, ‘Oh, I read that piece where you explained what Taylor Swift is doing those re-recordings’. I get it now. You know, that's important. And that is important, I think.

 

OSMAN:

Coming up after the break we get stuck into why Red is one of Taylor’s best albums.

[Advertisement]

 

OSMAN:

Ok, so before we go deep on the re-release of Red, let’s talk about the original album. It was a pivot point for Taylor. She’d experimented a little bit with a more poppy sound before, after building up a career as a country singer, but on Red she went all out collaborating with producers like Max Martin and Shellback, these huge Swedish pop superstars who have worked with some of the biggest acts of the past decade.

 

There was a lot of pushback to that at the time. Particularly when people heard those first singles like ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’, which a lot of fans thought was too different. Red was the album that you said made you a Swiftie, what about the album captured you?

 

EILISH: 

Well, when I first listened to it, I do remember obviously 'All too well' being the stand out.

TAPE: 'All too well'  - TAYLOR SWIFT (ORIGINAL)

EILISH: 

I love that song to this day. It's one of the best songs ever written. And at the time I recognised that too, I think. And it's the track that prompted me to kind of go back into our catalogue and look for more of that like, country roots song like real songwriter stuff. And I found like, you know, the seeds of it and speak now and on fearless even. So, 'All too well'  has always been a standout track. ‘Red’, ‘State of Grace’,‘Holy ground’ - I think are the trilogy of brilliance. Because, obviously ‘Twenty Two’ and ‘We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together’, ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ they are straight down the line pop. That is up there, pop records.

TAPE: ‘22’ - TAYLOR SWIFT (ORIGINAL)

EILISH: 

But, what's remarkable about the track ‘Red’ and ‘State Of Grace’ and ‘Holy Ground’ is the fact that they are pop also. But they mix this gorgeous combination of like real country songwriting with beautiful pop, concise, engaging songwriting as well. And I think that's what intrigued me the most, because it's like, when you hear a really good song like that, it's like listening to...the sweetest cordial when you're a little kid and you just can't get enough, you know, like pouring it straight into the bottle, not diluting it, it's just delicious. 

 

OSMAN:

Yeah, I think that is why I enjoy this album so much as well. She's come from that country background so she knows how to tell a story, but the way she uses metaphors of the references that she uses feel really contemporary and fun. 

 

EILISH: 

Yeah.

 

OSMAN:

And now, to be honest, there are some things that I find cringe, but I still love them like, I love ‘Red’. It's maybe one of my favourite tracks on the album, but the line, you know, loving you is like driving a Maserati down a dead end street. On one level, it's a quite a nice metaphor and she does explain why it's like that. But also hearing Taylor Swift talk about driving a Maserati feels very weird as well. 

 

EILISH: 

Yes, yeah.

 

OSMAN:

I'm a big ‘Stay Stay Stay’ guy. I don't know what, just a very hopeless romantic.

TAPE: ‘STAY STAY STAY’ - TAYLOR SWIFT (ORIGINAL)

OSMAN:

And that's a song that is not unlike a lot of her songs, which are drawn from real life experiences and relationships, it's more fictional than the other stuff, and it's just beautiful. It's beautiful and it's fun. And it seems to capture something in its universality because it isn't so specifically about someone that it is super relatable. I think the album, - we were kind of talking about this just before you came into the studio - is not a perfect way to sort of separate it. But the first half of it, like ‘Said of Grace’, ‘Red’, ‘Treacherous’ 'All too well' , ‘Twenty-Two’, ‘Stay, stay Stay’, like they’re some of my favourite tracks. And then when you get towards the second half of the album, you kind of like... I don't know why Snow Patrol Guy is on this album. Even, like, I like Ed Sheeran. I don't really love that track. It kind of does start to fall away a little bit. 

 

EILISH: 

Yeah, I totally agree with you. I think like, there are some weaker moments on the original album ‘Red’, and even on the re-release, I think some of the vault tracks you can kind of see why they’re vault tracks. Not to be like... I don't want the Swifties to turn on me. I am one of them. But I feel like, yeah, there are some truly intriguing songwriting choices. And even like album curation choices on the original release of ‘Red’ that feel very speak now, like, there's a lot of that kind of, ‘come back, be here’. Even ‘Starlight’ is very speak now, and I think that, It's just a by-product of trying to bridge that gap between that real country, young, young songwriting that she was kind of used to, into like a very sophisticated, mature way of looking at pop songwriting. 

OSMAN:

So let's talk about the actual, the re-recordings themselves, the re-released music. As we said at the start of the convo, this is actually the second album she did ‘Fearless’ earlier this year. But it seems like, you know, that was obviously a very exciting moment. A lot of people listen to it, but it seems like the conversation around 'Red'  and Taylor's version of ‘Red’, the re-released version of’ ‘Red’ has kind of hit another level. 

 

The amount of discourse, articles, memes, conversation about it, just seems stratospheric, which is extraordinary, considering this album has been around for a decade. Why do you think it is? Is it because people think of ‘Red’ as this amazing record? Is it because it speaks to so many personal experiences she had? Why do you think ‘Red’ is kind of shaking up the industry again right now?

 

EILISH: 

I think because it's largely considered to be her greatest album, her most... Her biggest achievement. It's like it is that bridge between country Taylor and pop queen Taylor, like the Queen that completely overtook the music industry and is making these changes today. I think it's hard to say why the conversation about ‘Red’ is so different to the conversation about ‘Fearless’ (Taylor's version). I think because with ‘Fearless’, none of us really knew what to expect. We didn't know that there were going to be. I mean, I personally didn't know that they were going to be practically identical recordings. I think a lot of Swifties didn't know what to expect. But now we know what to expect, and we know that when she says she's going to be giving us something that's like genuine and true to the time, like all those old demos and the 10 minute version of 'All too well', we know that it's going to be as true to what her vision was at that time, but delivered 10 years later.

 

OSMAN:

Mm. One of the things that I find so fascinating about wanting to do this, especially when you're going back to records that you wrote and recorded when you were 21 or 22. I feel so cringy reading articles that I wrote a week ago. 

 

EILISH: 

[Laughing] ...Yeah...

 

OSMAN:

...Let alone the idea of going back to looking at what? Not that I'm Taylor Swift, obviously, but that's just me on my own little tiny level here. The idea of going back and not only reading or listening to songs you wrote when you were much younger, and naive, and thinking about love and life and then singing that. 

 

EILISH:

Yeah.

 

OSMAN:

...Again, I find so interesting. But, what is even more amazing... probably, is the fact that it sounds so good. Like, she has managed to capture it. And it doesn't... like the music is almost exactly the same. Her vocals sound very, very similar, there's a bit more of a richness to it. Just she’s 10 years older now. 

 

EILISH:

Yeah.

 

OSMAN:

The only tracks I think that stand out to me - as like not feeling really natural - are those pop tracks that were produced by Max Martin and Shellback. Like, ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’, ‘22’ and ‘We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together’. They sound like she's rushing through them.

TAPE: ‘WE ARE NEVER EVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER’ - TAYLOR SWIFT (TAYLOR’S VERSION)

OSMAN:

Because now she's pivoted back to more country, less pop stuff with ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’. It feels like she's almost a bit embarrassed of those songs.

 

EILISH: 

Yeah! I mean, it's so interesting because there is a timeless quality to the production on ‘Fearless’. Even ‘Speak Now’ and the more country songs on ‘Red’. I think there is a timelessness to country music in that the production and arrangements don't necessarily age as quickly as a dubstep inspired 2012 pop. 

 

Yeah [Laughs]... and I totally agree with you in terms of like, looking back on things that you did like a week ago, two weeks ago, a year ago, 10 years ago, and thinking... ‘Oh my God, I can't believe I did that, I can't believe I made that choice’. And, I think, I can totally - whether it's projected cringe, or genuine cringe - I can totally understand why Taylor would be looking back on the production, in ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’...

TAPE: ‘I KNEW YOU WERE TROUBLE’ - TAYLOR SWIFT (TAYLOR’S VERSION)

EILISH: 

...and being like, Oh God, I can't. I'm so tempted to just like, tweak this little thing and like, I really shouldn't, because this is one of my really popular songs and I want people to listen to this over the original version. So I can't change those things. But yeah, I do agree with you in that I think there's something a little less optimistic in the vocal delivery in those pop tracks, exclusively. I think the other tracks kind of a fairly timeless in their arrangements

 

OSMAN:

Out of the, the new tracks that she's released. Are there any that stand out to you that you think are like, oh wow, I wish we had this ten years ago, I'm so excited to have this on the record now?

 

EILISH: 

So, of the songs that we were given from the vault, I think ‘Babe’ and ‘Better Man’, which are both songs that she gave to other artists to release, are probably the stronger of the group. Which is interesting because, it seems like she kind of knew that in that she gave it to other artists. And I think, probably one of the other strongest songs on there is the Phoebe Bridgers duet ‘Nothing New’.

TAPE: ‘NOTHING NEW’ - TAYLOR SWIFT FT. PHOEBE BRIDGERS (TAYLOR’S VERSION)

OSMAN:

I love hearing Phoebe Bridgers on this record.

 

EILISH: 

Yeah, it's fascinating. And I think that there is something in Taylor holding that one back at that time because she probably - I think I read in the Pitchfork review for this record, perhaps she didn't want to become like a self-fulfilling prophecy by releasing this song. She didn't want to become nothing new by declaring it to be so, you know, and I think that's really fascinating. 

The rest of the vocal tracks... really fun listening. Love getting an insight into her mind at the time and bar 'All too well’, 10 minute version, I think. Probably... they're just a fun little piece of Taylor trivia to me personally, but those are the tracks that really stand out.

 

OSMAN:

the one track that I feel like we could do a 13 episode podcast series on, which is the one that has attracted the most attention, the most news stories it has crossed over into like non-Taylor land. People are talking about this and what it means for the culture. And it's one that you said was your favourite track from the original album ‘All too well’. She's released a ten minute version of this track. There is a lot to talk about this. I'm really excited to get into it. 

 

Because I've... in addition to reading your stuff about it, I've gone so deep, that so many bizarre connections here, and this is a thing that Taylor does, that is so interesting as an artist. So she has fans who love her, right? They're obsessed with her to a level that we hadn't really seen in pop music, I think. And, she knows that. Yeah, and she responds to that and she buries secret messages. She lays Easter eggs in her albums. 

 

Her lyric sheets in her, in her records have coded messages in them. She references songs in songs that she will write five years later. It's all this, It's like the meme of the... the Charlie from always sunny with that red dot... and the fans love playing those games and ‘All too well’ has always been a song that has got these messages in it and these very specific details. And now she's giving us like eight more verses. 

 

I need you to step us through the symbolism of 'All too well' . What does it mean to Taylor? What does it mean to Swifties? And why is it such a big deal that there's a ten minute version of it?

TAPE: ‘All too well’ - TAYLOR SWIFT (TAYLOR’S VERSION)

EILISH: 

It's very difficult to summarise what ‘All too well’ means. In the Taylor Swift world, I think it represents everything that people see ‘Red’ as, if that makes sense. 

TAPE: 'All too well'  - TAYLOR SWIFT (TAYLOR’S VERSION)

EILISH: 

It's a young girl who's just experienced her first real, genuine, devastating, real world heartbreak. Like Taylor Swift has said herself that ‘Red’ is her only true heartbreak album and nothing ages a young girl more than a true, devastating heartbreak…

 

OSMAN:

You delivered that with such like, emotion…

 

EILISH: 

[Laughs]

 

OSMAN:

I'm really feeling it.

 

EILISH: 

Yeah, so I think 'All too well'  represents that so crystal clear. Like it's just perfect. And weirdly, it's not been long enough that I've had to sit with the 'All too well' , 10 minute version that I can make like a true genuine kind of judgement call on it for my own personal taste, but something that I love so much about the original version of 'All too well'  is how expertly concise it is. It's been so perfectly, like tailored, for lack of a better word, like it's been taken in and the perfect moments. It offers images like the scarf and then it offers us like three separate scenes. But then at the most climactic moment of the song, it brings the scarf back again. 

TAPE: 'All too well'  - TAYLOR SWIFT (TAYLOR’S VERSION)

EILISH: 

It's perfect. Like it's perfect songwriting. And then after the scarf gets brought back, she offers back those three scenes in quick succession so that it's flashing in our minds like a film. 

TAPE: 'All too well'  - TAYLOR SWIFT (TAYLOR’S VERSION)

EILISH: 

It's a perfectly written song. So, I was somewhat nervous about a ten minute version because you cannot be concise in a ten minute song. I mean, I personally feel, but the 10 minute version is truly beautiful, like it does offer a whole new world of imagery. We get the famous “fuck the patriarchy” line, which has kind of divided a lot of music critics and fans.

 

OSMAN:

And that's also been one. So Taylor said that... there's an elephant in the room here that we're not getting to yet, but we'll get to that in a second, which is who this song is about. 

 

EILISH: 

Oh yes...

 

OSMAN:

But the “fuck the patriarchy” reference to it has - one of the interesting conversations I've seen about that - is Taylor says that, you know, she she had this ten minute version from back in 2012 when this album came out and she didn't release it. Now, I have my doubts about that.

 

EILISH: 

Yes, I agree

 

OSMAN:

Partly because I think there are some great lines on this version that I don't think you would cut. And also, there's something about the ‘fuck the patriarchy’ thing that feels very more 2021 than 2012, I think. What do you think, how, how true and does it even matter? Like when these when these verses were written

 

EILISH: 

OK, I'm going to try and be as concise as possible. Basically, the ten minute version of 'All too well'  came about because she first started coming up with the song when she was doing a soundcheck jam over these four chords that 'All too well'  is built on.

 

And I can kind of sense that in the 10 minute version, I can sense that it was like a stream of consciousness kind of rant, kind of thing. And I don't think that that's been lost. Like that feeling hasn't been lost. Whether she wrote every single word in 2012 or, whether she doctored it a little bit, or whether she completely rewrote it this year... It still feels like that sound check rant kind of thing. I think that personally, I think she's listened to the 10 minute demo or originally, her co-writer said that there was actually a 20 minute demo. I think she's listened to these long demos, and she's just shined them up a little bit personally.

 

I think she's taken inspiration from what was written back then, and then she's taken her ‘Folklore’, ‘Evermore’ kind of eye to it and perfected it a little bit. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that, necessarily. If it gives us a better version of the song, then that's awesome.

 

OSMAN:

I agree with you. I think that there's nothing wrong with that. But I think where it gets really interesting is because her fans have become so accustomed to parsing every line and every word. And this song 'All too well'  is so specifically about someone. We should just say it's a song about Jake Gyllenhaal and their brief relationship. 

 

EILISH: 

Yeah. 

 

OSMAN:

And she talks about the age gap, which I think was like 10 years at the time.

 

EILISH: 

Yeah. 

 

OSMAN:

The reference to the scarf, and poor Maggie Gyllenhaal, has kind of been sucked into this whole thing. Somehow, Jennifer Aniston is like part of this as well?

 

EILISH: 

And Anne Hathaway...

 

OSMAN:

And Anne Hathaway. So there's all these, there's all these very specific things that happened. And it is really interesting to see Taylor has built that expectation that this is what you should try and glean from my lyrics. And when she says, when she suggests that this is extra content from the time, this is kind of like the director's cut, people want to be like, Who's that line about? Who's that line about? Whereas, what it kind of seems more likely to me is that... And again, nothing like this... is great...this is what artists do; is that they draw in a range of different experiences. 

 

And I feel like even though this album and this song is specifically inspired by certain incidents, it also feels like it's shaped by a lot of things that have happened over the past 10 years.

 

EILISH: 

Yeah, I mean, it's a great point. Like, would she write the line about how all his lovers stay her age at 21 or 22 when they broke up? Like, is that something that she would have known at that point?

TAPE: 'All too well'  - TAYLOR SWIFT (TAYLOR’S VERSION)

OSMAN:

After the break we unpack Taylor Swift’s relationship with her fanbase.. And the weird and surprising ways Australian indie band The Temper Trap are connected to ‘Red’.

[Advertisement]

 

OSMAN:

The other thing about this, this song in particular, but it kind of stretches across all of ‘Red’, and I'm sure you're really across this. The way that, like the Australian band, the temper trap keeps popping up has like, kind of blown my mind.

TAPE: ‘SWEET DISPOSITION’ - TEMPER TRAP

OSMAN:

So there is a line in 'All too well' where she references Sweet Disposition, which is the biggest song with the Temper Trap. Temper Trap are apparently Jake Gyllenhaal's favourite band. 

 

EILISH: 

Yes.

OSMAN:

But there's also this other thing. So we were talking about when she releases our albums. She has like a book with all of the lyrics in them, and all the lyrics - please just jump in if I get any of this wrong…

 

EILISH: 

Yeah! No go... 

 

OSMAN:

All the lyrics are like lowercase, but then some of the letters are capital. Exactly. And if you put those letters together, each song has like a hidden message in it. 

 

EILISH: 

Yes, it’s fascinating

 

OSMAN:

And and the song ‘Treacherous’, which is the third one from ‘Red’, has the message: “won't stop till it's over”.

 

EILISH:

Yes.

 

OSMAN:

Which is also a temper trap Sweet disposition reference.

EILISH: 

Yeah!

TAPE: ‘SWEET DISPOSITION’ - TEMPER TRAP

 

OSMAN:

I went so deep. I found a video of her in 2012 saying that was her favourite song.

Archival tape -- Interviewer:

We’ve got a quick rapid fire quiz for you... So, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear these things: Favourite love song? 

 

Archival tape -- Taylor Swift:

Sweet disposition 

 

Archival tape -- Interviewer:

Oh nice! Temper Trap, Aussie band

OSMAN:

But then I found this whole other crazy thing about Harry Styles. 

 

EILISH: 

Harry, yes.

 

OSMAN:

So Harry Styles and Taylor Swift had a relationship after her and Jack, is that right? Yeah. And Harry has a temper trap tattoo on his arm

 

EILISH: 

which is embarrassing

 

OSMAN:

but it's the wrong lyric.

 

EILISH: 

It's the prior lyric to the one that is the secret message in ‘Treacherous’

 

OSMAN:

One stop til surrender?

 

EILISH: 

Yeah, yeah.

 

OSMAN:

So there's this kind of debate... and this is like, I'm explaining all of this, and it sounds crazy, and I sound like a crazy person. But what I think is so interesting is like, she's feeding these, these little, these clues to listeners. And then it sparks this debate. Is the song ‘Treacherous’? Is it about Harry or is it about Jake? 

 

EILISH: 

Yeah.

 

OSMAN:

I want to ask you what you think. And again, whether you think the whole thing even matters and it just could be about both of them, it could be that none of them... 

 

EILISH: 

Yeah totally.

 

OSMAN:

like, what are we supposed to do with all this information she's giving us?

 

EILISH: 

It’s so fascinating. I love all this stuff. I think I've reached kind of a happy medium in that I can listen to these songs and understand that when you're in a session, you sometimes make up something to write about, or sometimes you draw upon personal experience, or sometimes do a mix of both. And I think honestly, Taylor Swift has just always had this perfect relationship with her fans in that they hang on her every word since debut. Since the self-titled album Taylor Swift, she has been doing these secret messages. So, she's always been a confessional songwriter in lots of ways, and she wants people to know that. 

 

But, I think she's also understood that this is an incredibly... It's like a vacuum of a marketing tool, it's like this, the more deep you get into it, the more fascinating it is and the more weird, obscure YouTube videos you're watching, the more you're getting caught up in the Taylor Swift web and you want to know more about her, and you wonder more about her songs and more about lyrics and streaming over and over. 

 

So I think, in a very like, sceptical, cynical way, it's like the best marketing tool of all time. But at the same time, I think she's just enjoying her relationship with their fans. And I think she has like this, probably slightly unhealthy relationship with her fanbase, in that she is very open with her relationships and open with... like, not afraid to kind of take shots at somebody within her music, which she has every right to do.

 

OSMAN:

It's interesting you said that you think that's slightly unhealthy. What do you mean by that?

 

EILISH: 

Like recently, for example, because of the whole, like, uproar about Jake Gyllenhaal and everyone's like... ‘count your days, Jake Gyllenhaal!’ or whatever, and that's all very funny when you're on Twitter and like, whatever. But I saw recently that John Mayer, who is famously the subject of Taylor Swift song ‘Dear John’…

 

OSMAN:

Not subtle…

 

EILISH:

Very thinly veiled. It's like ‘Style’, her song also being about Harry Styles... 

 

Responded to one of these stands on Twitter - on Instagram sorry, and was saying, you know, very kind of coolly, but fairly politely. Do you actually want me to die? 

 

Archival tape -- Clevver News presenter:

On Monday, a fan named Allendra shared screenshots of her instagram DMs with John. The user told John to “F*ck yourself you ugly *bleep*, I hope you choke on something”. 

 

Much to Allendra’s shock, John responded to her message writing, “do you really hope that I die?” Allendra was clearly taken back by John’s response and immediately apologised, sending the singer a voice memo and an apology. Thankfully, John handled the situation well, telling Allendra, “it’s okay”, before going on to add “there was some healing here today”.

 

EILISH: 

And I do think that obviously Stan culture is very unhealthy and Swifties are notoriously vicious. And I do think that that's where the kind of unhealthy-ness of it comes in. I think that, these are obviously real people. They're very rich people, they're very famous people, but they are people. And there was a relationship there, and it's very sad that it hurt either party involved. But, in a way, Taylor Swift has kind of stood by and let her fans fight that fight for her, which I think I'm a little bit conflicted about.

 

OSMAN:

Yeah, you've identified something that I've also been confused about, and I think where I'm kind of ending up with it is, of course, Taylor Swift not only has the prerogative to write music about these experiences...

 

EILISH: 

Yeah of course...

 

OSMAN:

But she's very good at it and she should keep doing it. But.. and I guess this comes back to this theme of this conversation, I guess, is how literally should we be taking it? And she kind of wants us to take it really literally. 

 

EILISH: 

Yes, exactly. 

 

OSMAN:

And then and then the fans do, and then they act upon it. It's like, you're a person who has hurt someone we love. 

 

EILISH: 

Yes.

 

OSMAN:

We want to go at you for it. And she knows that this is going to happen. And she knows that whether or not it's literally true or whether it's like an amalgam of different experiences, that's likely to happen. And, it's by no means only her that does this right, we see this across so many different artists...

 

EILISH: 

Yeah, yeah. It's like, I love her so much. I don't want to be like, Oh, she shouldn't be writing these songs or like, whatever. I think she should be writing whatever she wants to write and doing whatever she needs to do, to keep giving us beautiful music. But I do wonder about the decision to say, put on a British accent in the spoken word section of ‘We are never, ever getting back together’, practically telling everybody that a song is about a particular person. I just think that is a little dangerous sometimes.

 

OSMAN:

So we have four more albums from the Big Machine era that are going to get re-released. We don't know what order they're going to be coming through in either, which I think is so interesting. Having had the experience of ‘Fearless’ and ‘Red’ so far, what are you hoping for? Do you want her to keep trying to stick as closely as possible to what she made at the time? Or are you hoping for more versions of things like 'All too well'  that are longer, or things from the Vault?

 

EILISH: 

I'm excited about a lot of the vault tracks that are to come. I am slightly trepidatious about ‘Reputation’ and ‘1989’. I think they are both really great albums, and I'm excited to stream her versions of them and hear vault tracks. But, I worry that they will feel dated in a similar way to ‘I knew you were trouble’.

 

OSMAN:

Because the production of both of those was so of that particular moment.

[Theme Music Starts]

EILISH: 

Yes, exactly. I'm personally the most excited about ‘Speak now’ because I think that is another example of a very young, very gifted artist honing her craft, and I'm very excited about the vault tracks for that album in particular. In terms of like, what we'll hear next, I don't really know, but I think I sense a surprise drop, somewhere within the next year or so.

 

OSMAN:

It's really great, suspenseful and the conversation. Eilish, thank you so much for talking to me about this today.

 

EILISH: 

Thank you so much for having me.

 

OSMAN:

The Culture is a weekly show from Schwartz Media.

 

It's produced by Bez Zewdie and Atticus Bastow. Our editor-in-chief is Erik Jensen, and our theme music is by Hermitude.

 

I’m Osman Faruqi, see ya next week.

Host

Osman Faruqi is a journalist and the editor of 7am, Schwartz Media’s daily news podcast.

Guest

Eilish Gilligan Musician and writer