Taylor Swift talks approach to lyrics and ‘All Too Well’ while accepting NSAI’s Songwriter-Artist of the Decade Award

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Taylor Swift was honoured with the Nashville Songwriters Association International’s Songwriter-Artist of the Decade Award at the NSAI’s annual ceremony on Tuesday (September 20) night.

Accepting the award at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Swift gave a 13-minute speech in which she discussed her approach to songwriting, re-recording her first six studio albums following her much-publicised masters dispute, the extended version of ‘All Too Well’ that appeared on ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’ last year and more.

“I’m up here receiving this beautiful award for a decade of work, and I can’t possibly explain how nice that feels. Because the way I see it, this is an award that celebrates a culmination of moments,” Swift said when accepting the award, as transcribed by Pitchfork.

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“Challenges. Gauntlets laid down. Albums I’m proud of. Triumphs. Strokes of luck or misfortune. Loud, embarrassing errors and the subsequent recovery from those mistakes, and the lessons learned from all of it.

“This award celebrates my family and my co-writers and my team. My friends and my fiercest fans and my harshest detractors and everyone who entered my life or left it. Because when it comes to my songwriting and my life, they are one and the same.”

Taylor Swift attends the NSAI 2022 Nashville Songwriter Awards. Credit: Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

Swift went on to describe how she writes lyrics, explaining she breaks them down into three distinct genre categories – “quill”, “fountain pen” and “glitter gel” – based on which writing implement she imagines having in her hand when writing them down.

“Quill” lyrics, she said, are songs written if the words and phrasings used are “antiquated”, if she was “inspired to write it after reading Charlotte Brontë or after watching a movie where everyone is wearing poet shirts and corsets”. Swift went on to recite a section of lyrics from ‘Ivy’, taken from 2020’s ‘Evermore’, as an example of such lyrics.

“Fountain pen” style lyrics, meanwhile, are those that have “a modern storyline or references, with a poetic twist,” Swift said. “Taking a common phrase and flipping its meaning. Trying to paint a vivid picture of a situation, down to the chipped paint on the door frame and the incense dust on the vinyl shelf. Placing yourself and whoever is listening right there in the room where it all happened.”

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Categorising songs in the style as sounding like “confessions scribbled and sealed in an envelope, but too brutally honest to ever send”, Swift cited ‘All Too Well’ as an example.

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Finally, Swift said, “glitter gel pen” lyrics were those that were “frivolous, carefree, bouncy, syncopated perfectly to the beat”, and which “don’t care if you don’t take them seriously because they don’t take themselves seriously”.

Going on to to describe them as “the drunk girl at the party who tells you that you look like an angel in the bathroom”, Swift then recited the bridge from 2014’s ‘Shake It Off’ as an example of those lyrics.

“Writing songs is my life’s work and my hobby and my never-ending thrill. I am moved beyond words that you, my peers, decided to honour me in this way for work I’d still be doing if I had never been recognised for it.”

Swift went on to discuss who she’s been on a “joyride down memory lane” of late, re-recording her first six albums. “Part of my re-recording process has included adding songs that never made the original albums, but songs I hated to leave behind,” Swift said. “I’ve gone back and recorded a bunch of them for my version of my albums.”

Swift then recounted the history of her song ‘All Too Well’, which originally appeared on her 2012 album ‘Red’, and was re-recorded as an extended version with original verses that were previously cut down, and extra bridges, nearly a decade later, for last year’s ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’.

“I never could’ve imagined when we wrote it that that song would be resurfacing ten years later,” Swift said. “But a song can defy logic or time. A good song transports you to your truest feelings and translates those feelings for you. A good song stays with you even when people or feelings don’t.

“Writing songs is a calling and getting to call it your career makes you very lucky. You have to be grateful every day for it, and all the people who thought your words might be worth listening to. This town is the school that taught me that. To be honoured by you means more than any genre of my lyrics could ever say. Thank you.” Swift then performed the full, 10-minute-long version of ‘All Too Well’ live.

‘Midnights’, Swift’s 10th studio album, is set to arrive next month on October 21. She first announced the forthcoming record – the follow-up to 2020’s ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’ – at the MTV Video Music Awards last month. The singer recently revealed that she worked with previous collaborator Jack Antonoff on the album.