Most people probably wouldn’t thank their lover’s exes. But Taylor Swift does just that in, “All of the Girls You’ve Loved Before,” a new single released to kick off her Eras Tour.
Swift is no stranger to telling tales of her exes, or her partner’s exes, though she usually tends to scorn them. She implies that she’s better than past lovers, asking her partner if “the girls back home touch you like I do?” in “Delicate” and assuring that they will “never find another like me” in “ME!”. Even though the latter was on Lover (2019)—the same album “All of the Girls You’ve Loved Before” was supposed to be on before it got scrapped—on her most recent release, Swift seems to leave this petty thinking behind and instead opts to look at the bright side.
In its essence, “All of the Girls You’ve Loved Before” is quite literally a love letter to all of the girls her partner has loved before. This list mentions teenage exes, mothers, and more, all of whom have shaped the way her lover loves her. Rather than feeling jealous (a la “End Game” or “Gorgeous”) or anxious (think “The Archer”), Swift instead expresses her feeling of security in her relationship, believing that these past loves ultimately brought her and her lover to where they are now. As many believe this song to be about Swift’s current boyfriend, actor Joe Alwyn, it’s clear to see that they’ve still been going strong—this year will mark their seven-year anniversary.
Swift originally announced her new release through an Instagram story posted on the eve of her first show: “In celebration of The Eras Tour I’m releasing 4 previously unreleased songs tonight at midnight,” This list included three Taylor’s Version songs: “Eyes Open (Taylor’s Version),” “Safe and Sound (Taylor’s Version)” featuring Joy Williams and John Paul White, and “If This Was a Movie (Taylor’s Version).” All three are timely releases. The original versions of “Safe and Sound” and “Eyes Open” were on the Hunger Games (2012) soundtrack, and these rerecordings coincide with the film trilogy becoming available on Netflix earlier this month. Plus, the first “If This Was a Movie” was originally found in the deluxe edition of Speak Now (2010), an album Swift keeps teasing the Taylor’s version release of (even if she recycled the Fearless (Taylor’s Version) album cover for the single cover).
The only song that doesn’t tie to any other media is “All of the Girls You’ve Loved Before.” It’s not associated with any films and was supposed to be on Lover—the first album she entirely owned herself—meaning that this not a rerelease either. Even if this was meant to commemorate the start of her tour as Swift said, the timing still seems off, especially when the song began circulating a few weeks prior.
A leaked version of the single began spreading throughout social media in early March. Though fans finding unreleased music is not unheard of, it still threw some people off that a major artist or her team couldn’t control access to her work. Before the song was officially released, it was already a trending sound on TikTok, always a new upload popping up each time it was copyrighted. It was also bestowed one of the highest honors of virality: a sped-up (or nightcore) version (used primarily for edits).
With the widespread popularity it was garnering, it makes sense that Swift, nicknamed the capitalist queen, would want to profit off of the song. It was strategically best to strike while the iron was still hot. However, the convenient timing of the song’s leaks, only weeks before her tour, led others to speculate that Swift herself chose to disperse it throughout the internet in order to create hype. Either way, the marketing was successful, and the response to “All of the Girls You’ve Loved Before” has been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Listeners did have their qualms with the track being backdated all the way to 2019, causing frustration for all those who couldn’t find the new single at the top of Swift’s artist page. The same happened with the other three, which fell in the 2021 section of her discography. This makes for an interesting strategy, leaving all those anticipating new music to anxiously refresh the page in confusion while also placating those who believed that these songs belong on albums. Even if it’s not possible to add it to an album itself, backdating the tracks reminds us of what time they were meant to come from.
When comparing “All of the Girls You’ve Loved Before” to Lover as a whole, it is difficult to see why it was cut. Though it provides a juxtaposition to the more petty “I Forgot that You Existed” and the more juvenile “ME!” (which many thought should have actually been scrapped instead), it’s still reflective of Lover’s overall emotional arc. The album embodies all the aspects of what love is, from the lovey-dovey, mushy-gushy feelings of title track “Lover” to the heartbreak in “Death by a Thousand Cuts.” By the end of the album, Swift states all the ways she assumed experiencing love would be like, but concludes that “it’s golden” in “Daylight.” It is one of her more mature reflections of love, and it seems like “All of the Girls You’ve Loved Before” slots in perfectly next to it.
All of Swift’s various declarations in the song acknowledge the people that influenced her lover in one way or another to make them the person she loves. From a mother who “brought you up loyal and kind” and teenage love that “taught you there’s good in goodbye,” it’s abundantly clear that Swift is secure enough in her own relationship that she feels no need to put down the other women from her partner’s past.
Still, she can’t help but bask at least a little in the fact that all of those former relationships were a “dead-end street” leading her lover straight to her. She clarifies, in a slightly gloating tone, that “I love you more.” Even if she is thankful for all of those other exes and past loves, Swift is not giving them full credit for how her relationship turned out in the end, which is fair. To give credit where credit is due, she should also be thanking herself, which she does imply. This balance is probably the happiest—and the healthiest—she’s ever been in, and something she definitely deserves.
Besides, Swift herself is probably also part of a long list of girls that everyone else has loved before, and most likely still do.