We might be OK, but we’re actually not fine at all after Taylor Swift suggested that the scarf from her fan-favorite epic ballad “All Too Well” might not actually be lingering in the drawer of a former flame. In fact, the scarf with the power to remind ex-lovers of innocence and that reportedly smells like the chart-topping singer-songwriter is, according to Swift, nothing but a carefully constructed metaphor.
The revelation came during Swift’s appearance Friday evening at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the Grammy Award-winning artist was promoting her self-directed eponymous film inspired by the song. The ambitious short, which stars Stranger Things‘ Sadie Sink and The Maze Runner‘s Dylan O’Brien, follows the journey of a 21-year-old woman whose heart is shattered by an older boyfriend.
“Basically, the scarf is a metaphor, and we turned it red because red is a very important color in this album, which is called Red,” Swift said, drawing laughter from the audience. “And, I think when I say it’s a metaphor, I’m just going to stop.”
For years, Swifties have been unable to get rid of the many fan theories surrounding The Scarf — a Swiftian Easter egg that only escalated in popularity after the release of Red (Taylor’s Version) late last year. The album’s inclusion of the long-rumored 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” which painted a scathing portrait of the love affair that transformed Swift into a crumpled-up piece of paper, launched thousands of memes — many of them aimed at actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, whom fans believed to be the sister at whose house Swift left the infamous accessory. (At least Swifties have a new puzzle to keep them occupied while the singer preps for the release of her forthcoming album, Midnights, which drops Oct. 21.)
As much as the resurrection of Scarf Gate will keep Swiftie Twitter and TikTok fed for days, Swift’s hour-long interview with TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey was primarily focused on her newfound affinity for filmmaking, peppered with references to movies and directors that inspired Swift during the pandemic as she began to flex her directorial skills. (Swift name dropped an impressive list of reference points throughout the panel — including Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone and The Shape of WaterAlfred Hitchcock’s Rear WindowSydney Pollack’s The Way We WereArthur Hiller’s Love StoryRobert Benton’s Kramer vs. KramerNoah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, and the films of John Cassavetes — lest any haughty film school students feel the need to flex their cinema knowledge against the singer. Swift, as any devotee of her work knows, thoroughly believes in doing her homework.)
“It wasn’t like I woke up one day and I was like, ‘You know what I want to direct,'” she said. “I didn’t go to film school.” Yet, Swift cited her experience working on countless music videos, claiming that her long hours on set gave her an intimate look into the craft and prompted her to begin questioning why certain creative choices — such as the use of particular lighting or staging — resonated with her artistic sensibilities.
“All the decisions that you make, it’s such a beautifully collaborative process,” she said of filmmaking. “You make decisions, you know, based on your idea as to how you want it to feel, how you want it to look. And then you bring on people you trust.” Swift specifically highlighted the work of All Too Well‘s cinematographer, Rina Yang, as an instrumental force helping the singer realize her dream of shooting the film on 35mm film stock. “I brought her on early on and showed her my endless mood boards and my references, and and what I was looking for in terms of lighting and color and texture. It was pretty apparent that we both wanted to shoot on 35 millimeter. I didn’t know how to do that.” Swift added: “She really, really, really taught me a lot, and I never would have known anything at all without her.”
When asked about her recent efforts to re-record her back catalog after the master recordings for her first six albums were sold to an investment group, a time the singer called a “period of extreme despair,” Swift commented that she was eventually able to view the loss as a moment of opportunity to not only revisit her creative output, but to also reshape the aesthetic and emotional narratives of each record. The genesis of “All Too Well” from song to screen, Swift noted, was part of that journey.
“It was a song that I loved so much — but it was never chosen by, you know, an A&R team in a conference room as being a single. Nobody saw the potential in it except for the fans,” the singer said of the time when the track was first released on Red in 2012. “So, there would be no world in which I could have made a visual element to that song at that point in time. I needed 10 years of retrospect in order to know what I would even do to tell a version of that story visually — and I’m so grateful that I was able to do that, with some crazy stroke of all these different twists of fate. “
Last month, it was announced that All Too Well is eligible for submission in the Best Live Action Short category at next years’ Academy Awards, prompting questions about whether Swift will continue to pursue filmmaking alongside her music career. “I absolutely, absolutely adore telling stories this way,” she said, noting that she was open to the idea of working on a longer feature were the right opportunity to come along. However, Swift also noted that her ability to retain full creative control over a film project, especially one that involved utilizing a medium that has fallen by the wayside as digital technology has become more accessible, is a rarity for women in film. “I’m aware of the fact that I’m in an incredibly privileged place to have gotten to finance this short film independently — because when we talk about female filmmakers, I am one of them, but I also realize that there are people who are working so hard to get financing and to get any type of budget together to make the production and the projects that they want to make. So I honestly like, bow down and tip my hat to those female filmmakers.”
Additional reporting by Tatiana Siegel.