"All You Had To Do Was Stay" — @itaylorswift13
There’s a song on my album called “All You Had to Do Was Stay.” I was having this dream, that was actually one of those embarrassing dreams, where you’re mortified in the dream, you’re like humiliated. In the dream, my ex had come to the door to beg for me to talk to him or whatever, and I opened up the door and I went to go say, “Hi,” or “What are you doing here?” or something—something normal—but all that came out was this high-pitched singing that said, “Stay!” It was almost operatic. So I wrote this song, and I used that sound in the song. Weird, right? I woke up from the dream, saying the weird part into my phone, figuring I had to include it in something because it was just too strange not to. That’s Taylor in Time again. This is, I think, the thing that makes her so compelling: she’s great at recognizing sweeping narrative, and pop hooks, and using both shamelessly, but what she has that makes her Taylor Swift is this undeniable knack for knowing when to throw in something weird, something that makes the song specifically hers. All You Had to Do Was Stay sounds like a kiss off: people like you always wants back / the love you pushed aside / but people like me are gone forever / when you say goodbye. But then in the chorus there are those frantic interjections, undercutting the coolness of all you had to do was stay—stay! Stay! Stay! It’s like the I’s in Treacherous, and I Wish You Would, and, later, I Know Places. 1989 in particular is an album full of images and phrases that repeat themselves, both in songs and between them. That repetition is the stutter of the self trying to find itself again, a head trying to navigate its own jagged landscape after a breakup. It’s obsessive, rushed, desperate for resolution and incapable of breaking its own cyclic pattern. Bon Iver’s Skinny Love distills the rupture of a breakup into a single, piercing question: if all your love is wasted, then who the hell was I? 1989 attempts to answer that question over and over again: I’m the girl who moved to New York and started fresh. I’m the girl you’ve heard all about already: toxic, dangerous, irresistible. I’m the one you wanted in the first place; I’m the one you saw first thing in the morning after so many long nights. And if I can be all of those things without you, then they had nothing to do with you, not really. I might still be myself. That takes a long time to find out, though, and even longer to believe. In the mean time, you tell yourself stories about how it might have been: How You Get the Girl, and I Wish You Would, and then: All You Had to do Was Stay. There’s no fixing it except by making it never have happened in the first place. It’s dangerous to admit to that, though, all of your soft, sweet, wishful thinking. You would never call up an ex and tell him: listen, man, all you had to do was stay. I wish you were right here, right now. This is how you get the girl. So it’s no accident that the chorus is something that bubbled up from a dream. The words lived in her head, circling each other, unavoidable and unsayable. She swallowed them until she couldn’t anymore. She thought: I can’t, I won’t, and she didn’t, until, in a dream, and then, in a song, the words came up and caught in her throat. They stuttered and chased. In the song she say whatever she needs to. So she can, and does.