I Believe In Nashville

Apparently I’m incapable of doing things halfway: I went from barely leaving the house to going on an almost three week trip to the US. The songwriting festival, Tin Pan South, was starting up again and I’ve been going every year since 2016, to write songs and network and just learn from the best songwriters in Nashville. I was utterly terrified – about the COVID risk, about how even a minor bout of COVID could affect the trip, about all of the uncertainty and anxiety that I was going to feel every day without having a true safe place to return to and recharge, etc – but I felt like I had to go. My Mum and I were as careful as we could be: we wore masks pretty much all of the time (being autistic makes that hard but I did the best I could) and we went through so much hand sanitiser. I was practically showering with it. I cried pretty much every day (whether from anxiety, stress, or exhaustion, I don’t know) and I was on my knees by the end of the trip but it was amazing and a lot of really cool things happened.


BOSTON

We flew from London to Boston, which was relatively simple – my anxiety aside. I’d already burst into tears at least twice before we actually left the runway. I was very anxious about COVID (and there were so many things that already made me anxious that now had an entirely new context because of COVID) and about flying (it’s not my favourite thing) and I think I was just really overwhelmed by everything ahead of me. The flight felt ridiculously long and while I was relieved to be back on the ground (and eventually into the hotel where we could take the masks off after wearing them for so long), I was immediately overwhelmed by being abroad, by all of the differences. Getting to the hotel room and being able to just collapse was a great relief.

Months earlier, I’d bought tickets to the Bleachers show where they’d be playing their album Strange Desire from start to finish in the hope that I’d be able to combine it with the Nashville trip – the date was, after all, pretty close to when Tin Pan South usually took place. So I chanced it and by some stroke of luck, it worked out and we made our connection in Boston with a day in between to go to the concert. I had no idea what the disabled accommodations were going to be like but, on the whole, the venue and staff were great, which made the concert possible for me and it was incredible.

I still don’t know if I can describe the concert, beyond saying how amazing it was. Charly Bliss were a really fun opener and I’m very excited for them to release the new songs they played; those were the ones that I really got into. And Bleachers were just fantastic. Jack Antonoff in particular was just like an endlessly ricocheting ball of adrenaline; I barely got any photos of him that were in focus because he was just in constant motion. It was so incredibly special to hear songs like ‘Wild Heart,’ ‘I Wanna Get Better,’ and ‘Like A River Runs,’ all of which I love so much. It still feels kind of unreal, like I can’t quite believe I was really there.

The next day, we struggled up – I felt completely wrecked by the concert – and caught our flight to Nashville.

NASHVILLE

When we got to Nashville, we took a couple of days just to rest and to allow me to collect myself. I was exhausted and a few days holed up in my Airbnb – where I didn’t have to worry about wearing a mask or the risk of COVID – was absolutely needed. And while there are always things to see and exploring to do in Nashville, we’d decided to keep our excursions to our highest priorities; we wanted to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID so that we could do all of the things that we really, really wanted to do.

So those first few days were spent chilling out, watching TV, catching up with my diary, and listening to Maren Morris’ new album, Humble Quest. I think I’ll forever connect it with Nashville now. Between listening to it as I flew into the city and watching her Amazon Prime show that first weekend, the album’s setting will always Nashville.

The show was great and I cannot wait until she comes back to the UK. I’m already in love with this album.

SONG SUFFRAGETTES 

My first show back was a big one: Song Suffragettes’ 8th Anniversary show. Usually a Song Suffragettes show consists of five girls and they go around three times, performing three songs each (in total), before closing the show with the cover song performed together. But for this song, there was the first round of five girls who each performed twice plus a cover, a break in which THE Nicolle Galyon interviewed THE Kelsea Ballerini, and then a second round with five more girls who each performed twice as well as a cover song. It was a long but very excellent show.

The first round consisted of Ava Paige, Autumn Nicholas, Kalie Shorr, Ava Suppelsa, Lanie Gardner, and Mia Morris on percussion (she also played a song in this round – a rewrite of Fountains of Wayne’s ‘Stacy’s Mom’ from the point of view of Stacy, which was hilarious). They were all great but, as I think is the case with every songwriters’ round, there were some that resonated with me more than others. I’ve known and loved Kalie for years so I always know she’s going to be my favourite (if you haven’t listened to her music, please check her out – she’s very special) but I didn’t know the others and found I particularly enjoyed Ava Paige’s songs too. I also loved the cover they did, ‘abcdefu’ by GAYLE, and I’ve had it on repeat ever since (along with ‘Humble Quest’ by Maren Morris).

After the cover, they cleared the stage and set it up for the Nicolle Galyon and Kelsea Ballerini interview. They are both just such cool people and have achieved some incredible things; it was very inspiring. Nicolle asked some really interesting questions and Kelsea shared a lot of fascinating, inspiring, and encouraging stories and advice. And then they played a couple of songs that they’ve written together – ‘i quit drinking’ and ‘half of my hometown’ – as well as telling the stories behind the writing of them. It was a really, really cool experience and I feel very lucky to have been there.

The second round was made up of Emily Brooke, Caroline Watkins, Lauren Hungate, Madeline Merlo, Peyton Porter and, again, Mia Morris on percussion. I particularly liked Emily Brooke; I’ve seen her before and I really like her music. And they all told great stories about what inspired the songs.

It was an amazing show and experience and it was a great reintroduction to Nashville. I also got to reconnect with the people I know at Song Suffragettes (and those who I’ve spoken to online but not met) and that was really, really nice. I was kind of scared that, after three years away, the previous years of building relationships might have ended up meaning nothing but that completely wasn’t the case and I’m really grateful for that.

TIN PAN SOUTH

As I said, Tin Pan South is the big reason for coming to Nashville and I had some amazing shows on my list. There were some very tough choices too, great rounds that I struggled to choose between. But I think I made the right choices, for me, for this trip.

I could write about every single show in a ridiculous amount of detail but then we’d be here forever. So here are my highlights of the week…

  • Caylee Hammack – I first saw Caylee years ago and she was so good that I became a fan on the spot. She’s fantastic, both as a singer and a songwriter; I loved her songs then, I loved her album, and I loved the songs that she played during the round. And she’s hilarious. She’s also absolutely lovely: we spoke before and after the show and she was just such a sweetheart.
  • Nicolle Galyon – One of the rounds I went to was the Songs and Daughters round, made up of writers from Nicolle Galyon’s female focussed label, Songs and Daughters. Nicolle was fantastic (although I wish she’d played ‘We Were Us’ but then she does have a huge list of amazing songs to choose from) and even though, I’m kind of in awe of her, I did have a short conversation with her after the round and she was really lovely.
  • Madison Kozak – Madison was on the same round as Nicolle Galyon. I first saw her years ago and fell in love with her and her song ‘First Last Name.’ She did play that one, which made me very happy, and I loved every other song she played on the round; I can’t wait for her to release them.
  • Emily Shackelton – I’ve been a fan of Emily Shackelton for years so I was very keen to see her live again. I love her songs and she’s got a gorgeous voice; I’m so excited for her to release new music soon. I got to speak to her briefly after the show, which was really nice. I hadn’t gotten into the groove of talking to new people again (remember, COVID aside, I’ve just come off three months plus of being home alone while I tried the ADHD meds) so I felt kind of awkward and like I’d forgotten how to do the whole social thing but she was kind and generous with her time and I really appreciated that.
  • Kalie Shorr – The whole round made me laugh harder than I ever have at a Tin Pan South show and Kalie was just hilarious. I loved every song that she played and I loved the stories she told about them so that even the songs I already knew felt different because of the new insight. She’s a brilliant writer: she’s funny, smart, and empathetic, which makes for some really unique and just beautiful songs. I first met her in 2016 and we’ve talked on and off over the years but it’s usually through social media since we’re on different continents so it was really nice to connect and have a real conversation face to face.
  • Natalie Hemby – Natalie is one of my favourite Nashville people. She’s one of my songwriting heroes, she’s a wonderful person, she’s hilarious, and she doesn’t take shit from anyone. She was on her last song, I think, after a stunning round when she gave me a shout out in front of the whole audience and all of the ridiculously amazing and deeply respected songwriters on stage. She introduced me and said some really lovely things, which was just so sweet of her. (She actually invited me to sing too but my Autism brain short circuited due to the sudden change of plans and I couldn’t do it. I don’t think I could’ve told you the lyrics to literally any song at the moment, including songs I have personally written, let alone the song she was playing at that moment. I’m trying not to kick myself for it – it’s just how my brain is.) We got to catch up afterwards, which was really lovely. She really is the sweetest.
  • Notable mentions to both Jeffrey Steele and Chris DeStefano – Both of these guys put in amazing performances that I couldn’t not mention them. It’s funny because they’re so different from each other but they are both such compelling performers, performing very different but incredible songs.

AUTISM AWARENESS WEEK / DAY

It was World Autism Awareness/Acceptance Week and World Autism Awareness Day while I was away and, knowing that I’d be busy in Nashville, I’d prepared a series of posts to put up on my blog. I also posted this on Instagram:

OTHER FUN THINGS

While I didn’t do a whole lot more than go to shows, I did do a few things that are specific and special to Nashville…

  • SEEING FRIENDS – Over the years, I’ve made a handful of friends in Nashville and I’m still nurturing new relationships. I didn’t get to see everyone that I would’ve liked to but I did get to see some of my songwriter friends, some of my friends at NSAI, and some of my friends at Song Suffragettes. With three years since my last visit, it was really, really lovely to reconnect with all of these people and hopefully I’ll get to see the others next time or via technology in the mean time.
  • PANCAKE PANTRY – Chocolate Sin from Pancake Pantry is one of my favourite things to eat so I was very excited to finally get back to Pancake Pantry after so long. It was even better than I remembered and I had to remind myself to eat slowly enough that I could breathe. It’s not often that I enjoy food that much so it’s nice to experience that, something which I assume other people experience more often.
  • THE CANDLE BAR – I love my candles from the Candle Bar and I’ve managed to stretch my last one over three years by being very stingy about using it so I was very excited to get a new one. But then we got there and that particular fragrance wasn’t on the shelf. I was in the middle of feeling overwhelmed by what I should choose instead – none of them were really grabbing me the way my favourite does – when my Mum asked about it and they said they’d be putting it back on the shelves the next week but could pull it out for us since they had it ready to go. That honestly made my day. The pink pepper grapefruit candle is the only candle that I’ve ever really loved and since Mum loves it too, we made two to take home with us. I’m very excited to be able to burn them a little more liberally again. The woman who ran the session was lovely and full of fun information about candles and the candle making process and I just had such a good afternoon.
  • COMMODORE GRILLE – It was on my first adventure in Nashville that I discovered the Commodore Grille’s excellent chocolate brownies and it was on one of the few trips out to eat that we went out and got one. Well, one each. It was so good and I’m so glad we were able to find the time to do it.

SONG SUFFRAGETTES

I did manage to get in a second Song Suffragettes show while I was in town, which I was very grateful for. This round was made up of Jillian Dawn, Sam Bowlds, Olivia Faye, Elana Jane, Paige King Johnson, and Mia Morris, Mia being the only one I knew previously. They were all great – they always are – but I think my favourites were Jillian Dawn and Paige King Johnson; their songs just spoke to me more deeply than the others did for some reason.

On the whole, the travel had been good. I had disabled assistance at all of the airports and until the trip home, that was great and had made the whole flying ordeal a lot easier. But on the return trip, everything kind of went to hell and it was a bit reminiscent of ‘a series of unfortunate events.’ I almost had a meltdown on the flight from Nashville to Dallas because of a mix up with the seats, which was horrible.

And while the Dallas to London flight was okay (I mean, it was long and cold and uncomfortable but nothing went wrong), everything went wrong from the moment we landed, from problems with gates to confusion with the disability assistance to the freaking coach home. And by that time, we were both so tired (and I was so overwhelmed and stressed out) that I was definitely moments from bursting into tears. But we did eventually – eventually – get home.


It’s been about a week since I got home now and I’ve been a bit of a mess. The jet lag hit me hard, on top of my exhaustion from the trip itself, and my mental health hasn’t been great. I guess I’m just feeling really overwhelmed, like all of my feelings have been turned up to eleven (I mean, even more so than usual).

My Nashville Playlist (2022)

From Brighton to Boston to Nashville and then back to Brighton, I was listening to a lot of music and like on previous trips, I enjoyed keeping notes of which songs I was listening to. These are all songs that were prominent during my trip, songs that I will probably always connect back to this trip. I didn’t necessarily have a song for every single day but given that I was away for just over two weeks, I figured that this was a perfectly decent number of songs for a playlist.


‘I Wanna Get Better’ by Bleachers

The reason we stopped in Boston on the way to Nashville was so that I could finally see Bleachers live and see them play the Strange Desire album from start to finish, an album that means so much to me. I could’ve chosen ‘Like a River Runs’ because that song is tied with this one as my favourite Bleachers song but the energy of the crowd during this song took my breath away. It was amazing.

Favourite Lyrics: “Woke up this morning early before my family / From this dream where she was trying to show me / How a life can move from the darkness / She said to get better // So I put a bullet where I shoulda put a helmet / And I crash my car cause I wanna get carried away / That’s why I’m standing on the overpass screaming at myself / ‘Hey, I wanna get better!’ // I didn’t know I was lonely ’til i saw your face / I wanna get better, better, better, better / I wanna get better / I didn’t know I was broken ’til i wanted to change / I wanna get better, better, better, better / I wanna get better”

WARNING: FLASHING LIGHTS!


‘Humble Quest’ by Maren Morris

Maren Morris’ new album came out the day I flew into Nashville and so I listened to it as I flew back into town. While I love a lot of the songs, ‘Humble Quest’ stood out to me straight away and it was stuck in my head for days afterwards. I really related to it although I’m not sure what part of me it’s speaking to. But the lyrics “And damn I do my best / Not gonna hold my breath / ‘Cause I still haven’t found it yet / No, I still haven’t found it yet” just resonate really strongly. And it’s catchy as hell.

Favourite Lyrics: “Haven’t looked up in a while / Been biting my tongue behind a smile / Falling on swords that I can’t see / Poison my well on the daily / Got easier not to ask / Just kept hitting my head on the glass / I was so nice till I woke up / I was polite till I spoke up // I’m on a humble quest / And damn I do my best / Not gonna hold my breath / ‘Cause I still haven’t found it yet / No, I still haven’t found it yet”


‘Circles Around This Town’ by Maren Morris

While I was in Nashville (and still recovering from the flights, the jet lag, and the Bleachers concert), Maren Morris’ Amazon Prime show was streamed from New York and I was able to watch it. I really, really enjoyed it and I could’ve chosen so many different songs but ‘Circles Around This Town’ just felt like the right choice. It’s the first single from the new album and the first song she played for this show. I wasn’t sure about it when she first released it but it’s grown on me so much since then, so much since the album came out. It’s so her and yet so easy to connect to.

Favourite Lyrics: “So many times I thought about leaving / Got my ass kicked trying to compete with / Everybody else’s ones that got away / Hung around long enough to catch a break // Couple hundred songs and the ones that finally worked / Was the one about a car and the one about a church / That I wrote // Driving circles around this town / Trying to write circles around this town / Trying to say something with meaning, something worth singing about / I’ve been kind and I’ve been ruthless / Yeah, I got here but the truth is / Thought when I hit it, it’d all look different / But I still got the pedal down / Driving circles around this town / Driving circles around this town”


‘Eighteen’ by Kalie Shorr

Kalie is one of my favourite artists and songwriters and this one is gut-wrenching. It’s beautifully written and while I literally can’t name my favourite songs of hers because I love so many of them, this is one of the ones that I love a lot. I’d never heard it live though – up to this point anyway – but she played it at the Song Suffragettes 8th Anniversary show, which was my first show back in Nashville. That was particularly sweet: because of the pandemic, I haven’t seen Kalie live since she released her debut album, Open Book, which is one of my favourite albums ever so it was very special to hear a song from the album now that I’m finally back in the US and able to see her perform.

Favourite Lyrics: “Which one did you fuck harder my best friend or my self esteem / Remember when you got drunk and said you were the only one dumb enough to love me / I don’t want to live just following your script / The actress is too young and the director is a narcissist” AND “I see you out with younger versions of me / While I’m trying to find who I used to be / I’m terrified that you and I will always be chasing eighteen // This isn’t normal, this isn’t okay / But I didn’t know any better, so I thought it’d be better to stay / Almost beautiful, the things that you taught me / I think I really loved you, I think you really loved that I was / Eighteen”


‘abcdefu’ by GAYLE (Performed by Song Suffragettes – Mia Morris, Ava Paige, Autumn Nicholas, Kalie Shorr, Ava Suppelsa, and Lanie Gardner)

This was one of the songs the Song Suffragettes covered during their anniversary show and it just got stuck in my head. It’s such a mood, both in the context of a break up and when you’re just pissed off: just fuck everybody and all of the stupid things about them that irritate you. The dog is spared though, which just cracks me up. It’s so catchy and my brain was just switching back and forth between this song and ‘Humble Quest’ by Maren Morris.

Favourite Lyrics: “Dated a girl that I hate for the attention / She only made it two days, what a connection / It’s like you’d do anything for my affection / You’re goin’ all about it in the worst ways // I was into you, but I’m over it now / And I was tryin’ to be nice / But nothing’s getting through, so let me spell it out // ABCDE FU / And your mom and your sister and your job / And your broke-ass car and that shit you call art / Fuck you and your friends that I’ll never see again / Everybody but your dog, you can all fuck off / Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah / ABCDE FU”


‘half of my hometown’ by  Kelsea Ballerini (Performed by Kelsea Ballerini and Nicolle Galyon)

Kelsea Ballerini was being honoured at the Song Suffragettes show (the same one Kalie was playing at) and after an interview with Nicolle Galyon (who is also very awesome), the two of them played a couple of the songs they’ve written together that Kelsea’s released. That was very cool and ‘half of my hometown’ is one of my favourite songs on Kelsea’s latest album so it was very cool to hear her sing it live. I love the detail in the lyrics that is so specific to her and yet it’s such a relatable feeling.

Favourite Lyrics: “Back roads raise us / Highways take us / Memories make us wanna go back // To our hometown, settle down / Talk about that one touchdown / Raise some kids in red and black / Go Bobcats, while the other half / Of my hometown was in the crowd / They knew the words, they sang them loud / And all I wanna do is make them proud / ‘Cause half of me will always be / From Knoxville, Tennessee / My hometown / ‘Cause I’m half of my hometown”


‘Small Town Hypocrite’ by Caylee Hammack

I first saw Caylee Hammack in 2017 – at a Tin Pan South show – and she actually played this song. Now, at my first Tin Pan South show of 2022 – my first in three years – she played it again and I was just so happy to be seeing her perform again (another thing that was taken away by the pandemic). In that time, she’s put out an album that I love and is working on her music, some of which she played during the show. She has an incredible voice, which only amplifies the emotion in the song. I also got to have a conversation with her and she’s such a sweetheart. It was, all in all, an excellent start to the festival.

Favourite Lyrics: “And that scholarship was a ship that sailed / When I chose you and daddy gave me hell / I made myself into someone else just to love you, damn, I loved you / Took all my plans and I put ’em in a box / Phantom pains for the wings I lost / Had me circling rings in the catalogs / For seven years and you never got the hint / Ain’t that some shit / I’m just a small-town hypocrite // Swore we’d be running, running, running this town / But you’re just running, running, running around / And I’m staring at a picket fence / Wondering where the hell time went / I should’ve been running, running, running by now / But I just hang around”


‘My First Last Name’ by Madison Kozak 

I could’ve chosen any of the songs Madison Kozak played during her Tin Pan South show because I loved all of them but this one has always been special to me. I’ll never get to have a relationship like this with my Dad but it’s nice to imagine. It makes me super emotional but not in a negative way – or at least, not in a wholly negative way. It does make me sad but I’m grateful for the song. It reminds me of my Dad and the good parts of our relationship. It’s a beautifully written song and I can’t wait to hear the other songs she played that she’s planning to release soon.

Favourite Lyrics: “Yeah, he set the bar real high / But I met a real good guy / Still not much of a crier / Till we’re halfway down the aisle // He’s the son of the salesman / Short glass, old fashioned / ‘How are things going lately?’ / ‘Stop on by, bring the baby’ / People they say, I’m more like him everyday / He can give me away, but no one can take / My first last name”


‘i quit drinking’ by Kelsea Ballerini and LANY (Written by Kelsea Ballerini, Paul Jason Klein, and Nicolle Galyon) (Performed by Nicolle Gaylon)

I love Nicolle Galyon’s songwriting and she has a gorgeous singing voice; she makes all of these iconic songs her own and I love that she’s created a label to specifically support women. She’s just awesome and, again, I could’ve chosen any of the songs that she played. This particular festival slot was a hard one because there were multiple great shows on at that time but I’m really happy I chose this one. I also got to talk to her briefly after the show and she was really lovely. I still feel like I’m getting my feet under me socially, after so long with little in person socialisation (and so I feel very awkward still), but talking about music and songwriting is my favourite thing so that does make it easier.

Favourite Lyrics: “We used to be / Dizzy all morning / Hungover, pouring / Cups of coffee black / Kiss and crawl right back / Under the covers / Down for another / Hour in that bed / Now, I’m here instead // Waking up sober, it feels kind of nice / Except that I can’t sleep at night // You’re the reason there’s no whiskey  anywhere inside this house / You’re the reason all my friends know I don’t go downtown / You’re the reason I hate champagne, never used to turn it down / You’re the only thing I want when one drop hits my mouth / Baby, you’re the reason / I quit drinking // I quit thinking (I quit thinking) / Staring at the ceiling (Oh) / And all my cabernet is down the kitchen sink, yeah (It’s down the kitchen sink, yeah) / I quit mixing (I quit mixing) / All my drinks and feelings / It’s not fixing that you’re gone”


‘Doin’ Fine’ by Lauren Alaina (Performed by Emily Shackelton)

I still remember the first time I heard Emily Shackelton play this song at a Tin Pan South round and how it just hit me; like, the autobiographical details are clearly not mine but the message of the song has been so applicable to me so many times throughout my life and here we are again and it’s still true. There was a new level of poignancy in the performance of this song though as it was written with busbee who is no longer with us – he died late 2019 – and this is the first Tin Pan South since then. Emily dedicated it to him and from what I’ve heard, he was an amazing person. I’m sorry that I never got to meet him.

Favourite Lyrics: “I’m doin’ fine enough to know that everyone’s a little broken / Fine enough to learn that hearts are best when they’re wide open / I still got fear inside of me / I’m not okay, but I’m gonna be alright / Oh, for the first time in a long, long time I’m doin’ fine / I’m doin’ fine”


‘Where Would You Rather Die?’ by Kalie Shorr

I could’ve easily chosen any and all of the songs she performed (and I have chosen two from the round because I love her songs so much) but this was the only one that was completely new to me and it just blew me away. She paints such vivid portraits with her lyrics and the fact that it was based on a real experience (although it obviously did not involve actually dying) makes it even more enjoyable. I would love a music video for this song because it’s just such a wild story.

Favourite Lyrics: THE WHOLE DAMN SONG.


‘The World Keeps Spinning’ by Kalie Shorr

This song gets me every time. Kalie has been open about the inspiring of the song, that it’s about her older sister’s death and while the details are specific to her life, I think it’s very easy to relate to if you’ve lost anyone, especially if they died suddenly. I relate it to my Dad. It makes me well up every time – or full on sob if I’m feeling particularly emotional – because it’s so beautifully written and gets right to the heart of grief. As sad as it is, it’s one of my favourite Kalie songs.

Favourite Lyrics: “The 5th of January is on the calendar every year / Like some kind of messed up holiday to remind me that you’re not here / I hear people laughing, I don’t get the joke / But I can’t hold it against them, cause it’s not like they know // It was just another day, until it wasn’t // The sky / Didn’t even have the decency to cry / And that damn sun still found a way to shine / When the heartache’s hitting / I think it’s kind of cruel that the world keeps spinning”


‘Crowded Table’ by The Highwomen (Performed by Natalie Hemby)

I love Natalie Hemby and she’s always the first person I look for in the Tin Pan South line-up. She’s a fantastic writer, as well as an utterly hilarious and genuinely lovely person. This song kind of reminds me of growing up: my house was always busy and there was always a lot of people around. We were a big, tight knit family (we’re still close but we’re all a bit more spread out now so getting together is harder) and we often congregated around the table at meal times. So, when I listen to it, it reminds me of that. Hearing it live was very cool and the fact that she gave me a shout out before playing this song (in front of the amazing songwriters on stage and the whole show’s audience) just makes me love this song even more; it symbolises a very special memory.

Favourite Lyrics: “The door is always open / Your picture’s on my wall / Everyone’s a little broken / And everyone belongs / Yeah, everyone belongs // I want a house with a crowded table / And a place by the fire for everyone / Let us take on the world while we’re young and able / And bring us back together when the day is done”


‘What Hurts The Most’ by Rascal Flatts (Performed by Jeffrey Steele)

Somewhat hilariously, the first version of this song that I heard – in my Dad’s car – was the more dance/club version. I have no idea why my Dad had it on a CD but hearing it still brings back fond memories. Hearing the country version for the first time was a bit of a surprise but given the memories of my Dad, I have a soft spot for it and hearing Jeffrey Steele perform it was incredible. He’s an amazing singer and an amazing guitarist; it was a bit like the musical equivalent of a religious experience.

Favourite Lyrics: “It’s hard to deal with the pain of losing you everywhere I go / But I’m doing it / It’s hard to force that smile when I see our old friends / And I’m alone // Still harder getting up, getting dressed, living with this regret / But I know if I could do it over / I would trade, give away all the words that I saved in my heart / That I left unspoken // What hurts the most / Is being so close / And having so much to say (much to say) / And watching you walk away / And never knowing / What could’ve been / And not seeing that love in you / Is what I was trying to do”


‘right where you left me’ by Taylor Swift

I was listening to evermore quite a bit, given that it was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys. It might not have won but it’s still an amazing album and I love it so much. ‘right where you left me’ is such a fascinating song: so specific and yet so relatable; so beautifully written, with some really cool techniques. I wrote about it in my full evermore post. I love it and it’s been stuck in my head on and off during my trip.

Favourite Lyrics: “Help, I’m still at the restaurant / Still sitting in a corner I haunt / Cross-legged in the dim light / They say, ‘What a sad sight’ / I, I swear you could hear a hair pin drop / Right when I felt the moment stop / Glass shattered on the white cloth / Everybody moved on / I, I stayed there / Dust collected on my pinned-up hair / They expected me to find somewhere / Some perspective, but I sat and stared / Right where you left me / You left me no, oh, you left me no / You left me no choice but to stay here forever” AND “Help, I’m still at the restaurant / Still sitting in a corner I haunt / Cross-legged in the dim light / They say, ‘What a sad sight’ / I, I stayed there / Dust collected on my pinned-up hair / I’m sure that you got a wife out there / Kids and Christmas, but I’m unaware / ‘Cause I’m right where / I cause no harm, mind my business / If our love died young, I can’t bear witness / And it’s been so long / But if you ever think you got it wrong / I’m right where you left me / You left me no, oh, you left me no / You left me no choice but to stay here forever”


‘HEARTFIRST’ by Kelsea Ballerini

I’ve very used to the first singles of a new chapter not landing well with me – with basically all artists – so I was very pleasantly surprised when I loved this song straight away. It’s fun, it’s adorable, and it’s so feel good. It’s so uplifting and joyful. The imagery is gorgeous and while it’s obviously about a romantic relationship, the broader idea of jumping into every thing heart first is very relatable to me.

Favourite Lyrics: “I couldn’t wait till later, talking in the elevator / Then we’re kissing in the back of the car” AND “Could be forever or we might break / That’s just the kind of risk that we take / My head is yelling that I could get hurt / But I’m gonna jump right in / Baby, with my heartfirst” AND “And I can’t even stop myself anymore / Oh, we couldn’t end the perfect night outside my front door”


So here is my Nashville 2022 playlist. There were definitely more songs I could’ve included but I tried to keep some sort of constraint on myself, otherwise this probably could’ve gone on forever. There were just so many songs to choose from, practically every day. Anyway. A musical post for a very musical trip.

2021 in Songs

This is one of my favourite posts of the year, as hard as it is to narrow it down to one song a month (or sometimes two, if I really can’t choose). It’s so easy for time to make things blurry and for songs to transcend time that I love being able to see exactly when songs impacted my life and what they meant to me. I kind of love the idea of looking back one day – sometime in the future – and knowing which exact songs I connected to, rather than just having a vague sense of which artists and albums I loved.

So, here is my soundtrack for 2021. I’ve made a playlist on Spotify so you can listen along here if you’d like to.


1. it’s time to go by Taylor Swift

The bonus tracks from Taylor’s album, evermore, started to circulate at the end of 2020 when people began to receive their physical copies but they weren’t released ‘officially’ until the beginning of 2021. It was a really hard choice between ‘right where you left me’ and ‘it’s time to go’ because they’re both such stunning songs but in the end, ‘it’s time to go’ won by a hair. The instrumentation is so delicate and vulnerable, just like the emotions she describes in the song. And the stories she’s telling are heartbreakingly sad with lyrics that may be some of her most poignant, including, “When the words of a sister come back in whispers that prove she was not,” “That old familiar body ache, the snaps from the same little breaks in your soul,” “Fifteen years, fifteen million tears, beggin’ ’til my knees bled,” “I gave it my all, he gave me nothing at all, then wondered why I left,” “He’s got my past frozen behind glass but I’ve got me,” and “Sometimes givin’ up is the strong thing, sometimes to run is the brave thing, sometimes walkin’ out is the one thing, that will find you the right thing.” It’s Taylor at her most vulnerable, something that is such an honour to be allowed access to, and it brings me to tears almost every time I listen to it.

Favourite Lyrics: “That old familiar body ache / The snaps from the same little breaks in your soul / You know when it’s time to go” AND “He’s got my past frozen behind glass / But I’ve got me”


2. Skyscraper by Demi Lovato // Forgive Or Forget by Sarah Close

I stumbled upon this song again when I was doing research for my Daisy Johnson song. I spent a lot of time watching fan videos on YouTube, listening to the songs that other people associated with her: the style of music, the instrumentation, the lyrics in the songs, the emotional undercurrents. And one of those videos used this song. It’s been years since I last listened to it and I’d forgotten how powerful and emotive it is. I love how it acknowledges the pain, whatever pain you find yourself hearing in it, but is ultimately empowering and uplifting, putting the real focus on overcoming that pain. Just listening to it makes me feel stronger; it definitely a good song to listen to before trying to do something difficult or painful.

Favourite Lyrics: “You can take everything I have / You can break everything I am / Like I’m made of glass / Like I’m made of paper / Go on and try to tear me down / I will be rising from the ground / Like a skyscraper”

I fell in love with this song from the first listen. I’ve listened to Sarah on and off for several years (she actually went to the same university as me) and I love her writing. Her lyrics and melodies are just gorgeous: rich but light, catchy without driving you absolutely bananas. It’s so good. I love the imagery, like “Just like in a film, now I’m standing outside your door, in the pouring rain, with a speech that I wrote between watching movies on the plane” and “So now I’ve shown up at your door, will my key work like it did before? And when I look inside, will your love be just the same?” They’re so vivid, like you’re right there in that moment she’s singing about. I loved it straight away and couldn’t stop singing it. I even did a little cover of it on Instagram…

Favourite Lyrics: “Should I forgive or forget, relive or regret? / I know I’m willing to change / So tell me, do you feel the same? / ‘Cause I won’t retrace all the mistakes / If you’re willing to change / I’m telling you, I feel the same” AND “So now I’ve shown up at your door, will my key work like it did before? / And when I look inside, will your love be just the same?”


3. Riser By Dierks Bentley (written by Travis Meadows) // Plan For Paris by Betsy Lane

I know that this would be considered a Dierks Bentley song since he released it but, to me, it will always be a Travis Meadows song. I first heard it when I saw him play at a Tin Pan South show while in Nashville for the first time and it was one of those moments that just sticks with you, one of those memories that somehow remains in perfect condition, like it’s been frozen in amber. The room seemed to be holding it’s breath, completely enraptured by his voice and his lyrics. And when he finished, the room seemed to snap out of its trance and gave him a standing ovation.

This song has meant a lot to me ever since but it was in March that I learned about the extensive surgery Travis Meadows had (at the time) recently gone through and the recovery he was working towards. A gofundme, A FundRiser, had been set up to support him and his family, which I immediately donated to and shared on all of my socials. He’s an incredible songwriter and just an incredible spirit. His music has given me so much that, although I wish these weren’t the circumstances, I’m grateful for the opportunity to give something back.

Favourite Lyrics: “I’m a riser / I’m a get up off the ground, don’t run and hider / When pushin’ comes to shovin’ / Hey, I’m a fighter / When darkness comes to town, I’m a lighter / A get-out-alive-r, of the fire, survivor”

I’ve loved Betsy’s music for a long time, so long that I can’t actually remember when I first heard a song of hers. But she’s a gorgeous writer and it was very cool to finally meet her when she came to the UK on a mini-tour in 2018 after years of listening to her music. She’s just the loveliest and the EP she was releasing at the time was great. But this song, although a step in a new direction, is on a whole new level: it’s a beautiful combination of her warm, intimate storytelling and exciting, new pop production. It’s feel-good and catchy and I absolutely love it.

Favourite Lyrics: “…I wish we could just / Go back to Paris / Catch a train through the south of France / Cross the border into Spain / Learn how to dance / Under the sky of the Spanish moon / Baby, hold my hand, I’m following you”

Note: My friend and frequent collaborator, Richard Marc, released his first single, ‘Put It In A Postcard,’ at the beginning of March but given that I cowrote the song, it felt weird to put it on this list when that isn’t the point of this list.


4. Mr Perfectly Fine (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) by Taylor Swift // Love and Great Buildings by Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness

As excited as I was for Taylor re-recording her albums, I didn’t feel a hundred percent good about it until Taylor herself made it clear that it’s been really rewarding and fulfilling – so far, at least. I hated the idea that it might be upsetting or taint her feelings about her previous work since it was something she was ultimately forced to do if she wanted to own her back catalogue. So I’m really glad that it doesn’t feel like that. It’s amazing and kind of surreal how she can sound just like her teenage self, how the album sounds so close to the original release. There are multiple songs I could choose from for ‘the one’ but ultimately ‘Mr Perfectly Fine’ came out on top (although ‘We Were Happy’ was a close second). Not only is it super catchy and has this really great, dynamic energy, but I love the balance of heartbreaking and then absolutely scathing lyrics, like, “‘Cause I hear he’s got his arm ’round a brand new girl / I’ve been pickin’ up my heart, he’s been pickin’ up her / And I never got past what you put me through / But it’s wonderful to see that it never phased you.” It’s emotionally complex, like the situation, but still such a jam. And the final chorus, with the switch from “Hello Mr. ‘Perfectly Fine'” to “Goodbye Mr. ‘Perfectly Fine'” and the key change, it’s a hugely satisfying end, lyrically, musically, and emotionally. I love it and played it over and over again.

Favourite Lyrics: “It takes everything in me just to get up each day / But it’s wonderful to see that you’re okay // Hello Mr. ‘Perfectly Fine’ / How’s your heart after breaking mine?” AND “‘Cause I hear he’s got his arm ’round a brand new girl / I’ve been pickin’ up my heart, he’s been pickin’ up her / And I never got past what you put me through / But it’s wonderful to see that it never phased you”

I heard this song on a TV show (I can’t remember which one now) and just fell in love with the concept. The imagery is gorgeous (with phrases like, “My heart is an apartment building on the verse,” “The market shifts can cause storm systems to converge,” and “Brick and plaster, beams and broken windows”) and I love the production, both for the sounds used and for the energetic, almost euphoric feeling it evokes. I spent many days with it basically on repeat because I just really needed that energy. My only quibble with it is that almost every single rhyme is a perfect rhyme (‘verge’ and ‘converge,’ ‘optimistic’ and ‘realistic,’ ‘endure’ and ‘cure,’ etc) and having just spent a semester learning about, discussing, and experimenting with techniques like different types of rhyme, that really stuck out to me. It felt a little clunky and I thought there could’ve been some stronger, more interesting rhyming in what is otherwise a really cool song.

Favourite Lyrics: “Love and great buildings will survive / Strong hearts and concrete stay alive / Through the great depressions / Yeah, the best things are designed to stand the test of time // Love and great buildings will endure / Blue skies and bloodlines are the cure / For the great deceptions in a world that’s such a blur / We’ll stand the test of time”


5. Coming Up For Air by Signals In Smoke // A Love Song by Ladyhawke

There’s something about this song that I just can’t quite explain. It’s so beautifully simple. I love lyrically dense songs, songs that you could turn into a feature length film, but what I love about this song is that it doesn’t need to do that. The lyrics are uncluttered, guiding the emotion but leaving you to fill in the details yourself. But they’re intimate and uplifting, enhanced by a deeply emotive and beautiful melody. The production is rich and atmospheric and enveloping; and the colours and textures I feel in it are just gorgeous (I don’t know if that response to music is part of being autistic or some form of synesthesia or something else entirely). It’s just stunning.

Favourite Lyrics: “It ain’t over, love / This I swear / We’re coming up for air”

I freaking love this song. I listened to so much Ladyhawke during the last semester of my Masters but this song won the top spot with ease. I love the energy (and the colours) of the arrangement and the production –  there’s something so pleasing to my ears about synth-pop music – and I love the story it tells, or at least the story that I interpret from the lyrics. To me, it reflects the contradiction of what real love is, that it is both easy and hard to truly love someone. With lyrics like, “You’ve opened my eyes to the oldest tale of time,” alongside the gleaming production, the song embodies the ease of love, proven by the fact that we have been falling in love as long as we have existed. The song is a celebration of that love. But then it also contains lyrics like “I’m falling down, too much to drink again / You pull me up and tell me how it could end” because sometimes love is having the tough conversations and making the hard choices. And we always come back to the same line: “This is what a love song sounds like.” Both of these instances are expressions of love, of the love stories we write and the love songs we sing to one another. That’s what I love about this song, that it allows these two ideas to coexist (just as they can and do in real life) in such a beautiful way.

Favourite Lyrics: “This could be my life, but it’s only words / To make me feel right when the meaning’s blurred / You’ve opened my eyes to the oldest tale of time / This what a love song, love song sounds like // I’m falling down, too much to drink again / You pull me up and tell me how it could end / This is what a love song sounds like”

Note: My friend and frequent collaborator, Richard Marc, released his second single, ‘Close To You,’ at the beginning of May. I cowrote it so I’m not officially including it on this list but you guys should check it out because Richard is really awesome. 


6. good 4 u by Olivia Rodrigo

This song is such a jam. As I said in a post a little while back, I struggled to get into Sour, I think just because she was everywhere and everyone was talking about her and I just felt a bit like it was being forced down my throat and my natural reaction to that is to be perverse and do the exact opposite of what I’m being pushed to do. Maybe that’s a bit childish but I think it worked out in the end because if I’d listened to the album then, I don’t think I would’ve liked it. After giving it some time, I did listen to it and I do like it; I think it being my choice made all of the difference. I like a good handful of the songs (most of them album tracks, which isn’t unusual for me) but this one is just irresistibly fun. I love how it toes the line between righteous anger over being treated badly (“It’s like we never even happened / Baby, what the fuck is up with that?”) and pettiness (“Remember when you swore to god I was the only / Person who ever got you? / Well, screw that and screw you”) – because, let’s face it, we’ve all been there in some way or another. We’re allowed to be angry and call people out for their bad behaviour (I’m talking on an emotional level – society often has other opinions) but we’re also not always our most mature selves when we’ve been hurt by someone and I think this song reflects those two states of emotion well. I also love the swearing but I think it only works because it feels natural and emotional and not at all affected. It’s hugely relatable (I can definitely see a significant relationship of mine in it) and very cathartic to sing along to. I’m a fan of the arrangement and production too. I love the rhythm of the bass, the arrangement of the backing vocals (they’re fantastic, album wide), and her vocal delivery is fantastic: she’s so expressive in her singing and there isn’t a line where it feels like she’s ‘just’ singing.

Favourite Lyrics: “And good for you, it’s like you never even met me / Remember when you swore to God I was the only / Person who ever got you? / Well, screw that and screw you / You will never have to hurt the way you know that I do” AND “Well, good for you, you look happy and healthy / Not me, if you ever cared to ask / Good for you, you’re doing great out there without me, baby / Like a damn sociopath / I’ve lost my mind, I’ve spent the night / Crying on the floor of my bathroom”


7. Way Out by Richard Marc & Jaz Beeson // Renegade (feat. Taylor Swift) by Big Red Machine

This song is so freaking catchy that every time I hear it, it’s stuck in my head for days afterwards; ever since I first heard it, I’ve been waiting impatiently for it to come out so that when people ask me what I’m singing or humming or whatever, I can actually point them to it. The melody is just perfect, smooth and rich and beautifully matches the moody production. It’s a hard call but it may be my favourite production from Richard’s EP. The different elements just work together so well and I love how it builds, especially in the bridge with more and more layers of backing vocals. It’s just so atmospheric. By the time we land in the final chorus and that building tension falls away, it’s like breaking the surface and taking a deep breath after being underwater for too long. I love both Richard and Jaz as singers but there’s something about the tone of their voices in this song that just gets me every time. They sound so good together; their voices really compliment each others.

Usually, I like detail in lyrics but there are definitely exceptions and this is one of them. There’s something really cool about the way it sounds like you’re listening in on a conversation between two people and, because it’s their conversation, they don’t need to explain the details to each other because they both already know. So, even if we’re left out of the narrative loop a little, there’s a really gorgeous sense of intimacy about this song that I don’t think could’ve been achieved if it hadn’t been a duet.

Favourite Lyrics: “Leave me in the fallout, tell me when you come down, can you find a way out, way out?”

This song leaves me feeling very raw. I really relate to this song but in lots of different and confusing ways. Sometimes I feel kind of called out by it; I can imagine a relationship coming to this (given everything I deal with, I’m sure I’d be difficult to love). But I can also see my relationship with myself in the song. “There was nowhere for me to stay, but I stayed anyway” reminds me of how many times I could’ve given up but haven’t; “And if I would’ve known how many pieces you had crumbled into / I might have let them lay” and “And if I would’ve known / how sharp the pieces were you crumbled into / I might have let them lay” makes me think about how this journey (with my mental health and the discovery that I’m neurodivergent and managing all of these things) always seems to get harder and what it would’ve been like if I’d known where I’d be a year, two years, five years down the line when everything started to unravel, back when I was a teenager; “Is it insensitive for me to say / ‘get your shit together, so I can love you?'” and “Is it really your anxiety that stops you from givin’ me everythin’ / Or do you just not want to?” make me wonder what it is that makes it so hard to treat myself with kindness and patience, why I’m so hard on myself; “You fire off missiles ’cause you hate yourself / But do you know you’re demolishing me?” reminds me – painfully – of how much damage I’m doing to myself, some unwillingly but some willingly. And so on and so on. It’s a lot. It makes me very emotional but, even though it’s hard, it’s important to me too; songs that describe how you feel, especially when those feelings are complicated, are so rare and so special. It’s a beautifully written song and despite the heaviness of the lyrics, it’s very soothing to listen to. The melodies are exquisite and Taylor’s voice sounds incredible. Justin Vernon is definitely my favourite of her duet partners. Their voices sound gorgeous together.

Favourite Lyrics: “There was nowhere for me to stay, but I stayed anyway” OR “Are you really gonna talk about timin’ in times like these? / And let all your damage damage me? / And carry your baggage up my street? / And make me your future history?” AND “Is it insensitive for me to say / ‘Get your shit together, so I can love you?’ / Is it really your anxiety that stops you from givin’ me everythin’ / Or do you just not want to?”


8. Alibi by Kalie Shorr // Darling by Halsey

While the whole of Kalie’s EP, I Got Here By Accident, is fantastic, ‘Alibi’ is such a vibe. The arrangement and production – the warm tone of the guitars and the bass, the satisfying punch of the drums, Kalie’s soft but striking vocals – creates this fantastic energy and the melodies are so catchy; the song is frequently on repeat in my brain and I’m not complaining one bit. I love it. And I relate to it so much: I would do anything for my friends (grand theft auto, arson, and accessory to murder may be a bit far but hopefully you get my point). “If someone’s breaking your heart / Hold my beer, I’ll fight ’em” is a situation I’ve been in and I’ve absolutely said both “Tell me who to hate, yeah / You don’t have to worry / I don’t have to meet ’em / I believe your story” and “If you’re in trouble, make it mine,” although probably less eloquently. So this is definitely my friendship anthem. I was even writing a song along a similar theme when it came out.

Favourite Lyrics: “Anyone can be your best friend at a party / But if you dig a hole, then I’ll bury the body / No questions, I won’t ask why / I’ll be your alibi” AND “If you asked / I’d pick you up when you’re drunk downtown / Or go burn down your ex’s house / It’s like that / Completely unconditional” AND “Tell me who to hate, yeah / You don’t have to worry / I don’t have to meet ’em / I believe your story” AND “If it’s for you, it’s not a lie / If you’re in trouble, make it mine”

There were multiple songs I could’ve chosen from Halsey’s newest album: I love every song but I do love ‘Bells in Santa Fe,’ ‘Darling,’ ‘1121,’ ‘The Lighthouse,’ and ‘Ya’aburnee’ in particular. But in the end, ‘Darling’ is the one that just gets me every single time. It sounds beautiful, with the delicate guitar and heartfelt vocals (as well as gorgeous backing vocals), and the lyrics are stunning, with – I have no doubt carefully chosen – really emotive imagery, like “Really can’t remember where I left my spine / Carrying my body in a bag for dimes / hidden in the pages of the New York Times at home” and “I’ll kidnap all the stars and I will keep them in your eyes / I’ll wrap them up in velvet twine / And hang ’em from a fishin’ line / So I can see them any time I’d like.” Making sense of our mortality and our place in the world is a massive subject and very personal for a lot of people, myself included, but listening to this song always eases my anxieties a little, even if I still don’t have the answers I want.

Favourite Lyrics: “Ever since a little girl, I found it sweet / Drivin’ past a graveyard on a lonesome street / All the little flowers gave me somethin’ to believe in” ANDCouldn’t really tell you where they’d leave a stone / To visit me when I am dead and gone” AND “I’ll kidnap all the stars and I will keep them in your eyes / I’ll wrap them up in velvet twine / And hang ’em from a fishin’ line / So I can see them any time I’d like”


9. Radio Silence by Natalie Hemby

I had fallen in love with this song before I’d even finished listening to it that first time and I just love it more with every listen. The lyrics, the vocals, the arrangement, and the production… they’re all so incredibly beautiful, so perfectly matched to convey the emotion of the song. Trying to hold onto something, like a friendship or relationship, even as you can feel it slipping away from you is so deeply sad and so painful and even though you know you should let it go, you can’t help longing for what it once was. I can relate to this song on so many levels, to so many people and experiences in my life. It frequently brings me to tears but usually it’s more a relief cry, down to listening to a song that so perfectly describes a feeling I’ve had so many times.

Favourite Lyrics: “I tried to reach you through the growin’ static / I tried to replicate the fading magic / Did everything to keep the signal from dyin’ / All I got was radio silence / I tried to tell you that it’s gonna get better / I tried to put the pieces back together / Did everything to keep the signal from dyin’ / All I got was radio silence”

Note: My friend and frequent collaborator, Richard Marc, released his fourth single, Nashville, on the 1st September. I cowrote it so I’m not officially including it on this list but you guys should check it (and his previous tracks) out because he is absolutely awesome. 


10. Like A River Runs by Bleachers 

I absolutely love this song; I think it may be my favourite Bleachers song, which is saying something given how much I love ‘Wild Heart,’ ‘I Wanna Get Better,’ and ‘What’d I Do With All This Faith?’ to name a few. I just feel it so deeply and I really relate to many of the things that Jack Antonoff has said about it. As I said in my post for National Album Day 2021, “it just resonates so strongly in all the right ways.” The production is fantastic and fits so beautifully with the emotion and with the lyrics. And the vocals are exquisite. Listening to it, it feels like Antonoff’s voice is coming from inside my own head somewhere, which only makes it feel more personal, like he’s speaking my feelings into life. Lyrics like “The summer’s gone and I’m alone / And I get the feeling that you’re somewhere close,” “The rhythm of your wild heart / It beats, been beating since you’ve gone,” “And I know you’re gone but still / I will remember your light,” and “And if you see me in the darkness / I hope you know I’m not alone / I carry you with every breath I take” all hit really close to home. The chorus is especially stunning, uplifting and deeply emotional at the same time: “When I fall asleep, I can see your face / What I lost in you, I will not replace / And I could run away, I could let them down / But I will remember your light.”

Favourite Lyrics:When I fall asleep I can see your face / What I lost in you I will not replace / And I could run away, I could let them down / But I will remember your light” AND “The summer’s gone and I’m alone / And I get the feeling that you’re somewhere close” AND “And if you see me in the darkness / I hope you know I’m not alone”


11. All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) by Taylor Swift

‘All Too Well’ has always been at the top of my list of favourite Taylor Swift songs and while I loved the idea of the ten minute version, I don’t think I ever really thought we’d hear it. So while I don’t like the circumstances that brought us to the rerecordings, I am grateful for the positives that have come out of the whole mess. Like the ten minute version of ‘All Too Well,’ not that it feels like ten minutes when you’re listening to it. As much as I love the production of the 2012 version, I think it was important that they were different because they have very different emotional undercurrents and the production for the ten minute version matches the feel of the longer story, in my opinion at least. I’m also very pleased that it was Jack Antonoff who produced it since he is my favourite of Taylor’s collaborators.

I could talk about this song forever but I’ll try to be concise. The lyrics are beautiful, some of her best, and they tell us so much more of the story than the original cut. It connects to so many songs on the album, even more than it did before, and really broadens our understanding of both that time and what came after. I also love how naturally it flows through different phases of emotion (the fondness, the longing, the loss, the confusion, the shame, the anger, the pain, the invalidation, the grief…) without losing its way. And I think part of why it means so much to me (apart from my original attachment to the song and the album) is because of how, emotionally, it mirrors an experience I had. Lyrics like “And I was thinking on the drive down, any time now / He’s gonna say it’s love, you never called it what it was / ‘Til we were dead and gone and buried / Check the pulse and come back swearing it’s the same,” “You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath,” “You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine / And that made me want to die / The idea you had of me, who was she? / A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you,” and “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it” all bring back memories of that person and that time and while it was heartbreaking and traumatic, it is part of who I am. I think being able to pour all of that emotion into a song – and a song that good – is an incredible feat.

(‘All Too Well (10 Minute Version)’ was pretty much always a shoo-in for the top spot but I also really love ‘Nothing New.’ I love that we finally have a female-female duet and it’s such a beautiful song. The lyrics “I’ve had too much to drink tonight / And I know it’s sad / But this is what I think about,” “How long will it be cute / All this crying in my room / When you can’t blame it on my youth,” “How did I go from growing up / To breaking down,” “I know someday I’m gonna meet her / It’s a fever dream / The kind of radiance you only have at seventeen / She’ll know the way and then she’ll say she got the map from me / I’ll say I’m happy for her then I’ll cry myself to sleep,” and, of course, “And will you still want me when I’m nothing new?” all hit so hard. I definitely relate to it, both on a personal level and on a working-in-music level. I am kind of grateful that she didn’t release it on the original album because I think it would’ve been devastating, knowing that Taylor was feeling that way. I found ‘The Lucky One’ upsetting enough.)

Favourite Lyrics: [buckle in, folks!] “Oh, your sweet disposition and my wide-eyed gaze / We’re singing in the car, getting lost upstate” AND “I might be okay, but I’m not fine at all” AND “Wind in my hair, I was there / I remember it all too well” AND “You taught me ’bout your past, thinking your future was me” AND “And you were tossing me the car keys, ‘fuck the patriarchy’ / Key chain on the ground, we were always skipping town / And I was thinking on the drive down, any time now / He’s gonna say it’s love, you never called it what it was / ‘Til we were dead and gone and buried / Check the pulse and come back swearing it’s the same / After three months in the grave” AND “And I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to” AND “‘Cause there we are again in the middle of the night / We’re dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light” AND “You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath / Sacred prayer and we’d swear / To remember it all too well” AND “Well, maybe we got lost in translation / Maybe I asked for too much / But maybe this thing was a masterpiece / ‘Til you tore it all up / Running scared, I was there / I remember it all too well / And you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest / I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here / ‘Cause I remember it all, all, all / They say all’s well that ends well, but I’m in a new Hell / Every time you double-cross my mind / You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine / And that made me want to die / The idea you had of me, who was she? / A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you / Not weeping in a party bathroom / Some actress asking me what happened, you / That’s what happened, you” AND “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it / After plaid shirt days and nights when you made me your own / Now you mail back my things and I walk home alone” AND “I’m a soldier who’s returning half her weight” AND “Just between us, did the love affair maim you, too?” AND “Just between us, did the love affair maim you all too well? / Just between us, do you remember it all too well? / Just between us, I remember it all too well”

Note: My friend and frequent collaborator, Richard Marc, released his fifth single, ‘I Don’t Know,’ at the start of the month. Again, I worked on the song with him so, again, it’s not officially on this list but I love it and it’s a great song; you guys should definitely check it out (along with his now complete EP) because Richard is just awesome. 


12. All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) by Taylor Swift

Yes, I’m still absolutely in love with this song. It’s been on repeat – in real life and in my head – ever since it came out. I’m not surprised at all.


Will there ever be a year when I actually keep to the twelve songs a year rule? Probably not. It keeps expanding every year, both in songs and in favourite lyrics. I’m not complaining; I’ll never complain about finding more music to fall in love with. Having said that, I am aware that these posts can get long! But I hope it was fun or interesting or both and, again, here is the playlist link if you’d like to listen to the songs I’ve talked about.