Stanford University offers a class on Taylor Swift's popular 'All Too Well' song

Many Swifties know all too well that Taylor Swift’s songs can be analyzed and dissected till the day is long. Now a Stanford University course has offered students a chance to put one of Swift’s most popular tunes under the microscope in a classroom setting.

The course, called "All Too Well (Ten Week Version)," promised "an in depth analysis" of Swift's song that first came out in 2012, and then re-released in 2021 as an unabridged 10-minute track on the artist’s Red (Taylor's Version) album. The song’s latter version also led to a highly acclaimed short film. 

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At Stanford, the ten-week class has allowed section instructor Nona Hungate to spend each week deconstructing one minute of the ten-minute song, along with other aspects of the piece. 

Hungate said the song fit well into the structure of the course because it was so long and offered a plethora of material to work with. 

"We focus on different elements of the song. So we can think about how the lyrics affected it, how the vocal line affects it, how instrumentation affects it. And then when we looked at the film itself," Hungate said, adding, "We looked at how the imagery and the coloring and the lighting and all the juxtapositions of the film itself affects the storytelling and the song."

Hungate said she created the course with the hope of making it engaging and widely relatable for students, noting that she’s often felt a disconnect when taking music courses in the past. 

"I have always been really passionate about music, and I've always been really passionate about literary analysis. But in my time of taking music theory classes, it was really hard for me to engage in the coursework because we're always looking at courses like we're looking at songs that have been written hundreds of years ago," she explained.

So she set out to offer a learning opportunity through music that was consumed in present day. 

The class was being offered as part of Stanford’s ITALIC 99 courses for the 2023 winter quarter, which comes to a close next week. Alumni of the program teach the student-led one-unit classes, which are geared for freshmen. 

Hungate said that she herself had greatly benefited from being a student in the program, which often offers unconventional, hands-on instruction on varying subjects like international folk dance and comic book making. And because classes were led by peers, it provided an opportunity to build community, she said.  

Hungate noted that a big objective of the course was to make it widely and easily accessible, so students didn't feel like they had to stretch out of their comfort zone to experience the class.

"At any university, but especially at such a prestigious university like Stanford, a lot of people are afraid to learn something that's out of their expertise," the instructor explained. 

So this class was geared toward reaching a wide audience. "Really, it's like for everyone, and I just chose Taylor Swift specifically because she is so popular, so it's more likely that people will get excited about it," Hungate shared.  

It’s not the first time the prolific songwriter’s work inspired a course at a major university. Last year, New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music launched a class on the Grammy-award winning musician and her work. 

And over the fall, an English professor at the University of Texas at Austin started a class called "The Taylor Swift Songbook."

"Poetry and storytelling emerged as literary forms sung and accompanied by music," said creator of the course, Professor Elizabeth Scala who added, "All of the interesting contexts for literature are alive in her work right now." 

Hungate said that her desire to be a teacher compelled her to create her Taylor Swift class. "I was excited about exploring and playing with how music analysis is usually taught," she said. "I thought it'd be fun to go with a discussion-based course on a beautiful and popular piece of music with a lot to talk about, so it left us with the All Too Well course."