Better Man (From The Vault)

The Breaker (Little Big Town, 2016) | RED (Taylor's Version) [2021]

“Better Man” is a song originally written by Taylor for her 2012 album RED. It was cut from the final track list and instead got released by American country group Little Big Town on October 20, 2016, as the lead single from their eighth studio album, The Breaker (2016). A fan favorite, “Better Man (Taylor’s Version) [From The Vault]” was finally included on RED (Taylor’s Version) [2021].
“Better Man” captures the feeling of getting out of a toxic, perhaps abusive, relationship and accepting the sorrow that follows the breakup. Originally, the song was assumed to be about Taylor’s breakup with Scottish DJ Calvin Harris in 2016. However, according to Taylor herself the song was originally intended for her fourth studio album, RED (2012).

«Everybody can identify with the sentiment of this song. A lot of times in life, there are things that you have to walk away from that don’t necessarily feel like the greatest decision to have to make in your life, but sometimes you just know that it’s time to move on, and no matter how hard that is, you just know down in your heart that it’s time to do that. And those are very difficult decisions that we face sometimes in our lives, and this song talks about that beautifully.»

Little Big Town
Table of Contents

Background

What lead Little Big Town to cut the song began with an email from Taylor to band member Phillip Sweet. It included a demo of the song, which got leaked years later on October 12, 2021, a month before the release of RED (Taylor’s Version). In the email to Little Big Town, Taylor wrote:

«I wrote this song and I keep hearing your voices on it. I know you're making a record – if you want to cut it, great. If not, no big deal.»

Taylor Swift

“We thanked the good Lord it didn’t go in his spam folder,” Sweet’s bandmate Kimberly Schlapman joked to People Magazine. Sweet sent the demo to the rest of the band, and there was an unanimous, enthusiastic vote to record it. “We all listened to it individually and then we were on the road with Luke Bryan all year. So every evening in the dressing room when we were getting ready, we would play the song over and over and over. Instantly that chorus had us hooked. The lush harmony felt so much like us!”

Taylor revealed in August 2021 that she will be recording her rendition of “Better Man” for the 2021 re-recording of RED, called RED (Taylor’s Version) [2021].

The Secret Songwriter

Taylor wasn’t revealed as the song’s writer from the start. Little Big Town announced that she wrote their new single a week after its release: “We’ve been telling you guys that there was a young girl in Nashville that wrote it by herself, and it’s Taylor Swift. She sent us this song, and it was one that was really special to her and she thought of us because of the harmonies. The moment that we heard it, we were like, ‘Man, that is a song that we’re gonna cut.’ The only reason we didn’t say that she wrote it is because we wanted you to hear the song for what it’s worth.”

As reported by Tennesseean, Taylor said the following at a surprise gig at the Bluebird Café in Nashville in March 2018:

«When I would play writers nights, I didn’t have the experience of a writer writing something and then it going out into the world and you hearing it from someone else’s perspective until recently. Little Big Town gave me the opportunity to feel that way, to be at the Bluebird and play a song you’ve maybe heard on the radio. I will always be forever grateful to them for that.»

Taylor Swift

Critical Reception

Before knowing that Taylor wrote the song alone, Kevin John Coyne of Country Universe rated the song “A”, saying that “It’s a concept that is grounded in so much truth that I’m amazed I’ve never heard it approached this way before,” and “The writers [only Taylor] do a great job of capturing both why [the song’s narrator] stayed so long and why she had to leave, and all of the conflicting feelings that go along with that.” Taste of Country writer Billy Dukes also praised the song, saying that “This song isn’t as jarring as some of the quartet’s most recent hits. In fact, the mistreatment of women is only vaguely alluded to — there’s no one line that burns the hair off the back of your neck. Jay Joyce’s arrangement is soft but not stark. It’s among his more mainstream productions. Still, it’s clear Fairchild’s protagonist is reeling from a love that went very, very wrong.”.

Commercial Performance

“Better Man” sold 6’000 copies on its first day of release, enough to allow the song to enter the Hot Country Songs chart at No. 41. It sold 20,000 the following week, and rose to No. 20 in the chart. In its third week it sold a further 47,000 copies and climbed further to No. 6. On the Hot Country Songs chart dated February 11, 2017, “Better Man” reached No. 1, earning the group their third leader.

Accolades

“Better Man” won Taylor the award for “Song of the Year” at the 2017 CMAs and was nominated for “Best Country Song” at the 2018 Grammy Awards.

Taylor's Version

“Better Man” commences the “From The Vault” part of RED (Taylor’s Version). After Taylor had given the song to Little Big Town and it proceeded to earn Taylor a CMA Award in 2017 and Little Big Town a Grammy in 2018, here listeners witness the song in its original form for the first time. The track details Taylor’s escape from a toxic and possibly abusive relationship, with most of its power coming from the conviction in her voice. She told Amazon Music how she wrote the song and why she left it off of RED back in the day:

«The song 'Better Man' is one I originally wrote for the RED album. I remember I was on tour, I wrote it alone in a hotel room, and I was standing in front of a mirror. The first thing that I thought of was, 'I wish it wasn't 4am, standing in the mirror, saying to myself, 'You know you had to do it.' That was an acutal visual from my life that ended up being the first thing I wrote. And then I expanded outward from there. It was a song that I really thought belonged on the album and...there were just too many songs I loved that I had written in that period of time, so some of them had to be left off. I think I chose 'All Too Well' over 'Better Man.' And then later on, years later, Little Big Town ended up recording that song and it went to No. 1, it won CMA 'Song of the Year', it was nominated for a Grammy, it was insane, that was like the coolest thing ever! And now I get to put out my version of it, so pretty cool moment.»

Taylor Swift

Lyrics

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General Information
AlbumRED (Taylor’s Version)
Backup VocalsLiz Huett
Caitlin Evanson
ReleasedOctober 20, 2016
Re-ReleasedNovember 12, 2021
Written2011-2012
GenreCountry
Length4:57 (Taylor’s Version)
4:21 (Little Big Town)
LabelCapitol Nashville
Republic Records
SongwriterTaylor Swift
ProducersAaron Dessner
Taylor Swift
Jay Joyce (Little Big Town)
RED CHRONOLOGY
RonanBetter ManNothing New
Single Certification
Single Covers
Taylor & Little Big Town
Music Video
Live Performance
Lyric Video
Official Audio