Big Machine Records
Taylor Swift catapulted herself to pop stardom based on strong business acumen, a love for her fans, and above all, once-in-a-lifetime songwriting talent. Her romantic relationships have stolen the spotlight from what really matters (her music), partially because Taylor has fantastic taste in men and everyone is jealous of her (Harry Styles AND Jake Gyllenhaal?!) and partially because her love life and her music are inextricably connected.
The intrigue that came from Taylor's deeply personal songs is also connected to the juxtaposition between her attempts to maintain her privacy and what seems like a genuine desire for everyone to know who her songs are about (although that could be mixed in with the business acumen we mentioned earlier). Taylor has dropped enough hints in her liner notes, interviews, and performances that any really dedicated fan can figure out fairly actively which famous exes align with her big hits, but in the end, we can never know for sure until she tells us. For those of you who don't have time to fall into Reddit conspiracies and decades-old interviews, I've gone through all of our favorite Taylor Swift hits to find their hidden backstories and compiled them here so you don't have to do it yourself. Here are 20 classic Taylor Swift songs decoded.
When Taylor was twenty, she dated Jake Gyllenhaal and spent the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday at his sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s house. In "All Too Well," a non-single widely regarded as one of the best songs Taylor has ever recorded, the lyrics strongly reference that autumn where they got "lost upstate" and shared a black and white striped scarf she apparently left at Maggie's house. Jake and Taylor are both Sagittarius "fire signs" with "blue eyes." It's also rumored Jake dumped Taylor with a phone call, possibly when he "[called her] up again just to break [her] like a promise." The painfully beautiful hit resonated so much with fans that many of us are still holding out hope Taylor might release the original ten-minute version she'd recorded.
This song is about Taylor's current beau Joe Alwyn, no question. "Do the girls back home touch you like I do" alludes to his Britishness and "never seen that color blue" makes sure we know it's about blue-eyed Joe and not her other recent foreign boyfriends, brown-eyed Tom Hiddleston and green-eyed Calvin Harris. There's a set piece in the back of the music video for the single that says "Joe's Deli," and knowing Taylor's attention to detail, that was probably a personal clue like she used to leave in her liner notes. She mentions Joe's English accent and blue eyes in "Gorgeous" as well, which has been confirmed to be about the actor.
Taylor revealed in a 2014 Rolling Stone article that "Bad Blood" is about another female pop star who tried to sabotage her arena tour by "hiring a bunch of people out from under her." Taylor lost three backup dancers to Katy Perry during her Red tour, and Katy tweeted something sketchy about a Regina George in sheep's clothing shortly after the interview was published, almost confirming that she was the song's intended target. The lyrics were placed in her liner notes next to a picture of a Grammy, and fans think this is to taunt the Grammy-less Katy with Taylor's seven awards.
"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is absolutely about Jake Gyllenhaal, too. Joe Jonas confirmed in an interview that he never tried to get back together with Taylor after their first breakup, Jake's supposedly a big fan of indie records "that are much cooler than [hers]" based on his regular appearances at indie concerts and festivals, and there are allusions to Jake throughout the music video, like the scarf she puts on her "boyfriend" and the visual similarities between the actor in the music video and Jake. In an interview with New York Magazine, Taylor noted that most of her album Red is about one guy, and it seems like there's a good chance that guy is Jake.
Legend has it that the infamous thirty-second phone call in which Joe Jonas broke up with Taylor happened on the same day her soon-to-be Grammy-winning album Fearless was sent to the Big Machine Records execs. Taylor quickly wrote and recorded a song that day for inclusion on the album, and that song is said to be "Forever And Always." The lyrics include subtle nods to the Jonas Brother, like “I hold on to the night you looked me in the eye and told me you loved me" echoing their hit "When You Look Me In The Eyes," and Taylor has said that the song is about a guy who left her for another girl. Joe left Taylor for Camilla Belle, who is the subject of Taylor's song "Better Than Revenge." A tangled web, we know, but it's oh-so-delicious to unravel.
Taylor Lautner basically confirmed this song was about him in an interview for Scream Queens, but the "tan skin" and "sweet smile" Taylor sings about in the bridge left little room for interpretation since she typically dates pretty pale dudes with the exception of the guy who shares her name. Oh, and "TAYLOR LAUTNER" was spelled out in capital letters in the album liner notes for this song. When Taylor (Swift) apologizes, she doesn't want there to be any confusion. It's a beautiful, regret-filled song, but it's probably for the best the pair broke up. I can't imagine how confusing the Taylor/Taylor love affair was for everyone who knew them.
Did you know Taylor won a Country Music Award in 2017, long after she made her full transition into pop music? Tay wrote Little Big Town's "Better Man," and its one of her most mature, thoughtful works. "Better Man" may prove to be her magnum opus, even if it was performed by Little Big Town, whose harmonies made Taylor think of them for the track. While a tweet went around saying the song was written in 2010, the source of that rumor has since said they were confusing it with another song (possibly "Babe," the Sugarland song originally meant for Red). Elle did a full investigation pointing towards the song being about Calvin Harris and matching certain lyrics with news items from their relationship, and we're inclined to agree.
Taylor basically said this song is about Harry Styles in an interview with Times Magazine where she talked about how easy it was to channel her emotions into a performance of "I Knew You Were Trouble." at the Brit awards because "the person the song is directed at [was] standing by the side of the stage watching." To our knowledge, Harry was the only ex-boyfriend at the Brit awards in 2013. The video again made references to its subject, with Taylor accompanying the male lead to get a tattoo as she did with Harry multiple times.
The biggest hint in "Begin Again" is the line where Taylor talks about how her ex didn't like it when she wore high heels. The hidden message for "Begin Again" in the physical album was "I WEAR HEELS NOW," once again leading us to look at heights. Jake and Taylor were roughly the same height, but the boyfriend who directly followed Jake, Connor Kennedy was over six feet tall. This also further corroborates our theory that the boyfriend Red mostly references is Jake since this is song number three on this list that talks about their doomed love.
When Taylor dated Harry, they were often pictured in matching paper airplane necklaces. "Out Of The Woods" mentions Taylor wearing her boyfriend's necklace. Concrete proof? No. The added references to two paper airplanes flying does help, though, and Billboard thinks that the life-threatening snowmobile accident referenced in the bridge was from Taylor and Harry's Utah trip with Justin Bieber. The relationship from the song ended in December, which is around the time in 2012 Taylor and Harry got into the huge row that caused their final breakup while on vacation after "falling apart and back together" a few times over the years.
This one is a doozy. Tom Hiddleston was Taylor's "Getaway Car" out of her failing relationship with Calvin Harris ("I wanted to leave him/ I needed a reason"). Taylor supposedly met Tom at the Met Gala ("The ties were black/ the lies were white") where the pair are said to have left together. "But with three of us, honey, it's a sideshow" supports the theory that there was overlap in the two relationships (as does the entire song "I Did Something Bad"). The song heavily implies that Taylor left Tom ("Should've known to be the first to leave"), and if rumors are true, Taylor broke up with Tom and soon after got together with Joe (who, ironically, she *also* met at the Met Gala if the lyric "Flashback when you met me / Your buzzcut and my hair bleached" from the Joe-inspired "Dress" is any indication). "Getaway Car" is basically the roadmap that explains all of Reputation and Taylor's past three relationships.
Interestingly enough, "Mine" is about the late Glee actor Cory Monteith. While it's hard to imagine a time before Cory was happily dating Lea Michele, Taylor and Cory were linked in 2010 when Glee was just starting to take off, and the song was inspired by a very innocuous moment when Taylor saw an entire relationship flash before her eyes just as the guy she was dating put his arms around her by the water. "Mine" was written in 2010 about a guy Taylor barely knew, and the pair never seriously dated after first being linked, so there's a good chance this one was for Cory if the timelines and speculation are to be believed.
Another song about Joe Jonas, the liner notes for the highly underrated ballad "Last Kiss" spelled out "FOREVER AND ALWAYS," a song we've already established is probably almost definitely about Joe. The Jonas Brothers played a show on July 9, 2008, that YouTube videos and Spin say Taylor attended, lining up with the lyric "I ran off the plane / That July ninth." That's really enough evidence for this one, but if you're looking for more, Taylor spoke about how the relationship in "Last Kiss" is one that ended with little warning, much like a certain thirty-second phone call Taylor received in 2008.
I have my theories about Joe and Taylor's relationship because Fearless, Speak Now, and Red all featured songs about the Jonas brother. That's *three* Swift eras! No other boyfriend has been featured for that long, even the dastardly Jake Gyllenhaal. For a long time, I thought "Story Of Us" was one of those songs, but wit actually turns out that "Dear John" and "Story Of Us" are about the same person, which can only mean one thing: This song is about John Mayer. Taylor told USA Today that this 'person' (John Mayer) was at the CMT Awards in 2011, where John was playing with Keith Urban and they fully ignored each other. Real mature, John.
Do I even need to tell you this song is about Harry Styles? His name is in the title and there are lyrics about tattoos and white t-shirts. She even included the paper airplane necklace she talked about in "Out Of The Woods" in the music video for this song, which also included a lot of woodsy imagery. A shot of the male lead on the beach lowkey kind of looks like a certain One Direction dude and the guy drives the same car as Harry. The references to other women also point towards the song ~very obviously being about Harry~ since he reportedly never stopped hooking up with other people.
Another obvious choice: this song is about John Mayer. John and Taylor dated when she was nineteen and he was in his thirties. John never denied the song is about him and actually claims he did nothing to deserve the epic takedown that is this song. The track was released in the middle of a media firestorm against him because of a pretty racist interview he did with Playboy where he said his penis was a white supremacist and used the n-word. Yeah, really.
In response to Taylor, John wrote the song "Paper Doll," which had some heavy-handed references about scarfs and heels and the number twenty-two and other motifs in a lot of Taylor's songs, but let's be honest. If you're thirty and dating a teenager, whatever happened there was for sure your fault. That's creepy, dude.
Supplied by WENN.com
The prevailing belief about this song is that "Come Back... Be Here" was written about Harry Styles. Considering all of the references to London, the short-lived nature of the relationship in the song, and the fact that the man in the song is constantly traveling, it's a reasonable theory. This song was also written around the same time as "Treacherous," which Taylor has said was written for the same boyfriend as "I Knew You Were Trouble," and has liner notes that mention one of Harry's tattoos, so Harry was clearly on her mind. Harry is most likely the muse behind "Come Back... Be Here," but Redditor TwoShoesThree also has a pretty well researched theory that Zac Efron might be the man behind the song. If you totally forgot they were ever linked, you're not alone, but this song was likely recorded around the same time they were spotted together by the media and Zac's travel schedule lines up with the locations in the song.
This fun lil diddy is one hundred percent about Stephen Barker Liles from the country music duo Love and Theft. Taylor toured with Love and Theft in 2008 while they were both up-and-coming acts, and the pair became close on tour. Stephen has since talked about Taylor calling him to tell him that she'd written a song for him, and he later responded with a song of his own in 2011 that he'd written around the same time period called "Try To Make It Anyway." While Taylor has become one of the biggest pop acts in the world, Love and Theft were dropped from RCA in 2015 and are still hustling to find an audience. So, natch, Stephen's Taylor Swift connection comes up a lot in interviews. Mystery solved.
Back before Taylor wanted to be excluded from the narrative, she wrote "Innocent" for Kanye West. She wanted to be very clear that it wasn't a song about Kanye but that it was a song to Kanye forgiving him for the 2009 MTV Video Music Award microphone-stealing incident. My, how far we've come. "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things" off of Reputation is about the literal opposite feeling, where Taylor calls him out for being a snake after Kim Kardashian West and Kanye somewhat successfully went after the singer's reputation in 2016. The lines "32 and still growing up now" and "who you are is not what you did" in "Innocent" directly reference Kanye, who was 32 at the time of the VMA debacle.
Some people think "The Lucky One" is about Britney Spears because of its similarity to Britney's song "Lucky," which Taylor used to cover on tour. But most of the world is pretty sure that "The Lucky One" follows Joni Mitchell's career, who Taylor was on a shortlist to portray in a biopic around the time of Red's recording and release. Joni was "a sixties queen," and the made-up name Taylor referred to could be Joni's, as Joni was born Roberta Joan Anderson. The line "chose the rose garden over Madison Square" echoes Joni's 1972 album For The Roses and its eponymous track about the nasty side of the music business. Joni never left the recording business, but her words may have inspired Taylor to write about her own frustrations with the business side of her art form.