who are taylor swift's songs about

Taylor Swift’s Best Work Comes From Situationships

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I’ll be the first to admit that I was incredibly nervous when Taylor Swift announced her new album, The Tortured Poets Department

It was an odd reaction because I’ve been a Swiftie since Debut so a whole new hoard of tracks is usually a bliss-inducing gift. But the rumour mill was already churning out theories that this album would be all about Joe Alwyn, and that’s what made me stressed.

You see, Taylor and Joe’s relationship was the longest the pop singer has had, with the couple tucking six years under their belts before breaking up. And that’s impressive and important and real, but in my opinion, that’s too impressive, too important and too real. Because Taylor’s best work doesn’t come from loved-up reality, it comes from fantasised tragedy.

taylor swift tortured poets department fortnight music video

Taylor Swift in her ‘Fortnight’ music video. Image credit: @taylorswift Instagram

Think about the most heart-wrenching song from Ms. Swift – ‘All Too Well’. This track, and it’s 10-minute long twin yanked from the Red vaults, is an outpouring of pain, destruction, loss, hope and sorrow that fans scream-sing back at her during her every concert. It’s a true anthem of heartbreak that we use to narrate the torture of losing an all-consuming love, and yet Taylor wrote it about a three-month fling she had with Jake Gyllenhaal when she was 20 years old. 

She packed so much hurt and angst and longing into that song that you’d be forgiven for thinking her husband of 45 years had been tragically lost in the front lines of a brutal war. But instead, it was a cocky ghosting from a slightly-older, slightly more famous (at the time) dude. 

Similar reactions to short-lived situationships can be found in ‘Dear John’, ‘Back To December’, ‘Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve’ and if we wind it back to some serious OG content, then ‘Teardrops On My Guitar’ was only about a single look, but ripped apart my teenage heart. 

So when I realised three tracks into Tortured Poets Department that the album wasn’t about the long-term love of her life, Joe Alywn, but instead about sweaty little Matty Healy and their two-week-long dalliance I knew she was about to belt out her most brutal lyrics.

@itspunkee♬ The Tortured Poets Department – Taylor Swift

And I wasn’t wrong. 

While The Tortured Poets Department could certainly do with some editing down (there are 30 songs on the two-parter drop, don’t you know), the lyrically-led album has some absolutely feral lines in it – lines that could only come from a shocking situationship.

I love you, it’s ruining my life.

You swore that you loved me, but where were the clues? / I died on the altar waiting for the proof.

“At dinner, you take my ring off my middle finger / And put it on the one people put wedding rings on / And that’s the closest I’ve come to my heart exploding.”

“So if you wanna break my cold, cold heart / Say you loved me / And if you wanna tear my world apart / Say you’ll always wonder.”

“And it kills me. I just don’t understand how you don’t miss me.”

“What if he’s written ‘mine’ on my upper thigh only in my mind?”

“‘Cause you lured me, and you hurt me, and you taught me. / You caged me, and then you called me crazy. I am what I am ’cause you trained me.”

“We broke all the pieces but still want to play the game. / Told my friends I hate you, but I love you just the same.”

“Please, I’ve been on my knees. Change the prophecy. / Don’t want money, just someone who wants my company. / Let it once be me.”

“Dancing phantoms on the terrace, / are they second-hand embarrassed that I can’t get out of bed / ’cause something counterfeit’s dead?”

“It was legendary / It was momentary / It was unnecessary.”

If you haven’t listened to the whole album yet, I will flag now that ‘loml’ absolutely ruined me and I was sobbing in a middle seat on a plane when I first heard it. 

I will admit that some of Taylor’s most gorgeous songs about falling in love come from her biggest, longest and loveliest relationships – with Lover and Reputation showcasing some of her finest ballads for Joe Alwyn. But her best breakup songs are about silly little boys who trampled on her heart in record time. 

And Taylor herself admits this, explaining in a poem found in a vinyl sleeve of The Tortured Poets Department titled ‘In Summation’ that “it’s the worst men that I write best”.

These lyrics above are written off the back of “touching [Matty Healy] for only a fortnight”, but are woven in with years of lusting, fantasizing and imagining changing a guy that was never going to stick around. Then, the second half of the album (and a few more songs from part two) map out the devastating realisation that their romance had to end, and did, incredibly quickly. 

More art, I’m sure, has been written, sung and painted about the brutal moments of a swift breakup than there ever have of a mutually respectful, amicable ending of a long-term relationship. Because there’s kindness and clarity in an ending of that sort – so even though the sadness of a six-year relationship ending should technically be 156.5 times more heartbreaking than the demise of a two-week situationship, that’s never how it actually adds up.

Particularly when you’re dealing with a tortured poet. 

Image credit: @taylorswift Instagram