There’s no question that Taylor Swift is one of the most beloved pop icons of our time. So much so that in November 2022, when pre-sale tickets went live for her Eras tour, 2 million tickets were sold in a day — a historic number for Ticketmaster. The tsunami of sales that day ultimately led to the site crashing, and, later, Ticketmaster was forced to cancel the general sale that was planned for the following day. This all leaves us wondering — what is it about Swift and her music that creates such a loyal and passionate fan base?
The one key thing that Swift says sets her apart from other musicians is her storytelling. Fans connect to her songs because they see themselves in her lyrics. In her 2020 documentary, Miss Americana, Swift says that there’s an element to her fan base “where we feel like we grew up together. I’ll be going through something, write the album about it, and it’ll come out, and sometimes it’ll just coincide with what they’re going through. Kind of like they’re reading my diary.” What’s more is Swift frequently hides Easter eggs in her lyrics for fans to search for, which has led devoted Swifties to develop theories about the meaning behind her songs. Here are some of Swift’s most popular songs that are believed to have a “hidden meaning” behind them.
Anti-Hero is Swift’s most recent hit single that’s taken America by storm. It reigned at the top of Billboard’s charts for eight weeks, partly for its catchy synthpop melody,and partly because the lyrics are frighteningly relatable to many fans. Anti-Hero mostly deals with Swift’s struggle with, well, herself. Swift said that this track is her favorite on Midnights because it’s “really honest.” She also admits that it’s a “guided tour throughout all the things I tend to hate about myself. We all hate things about ourselves.” On Instagram, she mentioned that it was inspired by her insecurities, as well as her feelings of self-hatred. In the song, she laments that she gets “older, but just never wiser,” which could mean that although she’s growing older, it doesn’t mean that she’s maturing or learning from her mistakes. She later sings about how “Midnights become my afternoons / When my depression works the graveyard shift, all of the people / I’ve ghosted stand there in the room.” Some say this is Swift confiding that she struggles with depression and, as a result, insomnia. In her most famous lyric, Swift introduces herself with, “It’s me, hi / I’m the problem it’s me.”
‘Shake It Off’ (‘1989’)
Shake It Off is Swift’s pop anthem about how she learned how to deal with the media and the public’s perception of her. At the time, Swift was dealing with various public feuds — such as her disputes with Kanye West and Katy Perry — so she was constantly in the tabloids, dealing with swirling rumors and internet trolls. But in a chat with Glamour, Swift decided that instead of descending into “an endless sea of resentment and bitterness,” she wanted to give people something joyful that they could dance to and Shake It Off.
‘Blank Space’ (‘1989’)
Blank Space also deals with Swift’s relationship with the media and how she’s been portrayed over the years, especially when it comes to her “long list of ex-lovers.” She depicts herself as a crazed, love-hungry girl who’s desperate for another suitor, which is how many in the media have often painted her. Some think that Swift is finally accepting her media-prescribed identity, but others see it as a satire of how crazy everyone thinks she is, especially when it comes to her search for love. In the song, she tells her new beau that he looks like “her next mistake,” and she warns him that her ex-lovers will “tell you I’m insane,” which feels like subtle digs at the tabloids over the years.
‘Bad Blood’ (‘1989’)
It’s no secret that Bad Blood is about Swift’s loss of friendship and resulting longtime feud with fellow popstar, Perry. Their friendship started way back in 2009 when Swift tweeted a compliment to Perry about her Waking Up in Vegas music video. But Swift said that things went south for the gal pals when the friend mentioned in the song, Bad Blood, “tried to sabotage an entire arena tour.” Perry later admitted that what Swift is referring to is when Perry hired away a few of Swift’s backup dancers. A few Easter eggs are littered throughout the song as well that allude to Perry. Swift sings about the subject of the song living “with ghosts,” and she warns that “Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes.” Swift is said to be referencing Perry’s recent release of Ghosts and her country song, Bullet.
Style has one of the largest Easter eggs in Swift’s catalogue. The title itself lends to the rumor that the song is about Swift’s rollercoaster romance with Harry Styles. It speaks about a girl’s longtime troubled relationship with a boy who resembles James Dean, a look that Harry Styles sported at the time they were together. Another subtle mention of Styles is in the bridge where Swift sings, “Take me home.” Many have theorized that it’s referencing the title of One Direction’s second album Take Me Home.
At first glance, Betty is about three teenagers caught up in their first love triangle: James cheats on the title character, Betty, with Inez. However, the song has drudged up a couple of rumors, one of which was confirmed by Swift and the other was denied. The first is that the three names refer to Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively’s kids, James, Inez and Betty. At the time of the song’s release, Lively was pregnant with their third child, so fans speculated that the song was breaking the news about the name of their third daughter. Swift later confirmed that she named all three characters after her friends’ kids. The second rumor comes from the “Gaylors,” or fans who wish to view Swift’s music through a queer lens. Gaylors speculated that the song has a queer bent to it, but Swift maintains that the song is simply told from the perspective of a 17-year-old boy.
‘Back To December’ (‘Speak Now’)
Back To December is a fan favorite because it’s another anthem about Swift’s love life. The song speaks about Swift’s 2009 romance with Taylor Lautner, and it details the timeline of their relationship. She sings about their “beautiful times” in the summer, how she realized that she loved him that fall and, then, how it all went wrong in December. The song is essentially an apology to Lautner, saying that “fear crept into [her] mind” and “all [she] gave him was goodbye.” In 2016, Lautner admitted during a Facebook Live, that the song indeed was about him.
‘The Story of Us’ (‘Speak Now’)
The Story of Us is another page taken directly out of Swift’s diary; it details an awkward run-in with ex-boyfriend, John Mayer. The lyrics describe two people “in a crowded room… not speaking.” Fans later deduced that the crowded room turned out to be the CMT Awards, where she ran into Mayer because the two were both performing there. The ex-couple avoided speaking to each other that night, and they both, as the song says, tried “to look busy.”
‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ (‘Red’)
I Knew You Were Trouble details another of the singer/songwriter’s romances. At first, some theorized that it was about Mayer or Jake Gyllenhaal, but it’s now rumored to be about Styles. Fans went wild when, after the BRIT Awards in 2013, Swift spoke with The Sunday Times about her performance. She mentioned that you’re supposed to “feel everything you’re singing and show it on your face. Feel everything exactly as you felt it when you wrote the song. Well, it’s not hard to access that emotion when the person the song is directed at is standing by the side of the stage watching.” It’s said that Styles was there that night, so fans suspected that the song was directed at him.
“’All Too Well’ (‘Red’)
As any loyal Swiftie knows, All Too Well chronicles Swift’s short-lived romance with Gyllenhaal in 2010. Although Gyllenhaal has denied that the song is about him, there are too many Easter eggs in the lyrics and the ten-minute long accompanying short film that point towards his relationship with Swift. First, the pair dated when Swift was 20 years old and Gyllenhaal was 29, and the song makes a reference to their age difference: “You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine.” It also mentions she left a scarf at her boyfriend’s sister’s house when they traveled upstate to visit his family. Jake’s sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal, confirmed that Swift joined them for Thanksgiving in 2010, which coincides with the couple’s relationship timeline since they started dating in October. The song also accuses the ex-boyfriend of keeping the scarf, and Gyllenhaal was spotted wearing Swift’s scarf after their breakup.
‘You Need to Calm Down’ (‘Lover’)
At first, You Need to Calm Down is directed at all of Swift’s haters, in general. But later on, the lyrics get more specific, and they directly address homophobes. In the first half of the song, she makes references to some of her critics, past and present. The first verse is all about internet trolls, who takes “shots at me like it’s Patron” but they “say it in Tweets” instead of in person. Later, she mentions “snakes and stones never broke my bones,” which fans think is a reference to Kim Kardashian’s tweet that called Swift a snake in 2016. In the music video, Perry is also featured, which references their longtime public feud. (But it’s clear by Perry’s appearance in the video that they’ve now made up.) Later, the second verse very clearly takes a stand for LGBTQIA+ rights. The pronouns change from “I” to “we,” and Swift accuses trolls of taking shots at her “friends like a missile.” She also intentionally spells “glad” with two A’s, or GLAAD, which is a reference to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. She also sings about “sunshine on the street at the parade” which alludes to gay pride parades. Her music video also features several LGBTQIA+ celebrities and activists, such as Billy Porter, Ellen DeGeneres and Laverne Cox.
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