Yes, give it to me conspiracy theorists: Swift’s secret liners note message for “Sparks Fly” spelled out PORTLAND, OREGON, and her fans later found a 2006 Myspace blog post about opening up for country singer Jake Owen in Portland.
“Back to December”
“Back to December” is about Taylor Lautner, the Twilight star who Swift dated at the turn of the decade. The news of it being about Lautner was confirmed hilariously in a 2016 Facebook Live stream that Lautner did with Lea Michele and John Stamos to promote their show, Scream Queens. At one point, Michele just begins grilling Lautner about their relationship, and quotes lyrics from the song Swift wrote about him as she tries to remember what it’s called until an obviously embarrassed Lautner replies, “It’s called ‘Back to December.'” Watch it here, beginning at the 9:30 mark.
“Dear John,” which is simply one of the coldest diss tracks ever recorded, is about guitar lothario John Mayer, who she had a fling with. “I was really caught off-guard, and it really humiliated me at a time when I’d already been dressed down,” Mayer told Rolling Stone in 2012. “I mean, how would you feel if, at the lowest you’ve ever been, someone kicked you even lower?” He also dissed the song’s technical merits: “I will say as a songwriter that I think it’s kind of cheap songwriting. I know she’s the biggest thing in the world, and I’m not trying to sink anybody’s ship, but I think it’s abusing your talent to rub your hands together and go, ‘Wait till he gets a load of this!’ That’s bullshit.”
Incredibly, “Mean” is rumored to be about music industry pundit Bob Lefsetz, who runs a well-circulated newsletter about his perspective on the industry. The story goes that Swift and Lefsetz corresponded a few times at the start of her career, but after he slammed her 2010 performance at the Grammys, she wrote this offended diss track. Lefsetz addressed the rumors on his own blog, taking it in stride. “She won,” he wrote. (It’s true—”Mean” is one of her best songs.) “But she still can’t sing and isn’t it time to start acting like an adult?
“The Story of Us”
“‘The Story of Us’ is about running into someone I had been in a relationship with at an awards show, and we were seated a few seats away from each other,” Swift told USA Today. “I just wanted to say to him, ‘Is this killing you? Because it’s killing me.’ But I didn’t. Because I couldn’t. Because we both had these silent shields up.” The liner notes spell out “CMT AWARDS,” and guess what: Swift and John Mayer performed at the CMT Awards in 2010, making him the likely subject.
Also incredibly, “Enchanted” is about Owl City singer Adam Young. “It was about this guy that I met in New York City, and I had talked to him on email or something before, but I had never met him,” she told Yahoo! Music in 2010 (as archived by The Hollywood Reporter). “And meeting him, it was this overwhelming feeling of: I really hope that you’re not in love with somebody.” The secret message in the liner notes spelled out “ADAM,” and Young eventually went public with the story about their meeting. He talked about the flirtation at length in this honestly incredible Us Weekly interview, where the writer just grills him at length about why he’s not dating her.
“Better Than Revenge”
Swift’s most slut-shaming song (“She’s not a saint / And she’s not what you think / She’s an actress, whoa / She’s better known / For the things that she does / On the mattress, whoa”) is about actress Camilla Belle, who dated Jonas after his breakup with Swift. It’s never been talked about in public, but Belle has gotten her shots at Swift over the years.
As scholars continue to analyze the 2009 MTV VMAs as the moment that broke Swift and Kanye West’s brains, they might look back to “Innocent,” the first song Swift ever penned about him. “I think a lot of people expected me to write a song about him,” she told New York in 2010. “But for me it was important to write a song to him.” She added: “It doesn’t really add anything good if I start victimizing myself and complaining about things.” This is referred to in fiction as “foreshadowing.”
The liner notes spelled out “FOREVER AND ALWAYS,” a song we know is about Joe Jonas, so this wistful look at an ended relationship is most likely about the JoBro. There’s a lyric about “I ran off that plane that July ninth,” and the Jonas Brothers played a show on July 9, 2008, that Swift reportedly attended (assuming you believe the word of grainy YouTube videos).
In a now-deleted post on her website, Swift wrote of “Long Live”: “This song is about my band, and my producer, and all the people who have helped us build this brick by brick. The fans, the people who I feel that we are all in this together, this song talks about the triumphant moments that we’ve had in the last two years. We’ve had times where we just jump up and down, and dance like we don’t care how we’re dancing, and just scream at the top of our lungs, “How is this happening?” And, I feel very lucky to even have had one of those moments, nonetheless all the ones that I got to have. ‘Long Live’ is about how I feel reflecting on it.” So… this song is about me. Thank you, Taylor.
“State of Grace”
Red, Swift’s breakthrough album as a giant pop star, is largely concerned with a few exes, most notable Jake Gyllenhaal, who gets the rub on the album opener. “Just twin fire signs, four blue eyes,” Swift sings, and guess what: Both Swift and Gyllenhaal have blue eyes and are Sagittariuses. Generally speaking, the thinking goes that the wistful breakup songs on Red are about Gyllenhaal, while the scorned ones are about Harry Styles. (The outright happy songs are about Conor Kennedy, who Swift was dating right before Red came out.)
The hidden message spells out SAG, which has been taken as an allusion to the Screen Actors Guild (which Gyllenhaal is a member of) or Sag Harbor (a bougie vacation retreat for a pair of New York lovers). Since Red is largely about one person, and Gyllenhaal seems to have gotten most of the non-vitriolic songs, we’re going to peg this one to him.
To go down the rabbit hole here: The secret message for this was “Won’t stop till it’s over,” and Swift’s ex Harry Styles has a tattoo that said “Won’t stop till we surrender.” That tattoo is reportedly taken from the Temper Trap song “Sweet Disposition,” which also features the lyric “won’t stop till it’s over.” Then again, Gyllenhaal is also reportedly a big fan of the Temper Trap, and it’s thought that Red cut “All Too Well” is about him. A lyric on that song? “With your sweet disposition / and my wide-eyed gaze.” Still, the tattoo business seems to point heavily at Styles, and besides, he seems more like the devilish hot type that “Treacherous” sings about.
“I Knew You Were Trouble”
Swift performed her hit song at the 2013 BRIT Awards, and when asked if it was difficult to play the song, replied, “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.” Which of her exes was sitting there? Harry Styles, of course.
“All Too Well”
The hidden message here was “MAPLE LATTES,” and a 2010 People story talked about how her and Jake Gyllenhaal had ordered the sugary drink at a Gorilla Coffee in Brooklyn. Also, my local coffee shop offers a maple latte called the “Jake and Taylor,” which makes it official.
The hidden message here was “ASHLEY, DIANNA, CLAIRE, SELENA.” These are the four names of some of her friends: Ashley Avignone, Dianna Agron, Claire Callaway, and Selena Gomez.
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
In an interview with USA Today, Swift said “Never Ever” is “a definitive portrait of how I felt when I finally stopped caring what my ex thought of me,” the ex being a guy who “made me feel like I wasn’t as good or as relevant as these hipster bands he listened to … So I made a song that I knew would absolutely drive him crazy when he heard it on the radio. Not only would it hopefully be played a lot, so that he’d have to hear it, but it’s the opposite of the kind of music that he was trying to make me feel inferior to.” Considering Gyllenhaal’s reported hip music taste—he was once in a Vampire Weekend video!—he’s probably the guy.
In an interview, Swift said: “The song ‘Holy Ground’ was a song that I wrote about the feeling I got after years had gone by and I finally appreciated a past relationship for what it was, rather than being bitter about what it didn’t end up being. And I was sitting there thinking about it after I’d just seen him and I was just like, ‘You know what, that was good.'” Joe Jonas was spotted at a pair of Swift shows in 2011, leading to speculation this song is about him, especially since he’s one of her more infamous exes.
“Sad Beautiful Tragic”
The hidden message was “WHILE YOU WERE ON A TRAIN,” and you know who once joined Mumford & Sons for a train-based tour? Jake Gyllenhaal.
“Everything Has Changed”
The hidden message is “HYANNIS PORT,” the home of the Kennedy Compound, and theoretically frequented by one of Swift’s exes, Conor Kennedy.
This one is about Bobby and Ethel Kennedy. Here’s what she told the Wall Street Journal (by way of Gawker): “I came across this picture of these two kids dancing at a dance. It immediately made me think of like how much fun they must have had that night. It was back in the late ’40s. I ended up reading underneath that it was Ethel Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. And they were like 17. So I just kind of wrote that song from that place, not really knowing how they met or anything like that. And then her daughter Rory ended up coming to a show a couple weeks later and I told her about the song and she was like, you have to meet my mom. She would love to meet you.
In an appearance on Good Morning America, Swift said about “Begin Again”: “It’s actually a song about when you’ve gotten through a really bad relationship and you finally dust yourself off and go on that first date after a horrible break up. And the vulnerability that goes along with all of that.” Given that the hidden message was “I WEAR HEELS NOW,” and that Jake Gyllenhaal was the same height as Swift (five-foot-eleven), this song is probably about then-new boyfriend Connor Kennedy, who checked in at a manly 6’2.
“Welcome to New York”
Guess what? This song is about New York City.
Given the title, and that this seems to be about an extremely hot ex, this can only be Harry Styles. Many of the songs on 1989 seem to be about Styles, whether literally or contextually: He was her only public relationship between the release of Red and 1989.
“Out of the Woods”
This one makes references to “your necklace hanging from my neck,” which means it’s probably Styles—when they were dating, she was often photographed wearing his paper airplane necklace.
Yessssss. This diss track, while not as vicious as something like “Dear John,” is still pretty rude. It’s about Katy Perry, whose war with Swift is still ongoing, despite Katy’s attempts to call it a day.
“I Know Places”
Taylor once wore a fox sweater on a date with Styles. A lyric on this song, which seems to chronicle a high-profile relationship? “They are the hunter, we are the foxes.”
“Look What You Made Me Do”
We’re back to Kanye West, and their feud revived by his song “Famous,” which sparked a whole imbroglio involving him, Swift, and Kim Kardashian. “I don’t like your tilted stage,” she sings, a clear reference to his Life of Pablo touring set-up. The visuals for this one also make it clear it’s about West, and if it’s perhaps a poor idea for Swift to re-litigate an old feud she definitively lost, nobody has told her otherwise. Still, you wouldn’t want to bet against her.
If there are songs we’ve missed, or interpretations we’ve misread, please e-mail us at [email protected]