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Music Reviews

MPAA Rating
Pop, EDM/Electronica/Techno
Peaked at No 2.
Record Label
Big Machine
November 27, 2012
Adam R. Holz
Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift

"I Knew You Were Trouble."

When romance runs aground for any of us, it can feel like the end of a dream. A hole punched through the middle of our month, our year. When romance ends for Taylor Swift, it's the end of the world. It's her own private apocalypse.

And she'd like to share her feelings with her fans on "I Knew You Were Trouble." Sure, she knows she brought that trouble on herself. She should have known better. She did know better. But she courted a connection with a dangerous beau anyway.

It ends badly in the song … and even more so in the video.

The chorus distills Swift's "shoulda known better" lament to its essence: "'Cause I knew you were trouble when you walked in/So shame on me now/ … Now I'm lying on the cold, hard ground/Oh, oh, trouble, trouble, trouble."

Speaking of "cold, hard ground," that's where the video begins. A punked-out Taylor Swift (heavy mascara, pink-tipped hair, leather pants) awakens in what looks like a makeshift landfill in the desert. Toilet paper, plastic garbage bags, discarded and torn tents (among other things) dot the landscape. Swift is the only person around, as if a bomb exploded at Burning Man and left her as the sole survivor.

Ominous, synthesized chords swell in the background as Swift looks around, dazed and confused, trying to make sense of where she is and what has happened. Slowly she begins to recall snippets of the previous night. And we, too, glimpse flashbacks to pulsating lights and the dancing bodies of ravers who'd populated the wilderness party spot hours before.

A drama-drenched voiceover from Swift sets the stage for the song:

"I think," Swift says, "I think when it's all over, it just comes back in flashes, you know? It's like a kaleidoscope of memories. It just all comes back. But he never does. I think part of me knew the second I saw him that this would happen. It's not really anything he said or anything he did. It was the feeling that came along with it. And the crazy thing is, I don't know if I'm ever gonna feel that way again. But I don't know if I should. I knew his world moved too fast and burned too bright."

Then, a bit of a spiritual reflection:

"But I just thought, How can the devil be pulling you toward someone who looks so much like an angel when he smiles at you? Maybe he knew that when he saw me. I guess I just lost my balance. I think that the worst part of it all wasn't losing him. It was losing me."

Credit Swift for learning a hard lesson in retrospect. And hearing her repeat the line, "So shame on me now" could have the effect of discouraging someone from following in her path. But given her own testimony in the song, it was a rough patch she could have easily avoided.

In other words, she already knew the lesson before going to this particular school of hard relationship knocks.

"Once upon a time, a few mistakes ago/I was in your sights, you got me alone," the song itself begins. "You found me, you found me, you found me." She admits she was drawn to this bad boy's devil-may-care demeanor: "I guess you didn't care, and I guess I liked that." It's not long, though, before she starts to suspect that being "found" isn't such a good thing. "And when I fell hard, you took a step back/Without me, without me, without me."

The balance of the song unpacks the emotionally devastating imbalance between Swift's infatuation and her man's cruel nonchalance as he uses her, then moves on: "No apologies, he'll never see you cry/Pretend he doesn't know that he's the reason why/You're drowning, you're drowning, you're drowning." Then there's this dagger: "Now I heard you moved on from whispers on the street/A new notch in your belt is all I'll ever be/And now I see, now I see, now I see/He was long gone before he met me/And I realize the joke is on me, hey!"

Finally, one last regret: "And the saddest fear comes creeping in/That you never loved me, or her, or anything, yeah."

If the song itself deals mostly with the emotional end of the things—the "notch in your belt" line is one of the few we hear that hints at a physical relationship—the video pushes things into territory as dangerous as the "playa" Swift falls for. Once she scrapes herself off the desert floor, a flood of memories takes over as we follow the arc of her relationship with a guy destined to "love" and leave her. Sultry glances between Swift and her Johnny Depp-meets-Jared Leto lookalike soon lead to lots of caressing and kissing. Sometimes he's shirtless. Sometimes they're on a bed. Sometimes he's on top of her.

The cascading montage of memories continues, and this brazen lothario's reckless nature becomes increasingly apparent as he stands up while driving a convertible, picks a fight at a bar that results in a savage beating and, finally, makes out with another woman at the rave—causing Swift to crumple to the cold, hard ground.

And we're right back where we started, asking the question, Will the lesson finally stick this time?