Have a fling with Taylor Swift and you’re liable—nay, likely—to end up as an allusion in one of her songs somewhere down the road. Indeed, the title of this breezy, ’80s-inspired song about a passionate-but-doomed romance winks not so subtly at yet another of Swift’s long list of exes: One Direction’s Harry Styles.
Unlike some of Taylor’s lyrical lashings of exes in the past—John Mayer might still be in therapy after her bitter takedown of him on 2012’s Red—Swift admits that this particular song is more about two people who’ve both made some selfish choices than it is about shaming a cheating, on-again-off-again boyfriend. In a 2014 interview with Ryan Seacrest, Swift said, “It’s basically [about] one of those relationships that’s always a bit off. [It’s] a crooked love, which is never quite synced up right. The two people are trying to forget each other and they’ve both been out with other people and they’ve both tried to forget the other. So, it’s like, ‘All right, I heard you went off with her,’ and well, I’ve done that too.”
She also notes, “I would never have said anything like that on a previous album. My previous albums have also been sort of like, ‘I was right, you were wrong, you did this, it made me feel like this’—a righteous sense of right and wrong in a relationship. What happens when you grow up is you realize the rules in a relationship are very blurred and that it gets very complicated very quickly, and there’s not always a case of who was right and who was wrong.”
So what does a “grown up” “complicated” and “very blurred” song from Taylor Swift actually sound like?
It starts with a risky, late-night rendezvous (“Midnight/You come and pick me up, no headlights”) that Swift hints will end in either pain or ecstasy (“Could end in burning flames or paradise”). Turns out it’s probably the latter: “He can’t keep his wild eyes on the road/Takes me home/Lights off, he’s taking off his coat.” Though nothing else explicitly comes off here, that suggestion’s definitely present (as it is even more in the video, which I’ll get to momentarily).
Swift knows it’s very likely a dead-end relationship: “I should just tell you to leave, ’cause I/Know exactly where it leads, but I/Watch us go ’round and ’round each time.” But she can’t quite cut her beautiful beau off because, well, he’s just too beautiful, too stylish to cut loose permanently. “You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye,” she sings, adding, “And I got that red lip classic thing that you like.” And despite the fact that emotional conflagration will undoubtedly follow the couple’s carnal connection, well, they just keep coming back for more: “And we go crashing down, we come back every time/’Cause we never go out of style.”
The next half of the chorus further focuses on this guy’s smoldering looks (“You got that long hair, slicked back, white T-shirt”) even as Swift coyly flirts with the “sexy” idea of being a Christian who likes to get wild (“And I got that good girl faith and a tight little skirt”).
The song’s bridge finds Swift momentarily confronting her man regarding rumors of his unfaithfulness (“I say, ‘I heard, oh, that you’ve been out and about with some other girl'”). Surprisingly, perhaps, he fesses up (“He says, ‘What you’ve heard is true, but I/Can’t stop thinking about you and I'”). And in that moment, whatever hesitation regarding her guy’s infidelity Swift might have had flies out the window as she fesses up too: “I said, ‘I’ve been there too a few times.'”
It all boils down to repeatedly hooking up with a guy she knows is all wrong for her, someone who’s just as gorgeous and stylish as she is. And, in the end, style wins out over substance, even if Swift seems to know deep down that it’s just a superficial substitute for the real thing.
The song’s video certainly majors in style, creatively featuring intercut, sensual images of Taylor and a hunky guy. Eventually they connect in person, his shirt comes off, and they embrace suggestively in what’s probably the most sultry video Swift has shot to date—one that MTV’s Emilee Linder described as “mature, tasteful, and, dare I say… sexy?”
Mature and all grown up, that’s what they say. But it isn’t really. It’s just styled to feel that way.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.