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Taylor Swift Talks Critics, Song Meanings + Confidence Issues

Taylor Swift
Jason Kempin, Getty Images

When you think of Taylor Swift songs, you think of things like heartbreak, falling in love and maybe — just maybe — that she may get too serious with guys too fast and scare them off. But Swift insists her songs actually aren’t about any of those things. Wait, what?

She explained to NPR, “The first thing that I think about when I’m writing my lyrics is directly communicating with the person the song is about. I think what I’ve learned recently is that it’s not … heartbreak that inspires my songs,” she said. “It’s not love that inspires my songs. It’s individual people that come into my life. I’ve had relationships with people that were really substantial and meant a lot to me, but I couldn’t write a song about that person for some reason. Then again, you’ll meet someone that comes into your life for two weeks and you write an entire record about them,” she said. (We wonder who that one was!) “When I first started writing songs, I was always scared that my songs were too personal — like, if I put someone’s name in a song, people won’t relate to it as much,” she admitted. “But what I saw happening was, if I let my fans into my life and my feelings and what I’m going through — my vulnerabilities, my fears, my insecurities — it turns out they have all those things, too, and it kind of connects us.”

Swift explained that part of why her songs are based on people and not ideas is because none of her relationships have ever inspired her the same way. “I like to write about love and love lost because I feel like there are so many different subcategories of emotions that you can possibly delve into,” the hopeless romantic said. “I’ve never missed two people the same way — it’s always different for me. I’ve never fallen in love with someone and had the same exact kind of feeling come over me,” she said. “So I think that there are all these different mixtures of emotions that go into individual feelings that you feel for individual people. And, yeah, most of the time it doesn’t work out,” she admitted. “That’s the thing with love: It’s going to be wrong until it’s right. So you experience these different shades of wrong, and you miss the good things about those people, and you regret not seeing the red flags for the bad things about those people, but it’s all a learning process. And being 22, you’re kind of in a crash course with love and life and lessons and learning the hard way, and thankfully, I’ve been able to write about those emotions as they’ve affected me.”

Something else that affects her deeply? Criticism. One particular critic got on Swift’s case for her troubles singing live, and it really bothered her — and like many of her exes, she’s had a hard time getting over that. “My confidence is easy to shake. I am very well aware of all of my flaws. I am aware of all the insecurities that I have. I have a lot of voices in my head constantly telling me I can’t do it,” she vented. “I’ve dealt with that my whole life. And getting up there on stage thousands of times, you’re going to have off nights. And when you have an off night in front of that many people, and it’s pointed out in such a public way, yeah, that gets to you. I feel like, as a songwriter, I can’t develop thick skin. I cannot put up protective walls, because it’s my job to feel things.”

The good thing about that criticism? It’s inspiring. “The kind of magical way that criticism has helped me is that that’s another thing that I put into my music. I ended up writing a song called ‘Mean’ about that experience, and about this one particular guy who would not get off my case about it. To stand up at the Grammys two years later, to sing that song and get a standing ovation for it, and to win two Grammys for that particular song, I think was the most gratifying experience I’ve ever had in my life.”

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