Many of Taylor Swift’s recent albums initially portrayed a fairytale love story with ex Joe Alwyn, but a deeper look at some of the singer’s lyrics hint that the relationship turned rocky long before their split.

After falling in love with Alwyn, 32, in 2016, Swift, 34, disappeared from the public eye only to return in 2017 to drop her “comeback” record Reputation. Although disguised as a revenge album, Rep was filled with songs like  “Gorgeous,” “Delicate,” “Call It What You Want” and “New Year’s Day,” all of which gave a glimpse into the beginning of her romance with Alwyn.

Swift’s 2019 follow-up, Lover, appeared to be a continuation of the pair’s story. Trading dark aesthetics and snakes for pastel pink and butterflies, Swift set out to write a straightforward romance album, with the title track being her most swoon-worthy yet.

“I had been thinking for years, like, ‘God, it would just be so great to have a song that people who are in love would want to dance to. Like, slow dance to,” Swift told The New York Times in 2019. “In my head I had just the last two people on a dance floor at 3 a.m., swaying.”

Swift admitted, however, that an underlying sense of tension also existed in the lyrics. “I wanted the chorus to be, like, really simple existential questions that we ask ourselves when we are in love. ‘Can I go where you go?’ is such a heavy thing to ask someone. ‘Can we always be this close?’ has so much fear in it.”

Other tracks on the album reflect a similar type of anxiety. “Cornelia Street” — a song that was first perceived as a passionate love song for Swift and Alwyn — has a fair amount of unease. Swift labels her lover as a “card shark playing games” in the verses, claiming he was “leading her on” before catching her just in time.

Lover’s fifth track, “The Archer,” is mostly about Swift’s battle within herself, but touches on a sense of hope that she’s found someone who will stick by her. However, she still phrases the lyrics as questions, not statements. “Who could ever leave me darling / But who could stay? / You could stay?” she asks in the chorus.

Much of her next record, 2020’s Folklore, stems from fictional circumstances, but one of the last tracks, titled “Peace,” once again describes Swift’s personal fears of a partner who can’t handle her highly publicized life.

“When I was making Folklore, I went lyrically in a total direction of escapism and romanticism. And I wrote songs imagining I was, like, a pioneer woman in a forbidden love affair,” Swift told Paul McCartney during a November 2020 interview for Rolling Stone, before noting that “Peace” was “actually more rooted in [her] personal life” than other tracks.

During their nearly six-year romance, Swift and Alwyn notoriously tried to remain out of the spotlight. The pair never walked a single red carpet together — even when attending the same events — and were often spotted running to their cars to avoid being photographed. When Swift won Best Album at the Grammys for Folkore in 2021, Alwyn was not in the audience, despite being credited as a cowriter on multiple tracks.

“I think that in knowing him and being in the relationship I am in now, I have definitely made decisions that have made my life feel more like a real life and less like just a storyline to be commented on in tabloids,” Swift told McCartney in 2020. “Whether that’s deciding where to live, who to hang out with, when to not take a picture — the idea of privacy feels so strange to try to explain, but it’s really just trying to find bits of normalcy. That’s what that song ‘Peace’ is talking about. Like, would it be enough if I could never fully achieve the normalcy that we both crave?”

After Swift and Alwyn called it quits in April 2023, a source exclusively told Us Weekly that the singer’s celebrity status contributed to their split. Shortly after the breakup, Swift began getting photographed at various public events around New York City and L.A. for the first time in years. (She has since moved on with Travis Kelce, and the twosome have often shown up to publicly support each other’s endeavors.)

Even 2022’s Midnights raises questions about Swift’s anxieties, as many of the songs — which are meant to depict 13 sleepless nights throughout her life — hint at relationships that are on the brink of failure. “Maroon” touches on a romance that someone can’t quite let go, while “Bejeweled” describes a partner who prefers to lay low while Swift wants to be seen.

“Familiarity breeds contempt / Don’t put me in the basement / When I want the penthouse of your heart,” Swift sings in the chorus, while the verses read: “I made you my world, have you heard? / I can reclaim the land / And I miss you / But I miss sparkling.”

There are also songs like “Midnight Rain” and “Question.” These tracks zero in on past relationships that could have been, raising eyebrows with fans who noticed that Swift was still with Alwyn when she wrote them. The Vault Track “You’re Losing Me,” however, might be the most telling.

Written in December 2021 — more than a year before she called it quits with Alwyn — the gut-wrenching ballad details a relationship where Swift is begging her partner to see her pain.

“I glared at you with storms in my eyes / How can you say that you love someone you can’t tell is dying?” she asks in the first verse. “I sent you signals and bit my nails down to the quick / My face was gray, but you wouldn’t admit that we were sick.”

In the bridge, Swift pulls from similar themes as “Bejeweled,”  frustrated over being with someone who won’t value her.

“I wouldn’t marry me either / A pathological people pleaser / Who only wanted you to see her,” Swift croons. “And I’m fading thinking / Do something, babe, say something / Lose something, babe, risk something / Choose something, babe, I got nothing to believe, unless you’re choosing me.”

Although Swift rarely confirms what — or who — her music is about, fans will likely get a more detailed look into what went wrong between her and Alwyn when her 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, drops on April 19.

“I needed to make it. It was really a lifeline for me,” she told concertgoers at a February Eras Tour show in Melbourne, Australia. “It sort of reminded me of why songwriting is something that actually gets me through life and I’ve never had an album where I’ve needed songwriting more than I needed it on Tortured Poets.”

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