Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn’s Breakup from a Semi-Swiftie
I found out that Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn broke up the way I find out all news that’s worth knowing: by someone next to me picking up their phone and immediately gasping. Entertainment Tonight managed to get their hands on some insider information before anyone else could, but didn’t have much to say on the breakup besides rehashing the relationship history. Most articles claim that the split was peaceful, which left me personally with a lot of questions. I’m not the type of person to read on Swift's life past what she puts in her music, and I certainly don’t think it’s anyone’s business to know anything real about her personal life. For this reason, I’m going to focus on the music and how it relates to Joe Alwyn as a symbol in Swift’s career, not as her actual boyfriend.
Ever since the release of “reputation” in 2017, Swift has been different. She stopped presenting as the serial-dating teen sensation that everyone loved to extort and entered a prolonged era of mystery and intrigue that I don’t think has since ended. She started using extensive webs of metaphor and symbolism in her lyrics that her maturing audience clung to and took as honesty. But why should we? To explain what I mean and how it relates to Taylor’s breakup with Joe Alwyn, I’m going to go through each album “era” since “reputation.”
“reputation” and the “Taylor’s Version” rereleases:
When Taylor Swift was 27, she decided she was, colloquially, done with this shit. “reputation,” conceptually, was an ode to her dissociating her career and her life from the media. It was loud, it was angry, but wait… was it? Tracks like “King Of My Heart” and “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” are some of her most devastating love ballads. For devoted Swifties, this was the first sign that there was a new development in Swift’s love life, though nobody could really figure out what that development was. I think that was the point. Coupled with her decision to rerelease the albums that had been stolen from her, I see this part of her career as a closing of doors. Everyone made her believe that she couldn’t do what she wanted, and she disrespectfully disagreed with them by reclaiming all of her old music rights (though lord knows she’s wealthy enough) and releasing an album that was not at all what it appeared to be.
And if you think she didn’t get away with that, you’ll be shocked to find out that she got away with it twice. “Lover,” with its pink blue sunset cover and its gorgeously emotional title track, was a hint to a new beau in Swift’s life that even non-Swifties caught. I personally caught it a little too hard and declared “Lover” one of my favorite albums of all time and ignored all the lyrics for quite some time. In truth, it’s pretty freaking sad. Nobody cared though, because the references to life-long partnership and British boys were so loud. People started digging, and they found Joe Alwyn, a British actor that Swift had actually already been dating for three years. This was proof that Swift could keep a secret, and she continued to keep the majority of their relationship private for the following three years, which is why nobody really has anything meaningful to say about the breakup.
“folklore” and “evermore” and “Midnights”
This is where I bring things back to her writing a little bit. What Swift fans love the most about these albums, besides their new style, is how thickly laden they are with symbols and metaphors and little tidbits from old albums and stories. The word for this, as you may know, is lore. Lore is super interesting to follow and there is certainly something to be said about marketing, but it also serves the very important purpose of making it seem like Swift is always sharing her life with us. She’s giving us her lore. The lore has even led to deep seated theories that Swift is queer (spawning a subgroup of fans that call themselves “Gaylors”) or that her relationship with Joe is not real.
You can pull anything you want from the lyrics and the easter eggs, but the truth is that Swift likely has a really great imagination (or staff of well-paid writers.) And, as she told us with “reputation,” she has a really great reason to obfuscate what is actually going on in her life using her art.
I still hold the opinion that she is one of the greatest writers of our time, but that doesn’t mean that what she writes is real. I also don’t think anyone should ever try and find out if it is. Enjoy her songs and leave her and Joe Alwyn to breakup in peace. Maybe we’ll even get some good breakup songs out of it.