In honor of the 1989 re-release happening on Oct. 27, let’s discuss each iconic song that makes up this beautifully crafted album — and who they’re rumored to be about. Taylor Swift released 1989 back in November 2014, where it topped the Billboard 200 within the first week of coming out. This album was a huge shift for Swift, as she was transitioning between country to pop.
At the time of the original release, Swift had gone through a breakup with former One Direction member Harry Styles. The two dated for a couple of months from late 2012 to early 2013. So, fans speculate that many songs off the album are related to their time dating, and their breakup for that matter. There’s even speculation that Styles might feature on 1989 (Taylor’s Version), thanks to an Easter Egg Swift posted that appears to show Styles’ handwriting. However, Swift had never confirmed the rumors of who the 1989 songs are about, so all of this is speculation — though there are some compelling clues.
- “Welcome to New York”
This first track is about a different love of Swift’s, and it’s not a man. The song centers on Swift’s move to New York City in April 2014 and starting a new life. “I approached moving there with such wide-eyed optimism and sort of saw it as a place of endless potential and possibilities,” she said in a 2014 interview with Good Morning America. “You can kind of hear that reflected in this music and this first song especially.”
- “Blank Space”
Next, we move into “Blank Space” which she has credited to common depictions of her in the media at the time, which claimed that she dated too many people. “My first reaction was to be like man that’s a bummer, this isn’t fun for me,” she said at a 2015 live show. “But then my second reaction ended up being, ‘Hey, that’s actually kind of a really interesting character they’re writing about.'” She took her hate and made it into a megahit that spent seven consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Now this is where we start to get into the real juiciness. This song is possibly about Styles, although it’s not definitely confirmed by Swift. But Styles definitely has that “James Dean daydream look in his eye” — not to mention the title is so similar to his last name. There is also a part in the song that says, “Take me home, just take me home,” which could be a reference to One Direction’s album Take Me Home, which was released in 2012, around the time Styles and Swift started dating.
- “Out of the Woods”
“Out of the Woods” has been rumored more than a few times to be about Styles, with lyrics like “Two paper airplanes flying, flying,” seemingly referencing the two’s relationship (they wore matching paper airplane necklaces while dating).
Swift also revealed in a 2014 Rolling Stone interview that the lyric “Remember when you hit the brakes too soon / 20 stitches in the hospital room” was inspired by a snowmobile accident she was in with an ex. Swift and Styles happened to take a skiing trip together to Utah back in 2012… coincidence?
- “All You Had to Do Was Stay”
Swift mentioned in an interview with GQ that the inspiration behind this song was actually based on a dream she had about an ex. “I had a dream that my ex showed up at my door, knocked at my door, and I opened it up, and I was about ready to launch into the perfect thing to say,” she said. “Instead, all that would come out of my mouth was that high-pitched chorus of people singing, ‘Stay!” She never confirmed which ex the dream featured, so your guess is as good as mine.
- “Shake It Off”
Now we’re back to a song that’s not about an ex. Just like “Blank Space,” “Shake It Off” is also dedicated to the haters and the media scrutiny that has surrounded Swift for most of her career, according to Nicki Swift — and how you just have to shake off everything they say.
- “I Wish You Would”
It’s never been confirmed who “I Wish You Would” is about, though many have tried to analyze the lyrics to figure it out. All we know for sure is that the song is about someone who loves driving, apparently.
- “Bad Blood”
We now get into a different perspective of Swift’s, as this song is reportedly about Katy Perry, even though she is not named explicitly in the track. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Swift said she was never sure or not if her and this unnamed industry peer were friends, but gave up after she “basically tried to sabotage an entire arena tour. She tried to hire a bunch of people out from under me. And I’m surprisingly non-confrontational – you would not believe how much I hate conflict. So now I have to avoid her. It’s awkward, and I don’t like it.”
This is likely in reference to a potential sabotage on Perry’s end in which she hired backup dancers of Swift’s for her own tour, leading the two to have bad blood. Of course, they’ve since famously made up, with Perry even appearing in Swift’s 2019 “You Need to Calm Down” music video.
- “Wildest Dreams”
Now, we get back to the argument of whether or not this is another song about, you guessed it, Styles. Swift told NPR in 2014 that “Wildest Dreams” is a “a really good example of the way I go into relationships now. If I meet someone who I feel I have a connection with, the first thought I have is: ‘When this ends, I hope it ends well. I hope you remember me well.'”
Again, a specific ex is never mentioned, but “He’s so tall, and handsome as hell / He’s so bad but he does it so well” probably reminds many fans of Styles (who is 6 feet tall, BTW).
- “How You Get the Girl”
Again, this song is rumored to be about Styles. Insider reports that the two had a fling earlier in 2012 for a couple of months before the real start of their romance, but it apparently ended quickly since Styles was spotted kissing a different girl in New Zealand. Since this song is about getting back together with someone after making a mistake, some fans speculate that this is the incident in question.
- “This Love”
Is it a coincidence that Swift had “This Love” immediately after “How You Get the Girl”? I think not. This song talks about the ups and downs of a relationship, which could be about the rocky relationship that Swift and Styles had, but again, that’s just conjecture.
- “I Know Places”
Now we get Swift giving us a sneaky track about hiding and not being found by the public. Swift has talked about this song more in hypothetical terms, saying to Grammy Pro in 2014, “I kind of was in a place where I was like, ‘No one is gonna sign up for this. There are just too many cameras pointed at me. There are too many ridiculous elaborations on my life. It’s just not ever gonna work.'”
She continued, “But I decided to write a love song, just kind of like, ‘What would I say if I met someone really awesome and they were like, hey, I’m worried about all this attention you get?’ So I wrote this song called ‘I Know Places’ about, like, ‘Hey, I know places we can hide. We could outrun them.’” So this one is more like an exercise in fiction — though it’s still grounded in Swift’s very real experiences in the public eye.
And finally, we end the album off with a sad and classic song that talks about heartbreak and finding yourself all in one. Swift said in a 2015 Elle interview, “‘Clean’ I wrote as I was walking out of Liberty in London. Someone I used to date — it hit me that I’d been in the same city as him for two weeks and I hadn’t thought about it,” Swift shared. “When it did hit me, it was like, ‘Oh, I hope he’s doing well.’ And nothing else.”
Which ex of Swift’s do you know who’s British and lived in London during that time period? Yep, Styles. Again, it’s never been confirmed, but that’s a pretty big clue.