I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at with questions or ideas!

What does "Style" by Taylor Swift mean?

What does "Style" by Taylor Swift mean?

"Style" Lyrics Meaning

I'm distressed because researching "Style" by Taylor Swift had me Googling "what color are Harry Styles's eyes?" But this post was worth it; as usual with pop songs, there's more than meets the listener's ears.

Most believe this song to be a commentary on Swift's past relationship with One Direction's Harry Styles. You've probably heard the song on the radio or seen it peak at #6 on the Hot 100 Billboard. It's catchy, edgy, serious, and about a relationship. So, it's gold in the current pop music market.

And unlike some bands whose songs sound like relationship songs but aren't (think Mumford & Sons's "The Wolf"), this one's actually about a relationship, a relationship that didn't work out.

"The Meaning"

Taylor Swift begins by telling us that the relationship is in trouble. She and her male interest take a "long drive" together, knowing they "[c]ould end in burning flames or paradise." They've been apart for a while, and this trip seems to be unexpected for both of them.

Swift knows that she should tell the fellow to leave and that they shouldn't try to make it work again. They've tried before and failed. But she can't help but "[w]atch [them] go 'round and 'round each time."

Then the song amps up and launches into the catchy chorus that most Top-40 listeners will recognize:

You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye And I got that red lip classic thing that you like And when we go crashing down, we come back every time 'Cause we never go out of style We never go out of style

You got that long hair, slicked back, white t-shirt And I got that good girl faith and a tight little skirt And when we go crashing down, we come back every time 'Cause we never go out of style We never go out of style

No matter how often the two fail to form a strong relationship, they continue to be "perfect for each other" in Taylor's and (presumably) his imaginations. Based on their own preferences in the opposite gender, Swift believes they are perfectly matched; they like each other's "style" and they look good/work well together.

Once the two finish their drive and return to Swift's home, the male character takes "off his coat," suggesting that he'll be there for a while and that they're settling down for a conversation or a sexual encounter. Taylor begins the talk by singing "I heard . . . that you've been out and about with some other girl." This statement is not accusatory; it's merely conversational. The male responds, "What you've heard is true but I / Can't stop thinking about you," to which T-Swift says, "I've been there, too, a few times."

If you're familiar with Swift's musical career, you know this is an important step for her. A video creator for AV Club even suggests this to be a significant maturing. Swift's songs are notorious for blaming guys for messing up relationships. (Think "I Knew You Were Trouble When You Walked In.") In fact, in an interview with Ryan Seacrest, (skip to 4:09) she agrees that this line is pivotal: "I never would have said anything like that on a previous album!" In this song, she and her male counterpart seem to be having a serious adult-toned talk free of dramatic accusations.

The music video corroborates the story of a relationship tragically unworkable by showing Taylor Swift and her male friend thinking about each other. Images and reflections of Taylor Swift and her friend are layered over video of them, suggesting that they continue to long for each other. Most of the video is simply the two of them mournfully staring at the camera while acting as the backdrop for an array of creative and interesting special effects. Overall, the song and video suggest that neither is completely over the other.

You: "So, is this song about Harry Styles or what?"

According to many sources, this song is about Taylor Swift's relationship with Harry Styles of One Direction. The reason I was Googling the color of Harry Styles's eyes was to see if they matched the color of the blue and brown eyes of the model in the music video (they don't; Harry's eyes are green). Despite that, a well-written Buzzfeed article cites the music-video presence of a necklace that Harry and Taylor gave to each other and the lyrics of the song "Out of the Woods's" lines "Your necklace hanging from my neck . . . Two paper airplanes flying, flying . . ." to suggest that the album 1989, in general, is about Taylor and Harry. Suggesting that Harry is the subject of the song, that necklace shows up at 0:14 in the "Style" music video.

Then, of course, the song's name is "Style." I'm not 100% sure how pop artists usually name their tracks, but this at least seems convincing to me.

So, I'd say, yes, this song appears to be about Harry Styles.

Practical Time: Questions for 2010's Relationships

T-Swift seems to have found herself in an "on-off relationship," and because she was 24 when she wrote this song, she brings up interesting questions about how young people her age are dating.

Important inquiries include ones of what role being "perfect" for someone plays into the success of a relationship. Does it matter if two people are "perfect" for each other (or if their "styles" mesh)? Is "being in style" together a good reason to keep two people in a relationship or something to be pursued at any cost?

And what does "perfect" mean? Who defines it? In "Style," Taylor Swift defines "perfect" for the most part using references to personal appearance. The important part of that statement may not be the emphasis on appearance (as a generation that's hyper-sensitive to body shaming and appearance marketing might assume), but the phrase "personal preference."

The rising generation feels strongly about people being "perfect for each other" and matching expectations of "Prince Charming" or "Ms. Right"; sometimes this idea can cause people to be unhappy with the relationships they are in. It also means that they can sometimes work too hard to maintain a relationship that seemed "perfect" when it could have just been allowed to "go out of style."

Based on this song, these may be some of the questions Millennials and Generation Z will have to wrestle with as they continue to marry and age.

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