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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 clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Dancing with Our Hands Tied" by Taylor Swift mean?

What does "Dancing with Our Hands Tied" by Taylor Swift mean?

"Dancing with Our Hands Tied" Lyrics Meaning 

To be completely honest, you're not going to find out what celebrity this song is about by reading my blog. I could care less whether this song is about Joe Alwyn or Tom Hiddleston or Calvin Harris or whoever. The other blogs out there that write about that stuff do a fine job (when they're not shamelessly click-baiting people and wasting your valuable time). But what I do have for you is a near-literary breakdown of the lyrics themselves. I like finding out what Taylor means and what story she's telling, and "Dancing with Our Hands Tied" gives a great opportunity to learn a little bit more about her. 

"I knew there was no one in the world who could take it" 

Essentially, the meaning of the lyrics "Dancing with Our Hands Tied" focuses on a current relationship or an old relationship that feels doomed to die because of outside pressure. But even if it is, Taylor Swift hates the idea of losing this person and wants desperately to hold on for as long as possible even if it means "Swaying as the room burned down" or holding each other "as the water rushes in."

Wanna go deeper? Check out my podcast about this album!

Verse 1 

I, I loved you in secret
First sight, yeah, we love without reason
Oh, twenty-five years old
Oh, how were you to know?
And my, my love had been frozen
Deep blue, but you painted me golden
Oh, and you held me close
Oh, how was I to know? Iā€“

In the first verse of "Dancing with Our Hands Tied," Taylor Swift sings about her love having been "frozen"--perhaps from bad experiences--and how she loved someone "in secret" from "first sight." She acknowledges that they were passionate for each other "without reason" and that they did so while young--"twenty-five years old."

But this fellow has no idea what's coming, and she asks him hypothetically, "Oh, how were you to know?" and asks herself, "Oh, how was I to know?" Even still, though she was frozen and "deep blue," he "painted [her] golden" and "held [her] close." While they were together, he made her life better, and they enjoyed each other.

Pre-Chorus 

I could've spent forever with your hands in my pockets
Picture of your face in an invisible locket
You said there was nothing in the world that could stop it
I had a bad feeling
And darling, you had turned my bed into a sacred oasis
People started talking, putting us through our paces
I knew there was no one in the world who could take it
I had a bad feeling

But their love wasn't meant to last despite how good it was. Unfortunately, "People started talking, putting us through our paces," and Taylor "knew there was no one in the world who could take it / I had a bad feeling," presumably that the relationship would end poorly. This seems to be a reference to gossip magazines and the general public commenting and speculating on a relationship that Taylor Swift wanted to keep secret at first and worried that the world around them would destroy.

And it's sad for her that this destruction seems inevitable since she sings, "I couldn't spent forever with your hands in my pockets / Picture of your face in an invisible locket." She enjoys her time with him but knows that optimism for the future of the relationship is misplaced: "You said there was nothing in the world that could stop it / I had a bad feeling."

Chorus 

But we were dancing
Dancing with our hands tied, hands tied
Yeah, we were dancing
Like it was the first time, first time
Yeah, we were dancing
Dancing with our hands tied, hands tied
Yeah, we were dancing
And I had a bad feeling
But we were dancing

The chorus focuses on the central theme of "Dancing with Our Hands Tied": their love of each other in the face of a world that's tearing them apart. To be fair, we're not completely sure how the world is tearing them apart, but their relationship feels the strain. Taylor describes them as "dancing with our hands tied" and emphasizes the "hands tied" element by repeating it several times throughout the song. But with that refrain she mixes "Like it was the first time." Despite the storm raging around them and Taylor Swift having "a bad feeling," they are still able to temporarily enjoy the freshness and beauty of their relationship as if though they were dancing with each other for the first time. 

Verse 2 

I, I loved you in spite of
Deep fears that the world would divide us
So, baby, can we dance
Oh, through an avalanche?
And say, say that we got it
I'm a mess, but I'm the mess that you wanted
Oh, 'cause it's gravity
Oh, keeping you with me

In the second verse's lyrics for "Dancing with Our Hands Tied," Taylor Swift claims to have loved him "in spite of / Deep fears that the world would divide us"--he was worth the risk. She wants to know if, based on this love, they "can dance / Oh, through an avalanche?" Of course, no one can, but she hopes for the impossible to happen. 

She fantasizes about succeeding and admits that she's "a mess," but she's "the mess that you wanted." She feels loved and accepted by him despite his flaws and acknowledges how great he is by claiming that "gravity" is what's "keeping you with me." Otherwise, he'd be higher than her and somewhere else. 

Bridge 

I'd kiss you as the lights went out
Swaying as the room burned down
I'd hold you as the water rushes in
If I could dance with you again
I'd kiss you as the lights went out
Swaying as the room burned down
I'd hold you as the water rushes in
If I could dance with you again

While "Dancing with Our Hands Tied" could be about a past boyfriend, a current boyfriend, or no one in particular, the bridge is where the tone darkens considerably. In what feels like the climax scene of a movie, Taylor claims that she'd "kiss you as the lights went out," dance with him "as the room burned down," hold him "as the water rushes in" if only she could be "dancing" (or be emotionally and personally connected) with him. Even if the relationship was or is doomed to fail, she misses it seriously. 

Outro 

But we were dancing
Hands tied, hands tied

The outro highlights the main theme of the song, reiterating and lingering on the central image--a restrained but emotionally real relationship that seems doomed from the beginning even if it's wonderful in the moment.  

Deeper Meaning of "Dancing with Our Hands Tied" by Taylor Swift: Powerful Metaphors in Swift's Songwriting

I think Swift, when she writes lyrics, excels at creating singular images that stick in your mind. "Getaway Car" describes a broken relationship clearly as an attempt to run from something. "King of My Heart" is a clever pun about someone who Taylor holds dearly. And "New Year's Day" describes a relationship or an era (it's still a little up in the air) as an after party.

"Dancing with Our Hands Tied," while maybe the most dramatic of all of these, highlights a definite pattern for Swift as a songwriter. She loves writing songs focused around one cohesive metaphor. She then uses that metaphor to tell the story of her song and to explain all of the intricate details, often masked by imagery and symbolism. It's a powerful mode of story-telling and songwriting and highlights her versatile skillset as a creative.

I'm hoping at some point to do a more in-depth analysis of this tendency in her writing on my YouTube channel, but for now, what is the most powerful Taylor Swift metaphor you've experienced?

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