Taylor Swift died and was reborn in between 1989 and Reputation. Her cause of death: Shade, receipts, and scandal, presumably. Her method of reincarnation: Revenge, new love, and the scale of the snake that bit her, if the lyrics on Reputation are any indication.
While the differences between New Taylor and Old Taylor are debatable (did Old Taylor record “New Year’s Day” just before her untimely demise? Is New Taylor just including the track on the album in remembrance?), one notable change that everyone seems fixated on is New Taylor’s willingness to talk about sex in a way that she never did before—at least not as overtly.
Of course, the truth is, Taylor Swift has probably been enjoying sex for years, like most adult humans. And, while her past references to her own budding sexuality may not have been as pointed as they are on Reputation, she’s been subtly working in more explicit lyrics for years. This makes sense; her songs are largely autobiographical and most of us become more comfortable with our sexuality as we get older, wiser, and more experienced.
Taylor never made herself a poster child for abstinence like Britney Spears or the Jonas Brothers, but her audience has largely been comprised of tween and teen girls with parents who hold the purse strings and shell out money for Taylor’s albums because she’s maintained a more or less wholesome image. But as her audience grows, so has her willingness to take on sex—and it’s been a process.
Taylor’s debut single was a bittersweet ballad about lost love—but not the kind that ends because of cheating or screaming fights in the rain. No, the relationship in “Tim McGraw” dissolved because life got in the way. But, when it was going strong, Taylor and her love spent a lot of time in a parked Chevy truck. She left it up to fan’s imagination to fill in what teenagers in love might do in such a situation.
“Just a boy in a Chevy truck / That had a tendency of gettin’ stuck / On back roads at night / And I was right there beside him all summer long / And then the time we woke up to find that summer had gone.”
“Our Song” is a sweet love song, complete with one very innocent line about a secret rendezvous. It leaves fans wondering why Taylor’s sneaking out so late, but it’s all very subtle which makes sense—this is high school Taylor’s take on physical romance.
“Our song is a slamming screen door / Sneaking out late tapping on your window.”
By the time she penned her sophomore album, Taylor was ready to allude to her own urges, if not act on them.
“I wonder if you know / I’m tryin’ so hard not to get caught up now / But you’re just so cool / Run your hands through your hair / Absent-mindedly makin’ me want you.”
Taylor didn’t explicitly reference her own sexuality for years, but she referenced her best friend Abigail’s in this brutally honest track about young love.
“And Abigail gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind / We both cried.”
By the time she penned her third album Speak Now, Taylor was ready to sneak in subtle references to more mature relationships, like the line in “Mine” that hints at premarital living arrangements—even if it’s an imagined flash-forward. This might not seem like a big deal, but remember: Taylor’s target demo was young teens. This was a bold move.
“Flash-forward and we’re taking on the world together / And there’s a drawer of my things at your place / You learn my secrets and you figure out why I’m guarded / You say we’ll never make my parents’ mistakes.”
On this song, Taylor starts to talk more openly (if still subtly) about sex, and declares she’s “better than you imagined” she’d be. Sure, this could a reference to her being better at owning cats or baking delicious cookies, but it could also be the first thing you thought of (read: sex). And Taylor knows that.
“My mind forgets to remind me / You’re a bad idea / You touch me once and it’s really something / You find I’m even better than you imagined I would be.”
“State of Grace”
On Red, Taylor dug deep into a short-lived relationship, which was widely speculated to be her fling with actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Whoever she’s singing about, they spent time alone in his room—a subtle reference compared to lyrics from 1989 and Reputation, but a reference all the same.
“We are alone, just you and me / Up in your room and our slates are clean / Just twin fire signs / Four blue eyes.”
On the breathy “Treacherous,” Taylor gets even more explicit:
“Put your lips close to mine / As long as they don’t touch / Out of focus, eye to eye / ‘Til the gravity’s too much / And I’ll do anything you say / If you say it with your hands / And I’d be smart to walk away / But you’re quicksand.”
“All Too Well”
In “All Too Well,” Taylor’s “made me your own” line definitely evokes sex.
“Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it / After plaid shirt days and nights when you made me your own / Now you mail back my things and I walk home alone.”
Taylor’s first explicit reference to disrobing comes in 2014’s “Style.” Sure, all she specifies being taken off is a coat, but the progression is there.
“So it goes, he can’t keep his wild eyes on the road / Takes me home, lights are off he’s taking off his coat (Hm yeah).”
Taylor continues the disrobing motif in “Wildest Dreams,” when she describes a short-lived fling that involved hands in her hair and clothes in her room.
“I said no one has to know what we do / His hands are in my hair, his clothes are in my room / And his voice is a familiar sound, nothing lasts forever / But this is getting good now / He’s so tall, and handsome as hell / He’s so bad but he does it so well.”
“…Ready For It?”
In the second single from Reputation, Taylor hints (strongly) that she’s a woman with sexual desires, who has dreams about those desires.
“In the middle of the night, in my dreams / You should see the things we do, baby.”
On “Delicate,” Taylor again references a lover’s hands in her hair and her own confidence in her sexual prowess. She’s completely secure in herself. (Note: There’s no video for this one yet.)
“Do the girls back home touch you like I do? / Long night, with your hands up in my hair.”
And finally, New Taylor’s definitive foray into overtly sexual songwriting is “Dress.” The lyrics speak for themselves. (Note: There’s no video for this one yet.)
“Carve your name into my bedpost / ‘Cause I don’t want you like a best friend / Only bought this dress so you could take it off…All of this silence and patience, pining and anticipation / My hands are shaking from holding back from you.”