By Shannon Carlin
Taylor Swift once said there’s nothing she does better than revenge. Taking a closer look at her discography, it’s hard to argue with her.
From vintage loving boyfriend stealers to grouchy critics who just don’t think she can sing to a rapper who can’t seem to keep his mouth shut at awards shows, no one is safe from Swift’s pen, which has no problem jotting down a few poisonous insults to help enact some sweet revenge.
No one can forget all those lousy ex-boyfriends of her that got their very own songs. From the one who’s just a little too indie for his own good to her high school crush who was too protective of his truck, everyone gets their dirty laundry hung out to dry.
Perhaps the best part about listening to Swift take shots in song form is trying to figure out who exactly the song is aimed at. Swift has always tried to keep the subject of her revenge songs on the down low, revealing hints here and there that eventually help her fans crack the code. “Dear John”? Yeah, we never thought it was about anyone else but rumored fling John Mayer, sorry Tay. But even Swift has trouble keeping mum about those songs that are intended to inflict a bit of emotional and psychological pain. Hello, “Innocent,” which Swift made very clear was about Kanye West.
In honor of her ability to take justice into her own hands and then bring it into the studio where it eventually becomes a smash hit, we’ve come up with a list, in no particular order, of her very best revenge songs and who they’re about.
1. “Picture To Burn”
Swift first got on the vengeance train with this track off her 2006 self-titled debut, that has the country cutie outing her jerky (sort of) high school boyfriend Jordan Alford who would never let her drive his truck. It wouldn’t be the first time she would be disappointed by a crush, but this cheating Tennessee guy did have her enacting a little light arson as a way of getting back at him. Swift later admitted her tactic here was a little childish, but let’s give her a break, she was a teenager. And while this cocky guy may still be driving around in his old pickup truck, no one is ever telling Swift what she can and cannot drive. Like, ever.
2. “All Too Well”
Don’t be fooled by the bittersweet melody of this song off 2012’s Red, it’s actually all about retribution. She wants this guy—all signs point to actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who she shared a short romance with in fall of 2010—to pay for the pain he caused her. Or, at the very least, return that scarf of hers he stole. Throughout she reminisces about those plaid shirt days and nights when they were dancing in the refrigerator light and drinking pumpkin spice lattes while he’s running red lights because he’s too busy checking her out. This song definitely didn’t help his good guy reputation, but she may have gotten the best revenge when she showed of her killer headbanging moves at the 2014 GRAMMYs while playing this very song. Definitely one way to show a guy that he made a terrible decision ever breaking up with you.
3. “Better Than Revenge”
If you think you’re going to steal Taylor Swift’s boyfriend and get a way with it, you’ve got another thing coming. This song off 2010’s Speak Now, which some call her “angriest album,” is rumored to be about actress Camilla Belle, who started dating Joe Jonas shortly after he broke up with Swift in a 15-second phone call. Not cool Joe, not cool. Unfortunately it’s Jonas’ girlfriend who gets the brunt of Taylor’s anger. Seriously, she’s not mincing any words here, with lines like, “She’s an actress/But she’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress.” Not a very PC move for the girl-friendly singer. Of course, at the time of this song, Swift has admitted she wasn’t quite sure what feminism was yet. If she was writing this today, we believe she’d find a much better way to call a girl out than picking on her sexual history. Or, you know, just aim all those word bombs solely at the guy who broke up with her over the phone. Over. The. Phone.
4. “Bad Blood”
Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes, but maybe a song does? On this 1989 track that has her calling out a disloyal friend, who may or may not be Katy Perry (Katy Perry sure thinks it is, though), Swift makes it clear she has no time for backstabbers or meaningless I’m sorry’s. For the track’s epic video, Swift even rounds up her posse of best girl friends—Paramore‘s Hayley Williams, Zendaya, model Karlie Kloss, Ellie Goulding, Selena Gomez, who gets to play the “bad” friend here—to show messing with Taylor has its repercussions. This may be Swift’s most skillful retaliation tactic yet.
Swift makes no qualms about wishing ill will against a reviewer she felt didn’t quite play nice on this track off Speak Now. In an interview Swift said the banjo-filled song was her response to a critic’s rather unpleasant review of her duet performance with Stevie Nicks at the GRAMMYs in 2010, which he (and others) thought was off-key, writing that she “couldn’t sing” and had “shortened her career” with that performance. The critic was later revealed to be Bob Lefsetz, a much maligned blogger and early supporter of Swift, who was very wrong in his career-ending prediction. Love was definitely lost after his diatribe as Swift makes very clear in this spiteful song that has her hypothesizing that’ll he’ll soon be “washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things/Drunk and grumbling on about how I can’t sing.” Unfortunately, he hasn’t quite yet found found himself a seat at the bitter bar and is still writing about Swift.
Revenge is a dish best served cold as Swift makes evidently clear with this track off Speak Now about Kanye West. She manages to take the self-proclaimed genius down a notch by sweetly making it clear, the then 32-year-old probably didn’t know any better than to storm the stage at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards and ruin her big moment, because he’s just an innocent. Or, as one could infer from this, a big baby who just can’t help but throw very public temper tantrums. Seems like it may have been good reverse psychology since ‘Ye and Tay are definitely friends now and apparently making music together.
7. “Dear John”
With this track, which is yes, off Speak Now, Swift gets introspective about love and calls out John Mayer for leading her on. “Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?” she asks. But, while she’s still young enough to worry that she soured this relationship with her blind optimism, she doesn’t hold back from accusing Mayer of being a selfish, non-committal person who likes the chase more than anything else: “Maybe it’s you and your sick need/To give love then take it away.” It’s him she really feels bad for, but not bad enough to keep quiet about what he did to her.
8. “We Are Never Getting Back Together”
This sassy sing-along that calls out a music snob ex beau—once again believed to be Jake Gyllenhaal—became her most marketable revenge song, masked as a break-up song. While she sounds so over it, she makes this guy sound like a flip-flopping crybaby. With an assertive hook that makes it clear she’s not going back and a re-enactment of a certain exhausting voicemail, revenge never sounded so sweet.