Currently one of the most successful singer-songwriters on the planet, Swift initially cut her teeth on the Nashville songwriting scene, where the very best songs delve deep into personal lives. Not to mention that pretty much every singer-songwriter in history takes the same approach. So why does Swift get so much flack for it?
It might be because while some singers are coy about who they're writing about, Swift's rise to superstar status has been fueled by songs that she freely admits are autobiographical. That includes "Forever and Always," "Back to December," "Dear John, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," "Style," etc., all of which chronicle her real-life relationships with celebrities like Joe Jonas, Taylor Lautner, John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal and Harry Styles.
While Swift was open about writing songs about her love life, she would rarely confirm who the songs were about, giving sly hints or dropping clues in liner notes, which was a brilliant strategy. The guessing game helped her turn every album release into a frenzy.
The disadvantage, naturally, is that breakup songs are the only takeaway for casual observers: No matter how she tries to change the tired, sad, post-breakup narrative (by taking a dating hiatus, surrounding herself with a powerful clique of female friends, singing about the single girl life) she's an easy punchline for people who don't know or care the rest of her songwriting catalog.
A decade into her career, Swift isn't a fan of these jabs: "I don't like it when headlines read 'Careful, Bro, She'll Write a Song About You,' because it trivializes my work," she told Rolling Stone in 2014. She was notably upset when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler took a jab about her dating Michael J. Fox's son at the 2013 Golden Globes. Swift called it "public humiliation."
But the pop culture cycle can handle only so many bullet points about each pop star, and unfortunately, they can stick with the artist for life — breakup songs are destined to be Swift's reputation. And the jokes and scrutiny will be even more fierce this time around, given she was so open about this 15-month relationship, even pulling the rare move of thanking "my boyfriend, Adam" (Harris's real name) in public during an award show.
The real downside is if people make so much fun Swift for her autobiographical songwriting, she may be tempted to move on from the formula — even one of the world's richest pop stars isn't immune to such intense criticism. And that would be a shame for everyone, because as her sales numbers and shelf full of Grammys show, she's really, devastatingly good at it.