Taylor Swift is one of this generation’s most widely recognized musical artists. She has had many hit singles, albums, and even broken records she has set herself. However, with her widespread popularity, some people do not connect with her music and will vocalize their opinion any chance they get. But no matter how a person may feel about her music, there is one thing that everyone should agree on: Taylor Swift is a lyrical genius.
“Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” is a bonus track on Taylor Swift’s Midnights (3am Edition). The whole Midnights album consists of songs she wrote during her sleepless nights. This track is about her ex-boyfriend John Mayer, who she dated when she was nineteen and he was thirty-two. In this song, now thirty-two herself, she reflects on her relationship with him and why it was so problematic and wrong.
If I was some paint, did it splatter
On a promising grown man?
And if I was a child, did it matter
If you got to wash your hands?
In the opening lines of the songs, Swift is already addressing the fact that this relationship has defined both of their careers. She compares herself to paint, almost creating the idea that her speaking out about her relationship with Mayer “smeared” his career and her own. Despite all of her accomplishments, her previous relationship is always dragged into the conversation. She also points out that he was the “grown man” in the relationship and calls herself a “child.” This further pushes the point that he had all the power in the relationship and would get to control the narrative of how others viewed it while she, “the child,” would be seen as immature and foolish no matter how it ended. Mayer could “wash his hands” of the relationship, ultimately taking no responsibility for what happened during it and how it ended. However, Swift combats his behavior by saying that since she was a child when this happened, can he truly be able to “wash his hands” of it? Lastly, by including that Mayer is a “promising grown man” implies that he still has not lived up to the expectations the world has set for him and has not done anything truly striking. He is, most likely, widely known for this horrible relationship.
I would’ve stayed on my knees
And I damn sure never would’ve danced with the devil
And the God’s honest truth is that the pain was heaven
Before her relationship with him, Swift was religious and was very connected to her ideals. She illustrates that if she had never met Mayer and started a relationship with him, she would have stayed on the path of religion. She would have been connected to a much simpler and less painful life. However, since she was nineteen and didn’t know any better, the pain that she felt in this relationship was something that was seen as excusable. She wanted his validation and didn’t understand that the way he was treating her was horrible and damaging.
God rest my soul, I miss who I used to be
The tomb won’t close, stained glass windows in my mind
Stained glass windows are often used to depict Catholic and Christian stories. By stating that they still linger in her head, one can assume that she remembers brief memories of her previous life. However, they are shattered and will remain memories, nothing more. Swift mentions that she issues her old ideals and life. However, her relationship is something she wishes she could do away with. However, it won’t go away. No matter how many songs she writes expressing her feelings about the situation, this will be something that will always linger and haunt her.
If clarity’s in death, then why won’t this die?
Years of tearing down our banners, you and I
Living for the thrill of hitting you where it hurts
Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first
When her relationship ended, she expected to fully understand the damage and trauma she was left with. However, years later, she still has questions and is confused about the whole thing. They have both said horrible things about each other and have denounced each other in hopes of distancing themselves from the relationship. However, they are still connected in some way. By denouncing his character to the public, Swift is able to find some comfort in the situation. However, this will never change the fact that because her relationship was so toxic, she had to grow up fast, effectively ruining her childhood. The last line is her pleading and begging to have her girlhood back because it may bring some clarity to this situation.
All in all, this song is a reflection of an extremely toxic relationship that has left Swift with over a decade of trauma and sleepless nights. Her artistic language fully encapsulates this idea and really stresses to the listener how damaging a relationship with an older person can be. While people may only know Swift’s upbeat and carefree songs, they shouldn’t denounce her character or her music. She has proved time and time again that she can create brilliant songs, storylines, and carefully crafted music videos. So, if you view her music as overrated, simple, or boring, I advise you to get a new opinion.