Taylor Swift's Most Tortured, Sad-Girl Lyrics

From “Cold As You” to the 10-minute “All Too Well.”

Taylor Swift Lyrics
Ashok Kumar/TAS24/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Taylor Swift’s new album is called The Tortured Poets Department, but that title could arguably describe her entire catalog. The 14-time Grammy winner is well-known for writing “tortured” song lyrics, which became all the more apparent when she released a set of new Apple Music playlists named after the five stages of grief.

Each playlist sorts many of her past songs into denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This further punctuates just how many of Swift’s songs are tinged with deep emotions and vulnerability.

The singer has been writing sad songs since she first started out, as evident on her self-titled 2006 debut album, which includes the Track 5 (aka Swiftie-speak for an album’s most emotional song), “Cold As You.”

But Swift’s lyrics really started to feel more tortured in 2019’s Lover, which has some of her most achingly raw, desperate songs despite the romantic title. Then, her 2020 surprise albums Folklore and Evermore intertwined fictional narratives with devastating tales connected to her reality.

Below, revisit 22 of Swift’s most tortured lyrics as you wait to finally listen to The Tortured Poets Department, out April 19.

“So I start a fight ‘cause I need to feel something”

Taylor Swift in 2006.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Swift released “Cold As You,” a Track 5 from her 2006 debut album, when she was just 16 years old, proving that she’s been a “tortured poet” from a young age.

“I was a dreamer before you went and let me down”

Taylor Swift in 2008.The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The first single of Swift’s sophomore album Fearless was “Love Story,” her take on Romeo and Juliet (but with a happier ending). Just two songs later, she tore that story to shreds on “White Horse,” and what says “tortured poet” more than ripping apart a fairytale that you wrote yourself?

“Counting my footsteps, praying the floor won't fall through again”

Taylor Swift in 2011.Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

In “Dear John,” Swift reflects on the trauma she experienced from a toxic relationship, referring to the age gap between her and her ex and claiming she was “too young to be messed with.” These lyrics in the first verse captured her anxiety and unease.

“I'll watch your life in pictures like I used to watch you sleep”

Taylor Swift performs onstage during the Speak Now Tour at Madison Square Garden on November 22, 2011. Larry Busacca/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

One of the hallmarks of a “tortured poet” is looking back at pictures of your ex as they move on in life, as Swift does on the pensive breakup ballad “Last Kiss.” The pain cuts even deeper when the split is as unexpected as the one she sings about in this Speak Now track.

“You've got your demons and, darlin’, they all look like me”

Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 Grammy Awards.FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Swift doesn’t only sing about her own tortured feelings. In the wistful “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” she looks back at a former love affair with both regret and sweet memories. But in this case, the other person is tortured over thoughts of her, and she knows it.

“You're still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can't wear anymore”

Taylor Swift performs on the 1989 World Tour on October 3, 2015 in Toronto, Canada.George Pimentel/LP5/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

As Swift’s first big pop album, 1989 is much more bombastic and self-assured than tortured, even at its most emotional points. However, to reach the emotional catharsis of “Clean,” there must be some damage to clean up, which Swift describes in detail.

“Please don't ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere”

Taylor Swift performs "New Year's Day" on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy FallonNBC/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

Swift’s sixth album, Reputation, is partly about new love and trying to protect it. But in the piano-laden closer “New Year’s Day,” Swift’s tortured, poetic side appears again, begging for her moment of bliss to never end.

“I scream, ‘For whatever it's worth, I love you, ain't that the worst thing you ever heard?’”

Taylor Swift performs on The Eras Tour on March 02, 2024 in Singapore.Ashok Kumar/TAS24/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Even in a song about joyous love and reckless abandon like “Cruel Summer,” Swift still found a way to emphasize an undercurrent of hesitation and desperation in the bridge. While this lyric might be tortured in nature, it remains an epic scream-along moment on the Eras Tour.

“I cut off my nose just to spite my face, then I hate my reflection for years and years”

Taylor Swift performs on the Eras Tour on February 23, 2024.DAVID GRAY/AFP/Getty Images

In “The Archer,” Swift got chillingly candid about her own fears and insecurities for the first time, even taking aim at her physical appearance in the second verse. While it hits hard coming from a powerful person like Swift, it shows she’s only human.

“I ask the traffic lights if it’ll be alright, they say, ‘I don't know’”

Taylor Swift performs during the "City of Lover" concert on September 9, 2019 in Paris, France. Dave Hogan/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

It’s unclear whether Swift meant this “Death by a Thousand Cuts” lyric to be taken literally or metaphorically. But if you have to ask traffic lights for reassurance, you know you’re in a dark place. I presume that the stoplight saying “I don’t know” just got stuck on the yellow light.

“If I'm dead to you, why are you at the wake?”

Taylor Swift performs at The Eras Tour on March 02, 2024 in Singapore.Ashok Kumar/TAS24/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

On one of Swift’s most devastating Track 5’s, Swift imagines how her own funeral may look, making for some of her most defeated songwriting. If the lyrics of “My Tears Ricochet” aren’t tortured enough for you, just watch Swift’s Eras Tour performance, which looks as if she and her dancers are leading her own funeral procession, with somber yet steely movements.

“They told me all of my cages were mental, so I got wasted like all my potential”

Taylor Swift performs for the opening night of The Eras Tour on March 17, 2023 in Swift City, ERAzona (Glendale, Arizona). Kevin Mazur/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Yes, even a 14-time Grammy winner and TIME’s Person of the Year still sometimes feels like she’s not living up to her full potential, as Swift eloquently explained in “This Is Me Trying.” This lyric takes Swift’s openness about her deepest insecurities in “The Archer” and examines the effect of not facing them head-on.

“Don’t call me ‘kid,’ don't call me ‘baby,’ look at this godforsaken mess that you made me”

Taylor Swift performs at The Eras Tour on November 24, 2023 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Buda Mendes/TAS23/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Swift ends “Illicit Affairs” with a bridge so seething yet anguished that for the song’s Eras Tour performance, she decided to strip it down to just that one bridge and shouted it repeatedly for maximum effect. It’s the shortest yet arguably most cathartic moment of the whole show, allowing crowds to apply these lyrics to whatever situation they’re facing.

“I’d give you my sunshine, give you my best, but the rain is always gonna come if you’re standin’ with me”

Taylor Swift performs at The Eras Tour on March 02, 2024 in Singapore. Ashok Kumar/TAS24/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

In the searingly honest “Peace,” Swift examines the level of her fame and how it might prevent her from having a normal relationship in the most poetic terms imaginable. What could possibly be more tortured than knowing that anyone who wants to be with you may never experience a normal life ever again?

“Don’t want no other shade of blue but you / No other sadness in the world would do”

Taylor Swift performs at The Eras Tour on April 21, 2023 in Houston, Texas. Bob Levey/TAS23/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Swift herself remarked that “Hoax” was written about many separate things, making it hard to pin down what exactly the song is referring to. However, the one common thread that intertwines each lyric is deep, unashamed sadness, as most evident in the chorus.

“I made you my temple, my mural, my sky / Now I'm beggin’ for footnotes in the story of your life”

Taylor Swift at the Eras Tour on February 16, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. Graham Denholm/TAS24/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

In “Tolerate It,” another heartwrenching Track 5, Swift desperately tries to make a longtime lover invested in their relationship again to no avail. This is beautifully exemplified on the Eras Tour, where she sets up a lovely dining table before tearing it apart in anger when her efforts aren’t reciprocated.

“If I can't relate to you anymore, then who am I related to?”

Taylor Swift performs onstage at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards. TAS Rights Management 2021/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The entire premise of “Coney Island,” Swift’s collab with The National, is “sitting on a bench in Coney Island wondering where did my baby go.” Wallowing over heartbreak at one of the most romanticized New York locales would indeed qualify as “tortured.”

“Should’ve kept every grocery store receipt ‘cause every scrap of you would be taken from me”

Taylor Swift on February 23, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. Don Arnold/TAS24/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Swift is a master at tackling heartbreak in song, but it’s not often that she addresses death directly, which makes “Marjorie” even more touching. For the most part, Swift’s ode to her late grandmother is full of optimism and wisdom she learned from Marjorie herself. But when she opens up about her regrets, it’s hard not to get chills or shed tears.

“I had a feeling so peculiar that this pain would be forevermore”

Taylor Swift performs onstage during The Eras Tour on May 19, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.Scott Eisen/TAS23/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

There’s a reason why Evermore has a “reputation” (I’m sorry) as Swift’s saddest album. On the title track, which closes the album, she simply resigns to heartbreak being an inevitable reality rather than a passing phase, and Bon Iver’s bridge only makes the feeling of hurt even stronger.

“They say all’s well that ends well, but I’m in a new hell every time you double-cross my mind”

Taylor Swift performs at The Eras Tour on March 24, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.Ethan Miller/TAS23/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

For many fans, the original five-minute cut of “All Too Well” already had the crown as Swift’s most devastating (and for some, best) song. But the long-awaited ten-minute version gave even more intricate details and tortured lyrics to pour over.

“Every single thing I touch becomes sick with sadness”

Taylor Swift performs onstage during The Eras Tour on April 21, 2023 in Houston, Texas.Bob Levey/TAS23/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

While “All Too Well” is Swift’s saddest song for many, “Bigger Than The Whole Sky” may arguably deserve the crown. It’s possibly the only time where Swift has become so grief-stricken in a song that she’s nearly rendered speechless, with the soft instrumental breaks brimming with just as much devastation as her own words (of which there aren’t that many).

“Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first”

Taylor Swift performs onstage at The Eras Tour on April 14, 2023 in Tampa, Florida.Octavio Jones/TAS23/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

“Dear John” walked so “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” could run. On the Midnights (3AM Edition) track, Swift recounts a relationship she had at 19 years old and the power imbalance that came with it, culminating in this utterly gut-wrenching line that just about says it all.