There's a common misconception that artists can't write great songs when they're happy in their personal life — even Taylor Swift, one of the most prolific songwriters of this generation. Luckily, Taylor Swift's "Death By A Thousand Cuts," off her most recent album Lover, proved that can still write great breakup songs even while she's very happy and in a relationship. And, as the singer confessed during her NPR Tiny Desk concert, posted on Wednesday, Oct. 16, she's pretty relieved.
Before performing an acoustic rendition of "Death By A Thousand Cuts" during her set, Swift told the small audience why writing the song was such a relief for her. For years, she explained, she had been asked questions about how her happiness might affect her songwriting skills — questions like, "What will you do when you're happy? Like, what will you write about?" The question, Swift noted, "has, like, the potential to seriously deteriorate my mental health." And the artist admitted that even she wondered what might happen to her famous breakup ballads and pop hits if she were to find a solid relationship.
Thankfully, that question was answered while she was in the process of making Lover. As she told NPR, despite being in a happy relationship herself, she was still hearing about her friends' breakups, or experiencing heartbreak in film and books. "This all culminated in me waking up one day with all these break up lyrics in my head and I was like, 'It’s still here, yes!’," she exclaimed to the crowd.
What emerged was "Death By A Thousand Cuts," a track Swift called "proof that you don’t have to stop writing songs about heartache and misery." She added, "Which, for me, is incredible news.”
In fact, Swift had previously revealed that "Death By A Thousand Cuts" was inspired by the Netflix film Someone Great, which stars Gina Rodriguez as a young woman who deals with the gradual end of her nine-year relationship. The singer told radio host Elvis Duran in August 2019 that the film affected her in a way she didn't expect — and made her cry. “For about a week, I start waking up from dreams that I’m living out that scenario," she said. “I’d have these lyrics in my head based on the dynamics of these characters.”
Clearly, artists don't have to be sad to write a good breakup track. They just have to have access to good breakup stories. And that means that Swift should be under no pressure to hold onto heartache just to write more songs. As Swift wrote in her "30 Things I Learned Before Turning 30" essay for Elle in March 2019, "There’s a common misconception that artists have to be miserable in order to make good art, that art and suffering go hand in hand," she wrote. "I’m really grateful to have learned this isn’t true."