When she first burst onto the scene as a teenager in 2006, this was reflected in her tracks about high school crushes and first boyfriends. But as her star power grew, the subjects of Taylor’s music changed from unknown faces to her fellow celebrities.
This led to a huge spike in both the interest and the scrutiny that her music received — particularly during her early career, when Taylor would encourage her fans to work out the identities behind her songs via press interviews and not-so-subtle Easter eggs.
For example, when she was confronted about the title of her 2014 track “Style” being an obvious hint that it’s about her ex Harry Styles, Taylor joked to Rolling Stone, “We should have just called it 'I'm Not Even Sorry.'”
And if that wasn’t an obvious enough namedrop for her fans, then her 2010 song “Dear John” appears to be an even clearer reference to another ex, John Mayer.
The scathing lyrics of “Dear John” are full of further clues. Taylor references a large age gap between her and the inspiration behind the song — who she accuses of playing “dark twisted games." She also explicitly states that she was 19 years old when they dated.
Taylor was 19 when she briefly dated John — who is 13 years older than her — in 2009, and it didn’t take long for her fans to tie everything together and target him over the way she said he treated her in the track.
After he was subjected to an onslaught of cruel comments from Taylor’s fans on social media, John questioned the ethics of his ex presenting a one-sided view of her relationships to the masses — especially when it leads to somebody being vilified.
Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2012, John went so far as to say that Taylor was “abusing” her talent. He said of her songs about him, “It made me feel terrible. It was a really lousy thing to do. I never got an email. I never got a phone call. I was really caught off guard."
“I know she’s the biggest thing in the world, and I’m not trying to sink anybody’s ship, but I think it’s abusing your talent to rub your hands together and go, ‘Wait till he gets a load of this!’ That’s bullshit,” he added.
And while several years have passed since Taylor dated the exes she calls out in her early music, her decision to rerecord her first six albums reignited all of the drama.
In 2021, Jake Gyllenhaal faced fresh scrutiny when Taylor rereleased her 2012 album Red, which included songs inspired by their short-lived 2010 romance. The rerecord also included an extended version of her heartbreak anthem “All Too Well,” which is widely assumed to be about the actor.
Taylor fueled the theory in the song’s accompanying short film, where she cast Dylan O’Brien to play the male love interest and styled him in an undeniably similar way to how Jake looks in decade-old paparazzi photos of them together.
The extended cut also included new lyrics that reiterated how much of a toll this toxic relationship took on her, as well as seemingly calling out Jake for their nine-year age gap in brutal fashion.
In addition, the 2021 Red rerelease featured previously unheard songs “from the vault” that also appear to be inspired by her Jake romance.
All of this led to the Hollywood actor being targeted by Taylor's fans once again on social media — to the extent that he even had to limit comments on his Instagram posts as he was branded a “predator,” among other things.
He also found himself as the butt of the joke in several online trends, and when Taylor kicked off her Eras Tour earlier this year, the Jake criticism transcended the internet and made its way into her sold-out stadiums.
Concertgoers have revealed how Jake has been targeted during the shows, including fans wearing shirts with his face on them and a red X over it, and people chanting “fuck you Jake Gyllenhal!” during Taylor’s performance of “All Too Well.”
Jake briefly acknowledged the behavior from Taylor’s fans last year, when he suggested to Esquire that while he doesn’t “begrudge” Taylor writing songs about her personal experiences, she has a “responsibility” to “not allow for cyberbullying in one’s name.”
And with Taylor’s Speak Now rerelease just around the corner, people are anticipating that John is going to become the new main target within Taylor’s fandom. Especially after he revealed in 2021 that he was still receiving death threats from her fans on social media — over a decade after they broke up.
Taylor’s version of her 2010 album will come out on July 7, complete with brand-new songs “from the vault,” and another one of her exes, Taylor Lautner, has even shared his fears for John ahead of its release.
The actor is one of Taylor’s only past boyfriends to get away completely unscathed in her music, with the singer even expressing that she wants to apologize to him for how their relationship ended in her song “Back to December.”
As a result, Taylor Lautner tickled fans when he said in response to the rerelease, “I feel safe….praying for John.” He later doubled down on this stance by making a TikTok that showed him literally on his knees praying as “Dear John” played in the background alongside the caption “#prayforjohn.”
Perhaps anticipating what is to come, Taylor herself addressed the situation during her Eras show on Saturday night. Before performing “Dear John” as one of her surprise songs, Taylor asked her fans not to “defend” her online against someone they think she “might have written a song about” as a teen.
“I was hoping to ask you that as we lead up to this album coming out, I would love for that kindness and that gentleness to extend onto our internet activities,” she told the crowd. “What I’m trying to say is, I’m putting this album out because I want to own my music. That’s why I’m putting out this album.”
"I’m 33 years old. I don’t care about anything that happened to me when I was 19, except the songs I wrote and the memories we made together,” Taylor went on. “What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m not putting this album out so that you can go and feel the need to defend me on the internet against someone you think I might have written a song about 14 billion years ago when I was 19. I do not care. We have all grown up. We’re good.”
The plea sparked a mixed response, with some questioning why Taylor didn’t speak out against the online bullying when Jake was being relentlessly targeted after Red’s rerelease.
“where was this energy when people were harassing Jake Gyllenhaal and his family because he didn't show up at her birthday party 14 milion years ago?” one person asked.
Others took issue with Taylor saying “someone you think I might have written a song about,” as they pointed out that she often makes it clear who the subjects of her songs are. One wrote, “that part pissed me off. She purposefully writes songs about famous exes and men cause she knows her fans will buy into it and buy more albums and become obsessed with who she's talking about. Then she wants to say this shit as if she doesn't perpetuate the fuck out of it for capitalism?”
Either way, it seems like not all of Taylor’s fans got the point of her statement, and they have instead used it as ammunition against John on his recent Instagram posts.
The singer has been inundated with hateful comments ever since Taylor’s speech, with many referring to her as “mother” amid the insults. One comment reads, “mother told us we can’t bully you anymore… but she also told us to speak now and I have to speak now and say don’t you think she was too young John?”
Another Swiftie added, “I wasn’t at the concert so mother wasn’t talking to me 🤷🏻♀️ … count your days John.” A third said, “aw you guys are so sweet helping him count his days bc he clearly can’t count the age gap…”
Several others spammed lyrics to Taylor’s songs, including her 2022 song “Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve,” which also appears to be about John — it references the person she dated at 19 and compares him to the “devil.”
John is yet to publicly acknowledge any of the recent trolling from Taylor’s fans.