Taylor Swift’s relationship with Harry Styles heavily inspired the tracks that ended up on the original 1989 album, which was released in October 2014. So it’s no surprise that her romance with Styles also seemed to inspire the “From the Vault” songs that didn’t make the cut initially.
For background, Swift and Styles dated publicly from December 2012 to January 2013. A source that Swift authorized to speak to Vanity Fair in March 2013 discussed how on-off their relationship was.
Styles “wore her down,” the source said, and allegedly “chased” the singer for a year. “He was all, like, ‘You’re amazing—I want to be with you. I want to do this,’” the source explained.
Their relationship “fell apart after he texted Swift to alert her of a picture on the Internet of him kissing a friend goodbye,” Vanity Fair detailed. The source specified that “[they were] making out like with their hands all up in each other’s hair.”
So Swift broke it off with Styles, but he kept pursuing her for “the better part of a year.” She reconciled with him eventually, “but the whole time she says she feels like he’s looking at every girl,” the source said. When they were in London together, he “disappears one night and after that it was like he just didn’t want to keep going.”
In March 2015, Swift spoke about how anxious the relationship made her feel. While discussing “Out of the Woods,” another 1989 track seemingly about Styles, she said:
The number one feeling I felt in the whole relationship was anxiety. Because it felt very fragile, it felt very tentative. And it always felt like, ‘Okay, what’s the next road block? What’s the next thing that’s gonna deter this? How long do we have before this turns into just an awful mess and we break up? Is it a month? Is it three days?’ And so, you know, I think a lot of relationships can be very solid, and that’s kind of what you hope for, for it to be solid and healthy, but that’s not always what you get. And it doesn’t mean that it’s not special and extraordinary just to have a relationship that’s fragile and somehow meaningful in that fragility.
After dating Swift, Styles was romantically linked to Kimberly Stewart in April 2013. Swift and Styles were speculated to have broken up in January 2013, after Swift was photographed leaving their New Year’s trip early.
Throughout the “From the Vault” songs, Swift details the effect the on-off relationship had on her psyche. Here, the verses likely about Styles, song by song.
Not a lot about Styles in this song, but Swift does allude to falling for a famous and very coveted partner. Given Styles’ One Direction fame and heartthrob status, this lyric could easily be about him: “Send the code, he’s waitin’ there / The sticks and stones they throw froze mid-air / Everyone wants him, that was my crime / The wrong place at the right time / And I break down, then he’s pullin’ me in / In a world of boys, he’s a gentleman.”
Read ELLE’s full lyric analysis of “Slut!” here.
“Say Don’t Go”
Here, Swift references the on-off nature of a relationship, especially in the lines: “I’m standin’ on a tightrope alone / I hold my breath a little bit longer / Halfway out the door, but it won’t close / I’m holdin’ out hope for you to / Say, ‘Don’t go’ / I would stay forever if you say, ‘Don’t go.’”
As the Vanity Fair source—and Swift herself—said, she didn’t always trust Styles to stay with her.
These lyrics also evoke this feeling: “Strike a match, then you blow it out / Oh no, oh no, it’s not fair / ’Cause you kiss mе and it stops time / And I’m yours, but you’re not mine / Oh no, oh no, you’re not there.”
Swift also may be alluding to Styles’ private pursuit of her here: “Why’d you have to lead me on? / Why’d you have to twist the knife? / Walk away and leave me bleedin’, bleedin’? / Why’d you whisper in the dark? / Just to leave me in the night? / Now your silence has me screamin’, screamin.’”
And in the bridge: “Why’d you have to (Why’d you have to) / Make me want you (Make me want you)? / Why’d you have to (Why’d you have to) / Give me nothin’ back? / Why’d you have to (Why’d you have to) / Make me love you (Make me love you)? / I said, ‘I love you’ (I said, ‘I love you’) / You say nothin’ back.”
As the Vanity Fair source said, Styles ultimately seemed like “he just didn’t want to keep going.”
Read full lyrics for “Say Don’t Go” on Genius here.
“Now That We Don’t Talk”
Swift may be describing her and Styles’ relationship post-breakup in this track.
Fans noted Swift’s first verse, “Did you get anxious though / On the way home? / I guess I’ll never ever know / Now that we don’t talk,” may reference her wondering how Styles felt when he left their New Year’s Eve Virgin Islands vacation later than her. Swift went home alone early, sparking speculation they broke up. The couple had kissed just days before on New Year’s Eve in New York City.
Swift’s second verse seems to address Styles’ change in image then: he grew his hair out and was rumored to be considering a solo career apart from One Direction. Styles ultimately released his first solo album in 2017, less than three years after 1989 came out: “You grew your hair long / You got new icons / And from the outside / It looks like you’re tryin’ lives on / I miss the old ways / You didn’t have to change / But I guess I don’t have a say / Now that we don’t talk.”
Styles spoke to Better Homes and Gardens in April 2022 about processing his time in One Direction. He was taught then to give so much of himself away, “to get people to engage with you, to like you.”
He said, “For a long time, it felt like the only thing that was mine was my sex life.” He continued, “I felt so ashamed about it, ashamed at the idea of people even knowing that I was having sex, let alone who with. At the time, there were still the kiss-and-tell things. Working out who I could trust was stressful. But I think I got to a place where I was like, why do I feel ashamed? I’m a 26-year-old man who’s single; it’s like, yes, I have sex.”
Swift lamented not being able to be friends with her ex in these lines: “Truth is, I can’t pretend it’s / Platonic, it’s just ended, so,” and “I cannot be your friend, so I pay the price of what I lost (Of what I lost) / And what it cost, now that we don’t talk.” Swift and Styles became friendly again years later, most recently talking at the 2023 Grammys.
Read full lyrics for “Now That We Don’t Talk” here on Genius.
The first verse seems to allude to Styles possibly talking to other women while he was with Swift: “You had people who called you on unmarked numbers / In my peripheral vision.” This echoes Vanity Fair’s source saying that “the whole time she says she feels like he’s looking at every girl.”
These lines—“I had the fantasy that maybe our mismatched star signs / Would surprise the whole school”—could be about Swift and Styles’ astrological compatibility. Swift is a Sagittarius, while Styles is an Aquarius. The AstroTwins noted that both signs cherish independence and “the ‘best friends with benefits’ label was practically invented for you.” But “best friends with benefits” is not a committed, monogamous couple, which is what Swift wanted then.
Swift’s lines, “I broke my own heart ’cause you were too polite to do it / Waves crash on the shore, I dash to the door / You don’t knock anymore and my whole life’s ruined,” may be her alluding to her ending their New Year’s vacation early and ultimately calling off the relationship.
Read the full “Suburban Legends” lyrics here on Genius.
“Is It Over Now?”
Swift’s final Vault track is the one that takes aim at Styles’ post-breakup behavior the most.
The lyrics, “Once the flight had flown (Uh-huh) / With the wilt of the rose (Uh-huh) / I slept all alone (Uh-huh) / You still wouldn’t go,” may reference both Swift leaving their vacation and the paper airplane necklace she wore while dating Styles.
“You dream of my mouth before it called you a lying traitor” may allude to Styles’ interest in other women coupled with him also pursuing Swift privately.
The second verse of the song, “Whеn you lost control (Uh-huh) / Red blood, white snow (Uh-huh),” seems to reference their serious snowmobile accident that she also sang about in “Out of the Woods.” (From that song: “Remember when you hit the brakes too soon? / Twenty stitches in a hospital room / When you started crying, baby, I did too / But when the sun came up, I was looking at you.”)
As the verse goes on, the line, “Blue dress on a boat (Uh-huh) / Your new girl is my clone,” references the blue dress Swift wore in the viral paparazzi photos taken of her leaving their vacation, as well as potentially Styles’ next love interest, the blonde hair, blue-eyed Kimberly Stewart. People reported on Styles and Stewart dating in April 2013, with a source telling the outlet that the couple appeared to be “enjoying each other’s company.”
Later in the song, Swift takes aim at Styles’ long history of dating models, singing, “If she’s got blue eyes, I will surmise that you’ll probably date her / You dream of my mouth before it called you a lying traitor (Oh) / You search in every model’s bed for somethin’ greater, baby.” In months between their 2013 breakup and Swift releasing 1989 in October 2014, Styles was rumored to have dated model Kendall Jenner. He was later linked to Nadine Leopold and Georgia Fowler in 2015.
Read ELLE’s full lyric analysis of “Is It Over Now?” here.
Senior News and Strategy Editor
Alyssa Bailey is the senior news and strategy editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage of celebrities and royals (particularly Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton). She previously held positions at InStyle and Cosmopolitan. When she’s not working, she loves running around Central Park, making people take #ootd pics of her, and exploring New York City.