Taylor Swift’s ‘Cruel Summer’: Who It’s About & More – Hollywood Life

Who Is Taylor Swift’s ‘Cruel Summer’ About? Everything To Know About The 2019 Song

'Cruel Summer' by Taylor Swift is the song of summer 2023, despite being originally released four years ago. Here's everything we know about the bop.

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  • Taylor Swift released “Cruel Summer” in August 2019, but it didn’t become an official single until 2023.
  • The song is off of Taylor’s album Lover.
  • “Cruel Summer” is about Taylor falling for Joe Alwyn while dating Tom Hiddleston in 2016.

“Cruel Summer” is officially having its moment. Fans fell in love with the Taylor Swift when she released it with her album Lover in August 2019. It immediately became a fan-favorite track, and when the months started ticking closer to summer 2020, Swifties were convinced that it would become a radio smash and summer anthem. However, COVID-19 hit in March 2020, which led Taylor to release her album, Folklore, in July 2020 instead.

Then, in 2023, Taylor embarked on her Eras Tour, and “Cruel Summer” was an obvious choice for the setlist. The tour brought a resurgence of love for the track. People began streaming it so much that Taylor’s label, Republic Records, went ahead and decided to make it an official single. “The weirdest, most magical thing is happening,” Taylor told the crowd at her June 17 concert in Pittsburgh. “It’s never happened to me in the whole time I’ve ever been doing this.”

She continued, “[“Cruel Summer”] was my pride and joy on [Lover]. It’s my favorite song. And you have conversations before the album comes out and everyone around weighs in about what should be singles. And I was finally, finally about to have my favorite song become the single off of Lover, and I’m not trying to blame the global pandemic that we had, but that is something that happened that stopped “Cruel Summer” from ever being a single.” Taylor added that having the song become a single after four years is “truly, truly perplexing” to her. “Thank you to anyone who’s been listening to that song, like, 500 times a day,” she concluded. “Because that was my favorite one.”

Learn more about “Cruel Summer” below!

Who Is ‘Cruel Summer’ About?

Taylor started dating her now-ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn in September 2016, but she seemingly revealed in “Cruel Summer” that she was falling for him the entire summer before that. That also happened to be when she was in a highly-publicized romance with Tom Hiddleston. On Taylor’s 2017 album, Reputation, she revealed that she first met Joe at the 2016 Met Gala, while she was still with Calvin Harris. “Cruel Summer” seemingly dives more into what happened after that night (although, as always Taylor has not confirmed her song subject).

The most obvious reference to Taylor’s feelings for Joe come in the bridge, when Taylor sings, “I’m drunk in the back of a car, and I cried like a baby coming home from the bar, said I’m fine but it wasn’t true, I don’t want to keep secrets just to keep you, snuck in through the garden gate every night that summer just to seal my fate.” Taylor hints that she was only able to be with Joe because she was keeping whatever relationship they had a “secret” during that summer together. She also insinuates that she may have been ‘sneaking out’ from her time with Tom to be with Joe, which is what ‘sealed her fate’ with the Loki actor.

taylor swift tom hiddleston
Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston dated for 3 months in 2016. (Broadimage/Shutterstock)

After that line, she sings, “I scream for whatever it’s worth, ‘I love you’ ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?” If Taylor was saying ‘I Love You’ to Tom after she snuck back in, this could be the ‘worst thing’ Joe ‘ever heard….’ because he wanted to be with her. Ah!

Taylor also references her feelings for Joe during summer 2016 on the Lover song “Paper Rings.” She sings, “I hate accidents, except when we went from friends to this,” in the chorus. It seems the two stayed friends after the Met Gala, but it eventually turned into something more. In the first verse of “Paper Rings,” Taylor also says, “The wine is cold like the shoulder I gave you in the street, cat and mouse for a month, or two, or three.” This appears to reference a time she ran into Joe while she was with Tom, but had to ignore him. The ‘cat and mouse’ lyric makes it seem like she and Joe were chasing each other for the summer, until she finally gave Tom up for him.

Then, on the song “Lover,” Taylor sings the lyric, “I’ve loved you for three summers now honey, but I want them all.” If Taylor and Joe started dating in the fall of 2016, and this song was written before the summer of 2019 (Taylor finished Lover in Feb.), then that means the “three summers” must be 2016, 2017 and 2018! So, she seems to be hinting that she was already in love with Joe during that 2016 summer, even though she was with Tom at the time.

What Inspired ‘Cruel Summer’ By Taylor Swift?

“This song is one that I wrote about the feeling of a summer romance, and how often times a summer romance can be layered with all these feelings of pining away and sometimes even secrecy,” Taylor told fans during a secret session for Lover in 2019. “It deals with the idea of being in a relationship where there’s some element of desperation and pain in it, where you’re yearning for something that you don’t quite have yet, it’s just right there, and you just can’t reach it.”

taylor swift joe alwyn
Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn dated for more than six years from 2016-2023. (Blitz Pictures/Shutterstock)

Taylor wrote “Cruel Summer” with Jack Antonoff and St. Vincent, and she said that it has some of her “favorite lyrics” on it. While Jack and St. Vincent worked on most of the track and instrumentation, Taylor penned the topline lyrics.

Can ‘Cruel Summer’ Win A Grammy?

Now that “Cruel Summer” has become a single, fans are wondering whether or not it could be eligible for a Grammy Award in 2024, despite initially being released in 2019. There are various ways that the song could earn a Grammy nomination, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

One way would be for Taylor to sing it live, with the live version getting nominated. Since she’s been singing it on the Eras Tour all summer long, this could be a viable possibility. Other options would be to make the song a duet, release a remix or shoot a music video. Eligibility for the Grammys lasts until Sept. 15, 2023, so there’s not much time to plow ahead with one of those options, though.

However, in 2020, Lizzo‘s song “Truth Hurts” was nominated for a Grammy, despite originally being released as a standalone single in 2017. The song gained popularity in 2019, and the Grammys deemed it eligible at the 2020 show. The Academy’s reasoning was that “Truth Hurts” was never submitted for Grammy contention during its first release. Its unclear if the same will be done for “Cruel Summer,” which was also not submitted for contention the first time around.