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‘If This Was A Movie’: The Film Motif Throughout Taylor Swift’s Discography

‘If This Was A Movie’: The Film Motif Throughout Taylor Swift’s Discography

Music and movies are two things that can be absolutely magical and help us escape from everyday life on their own, but when you combine the two, the results can be absolutely mystifying. One person who might know that better than anyone is Taylor Swift, who has not only had her music featured in movies, but also regularly gets inspired by iconic films, and she constantly makes her music feel cinematic with different characters and even movie references.

The film motif that runs through some of our favorite Taylor tracks is one of our favorite themes in her work, and it adds so much depth to songs and storylines we already loved. Here are some of our favorite movie references in her work so far, as well as some of our thoughts on the meanings! 

“Lost in a film scene…”

Before we dive into specific, lyrical movie references, we have to understand how Taylor views movies as an inspiration – and lucky for us, she’s spoken a lot about this in recent years! We’ve known that her 2014 album, 1989, was largely inspired by 80s music thanks to what Taylor was listening to at the time, but it was also inspired by classic 80s films directed by John Hughes. Two specific films she mentioned – The Breakfast Club and 16 Candles – focus on the character’s growths and perspective rather than romance, which mirrors how the 1989 album was more about Taylor’s own growth and view of the world than the relationships she touches on in the songs. 

I’ve always really loved certain films during certain phases I was in musically. I made an album called 1989 and I would watch John Hughes movies. I’d just watch 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club all the time over and over.

Taylor Swift at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival

The impact of films on Taylor’s work became even more prevalent when her iconic sister albums came out in 2020 – folklore and evermore do largely touch on her personal experiences like her earlier albums, but with a fictionalized twist as she introduces us to different characters, dynamics, and settings. For example, she told Entertainment Weekly that ‘my tears ricochet,’ a song that describes her fight to own her music, drew inspiration from Marriage Story and the film’s themes of divorce and loss of trust.

And like many of us, Taylor spent quarantine catching up on movies! Not all of us made awe-inspiring albums inspired by them, but hey, we all watched movies. She’s mentioned films like 1954’s Rear Window, 1995’s Sense and Sensibility, 1997’s L.A. Confidential, and 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth in interviews while talking about movies that influenced her storytelling on folklore and evermore

I feel like consuming other people’s art and storytelling sort of opened this portal in my imagination and made me feel like, “Well, why have I never done this before? Why have I never created characters and intersecting storylines? And why haven’t I ever sort of freed myself up to do that from a narrative standpoint?”

Taylor Swift to Entertainment Weekly

On top of that, Taylor shared on Elvis Duran And The Morning Show in 2019 that the fan-favorite ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’ was inspired by Someone Great, starring Gina Rodriguez. This was a pretty full-circle moment, because writer and director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson was inspired by ‘Clean’ and Taylor’s 1989 album!

Finally, we have to give an honorary mention to three songs that are kinda connected to movies. Taylor wrote an adorable song called ‘Today Was A Fairytale’ in 2008, and once she decided it wouldn’t make it to her Fearless album, she offered it to the producers of Valentine’s Day, in which she played a teenage girl spending the special day with her boyfriend. A few years later, she wrote ‘Safe & Sound’ (featuring The Civil Wars) and ‘Eyes Open’ for The Hunger Games, and in 2020, she wrote ‘Carolina’ for Where The Crawdads Sing. The latter three songs were technically inspired by books, but we’re counting them for now!

“Our songs, our films, united we stand…”

Okay, now we’re ready to dive into the film motif that Taylor has woven into her songs! She’s been doing this since 2008, and one of the biggest way she uses this theme is as a metaphor for a relationship. First off, on 2008’s ‘Breathe,’ she described the downfall of a friendship: “music starts playing like the end of a sad movie, it’s the kind of ending you don’t really wanna see.” 

And in 2010, she gave us an entire song called ‘If This Was A Movie!’ This track is definitely one of our top songs from Speak Now because of the pretty acoustic guitar and Taylor’s vocals, but the storytelling and lyrics might just be our favorite things about it. The song sees Taylor comparing a relationship to those perfect romances we see on screen, only to realize the object of her affection might not come back like those charming leading men do. She also returns to the idea of movies ending, breaking our hearts with the final lyric, “baby, what about the ending?” Poetic cinema, truly.

“I know that we could work it out somehow
But if this was a movie, you’d be here by now…” 

Yeah, Taylor’s movie references are usually pretty sad. But we’ll give your heart a little break with ‘Wildest Dreams,’ more specifically its music video! This song from 1989 shows Taylor pining for someone she knows things won’t end well with, and the music video really captures that passionate, adrenaline-filled feeling by placing her as an actress falling in love with her movie co-star on set. It’s simply dreamy… until he shows up to the film premiere with his real-life partner. Sorry besties, maybe this wasn’t the break we promised it would be. 

Speaking of those loves that never truly unfolded, though, Taylor returned to the wistful movie imagery on 2020’s ‘the 1,’ the opening track of folklore. The film reference here is a little cheeky, with her singing, “I hit the Sunday matinee, you know the greatest films of all time were never made.” Here, one of those “greatest films” would’ve been their relationship that never got to reach its full potential. 

The “one that got away” idea comes back on a smaller scale later on ‘this is me trying,’ on which Taylor insists, “it’s hard to be anywhere these days when all I want is you. You’re a flashback in a film reel on the one screen in my town.” We could totally see that being movie dialogue for a scene where two former lovers are fighting before rekindling their romance. Who do we need to call to make that happen?

Another key example from the folklore album is ‘exile,’ a collab with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver that casts Taylor and Justin as former lovers who are still quarreling over just what happened in their relationship. On each chorus, they take turns singing “I think I’ve seen this film before, and I didn’t like the ending.” It seems to represent how they’ve become more aware of the red flags throughout their relationship and how they want to avoid them in the future, even though their back-and-forth already kind of brings that conflict back to life.

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But finally, we reach happy movie metaphors on Taylor’s 2022 album, Midnights! First off, ‘Snow On The Beach,’ featuring Lana Del Rey, touches on Taylor’s excitement when she finds a surreal relationship that “feels like what [she] once saw on a screen” – and the contrast from those ‘exile’ lyrics has us in awe of T’s mind as usual. Later on the record, on the track ‘Karma,’ Taylor insists, “karma is the guy on the screen coming straight home to me,” talking about her relationship with Joe Alwyn. We’re obsessed with the idea of her finally finding that cinematic romance she deserves… and with an actor, no less! 

“Cruelty wins in the movies…”

Another “genre” of Taylor’s movie references is the one where she casts herself as a character of sorts! The folklore film influence really jumped out on ‘hoax,’ the closing track of the standard album that breaks our hearts every time. Taylor’s said the song draws from all kinds of experiences, but the lyric “you knew the hero died, so what’s the movie for?” really sends us back to the reputation era and the “death” of the Old Taylor. It feels like she’s confronting someone who kicked her while she was down and surrendering her happy ending in a way, though we hope she never surrenders that in real life!

Again on ‘Anti-Hero,’ Taylor imagines herself as a movie character… but this time, she’s the nuanced main character that “it must be exhausting” rooting for, breaking down some of her insecurities and her fears about never truly growing. Even with those upbeat synths, the lyrics tear our hearts up shred by shred and just make us wanna hug Taylor. We’ll always root for her and her evolution! Also tying into the movie motif, the “tale as old as time” lyric draws from the Beauty & The Beast theme song.

You could argue that this next one doesn’t really count, but we just have to talk about two twin songs on evermore. ‘tis the damn season’ is from the perspective of a celebrity returning to her hometown and wanting to reconnect with a former flame, and ‘dorothea’ is from that flame’s perspective, with them proclaiming, “a tiny screen’s the only place I see you now” as they watch Dorothea’s star rise. There’s no definite answer about what she’s famous for or whether she’s an actress, but we love that interpretation!

“I hit the Sunday matinee…”

And, of course, sometimes Taylor just wants to talk about watching movies. We did break down earlier how much she loves them! In that department, we have 2010’s ‘Never Grow Up,’ where Taylor reflects on that phase of your early teens where you just wanna seem like a cool kid: “you’re in the car on the way to the movies, and you’re mortified your mom’s dropping you off… but don’t make her drop you off around the block.” 

On a sweeter moment, movies represent something tender on 2012’s ‘Begin Again,’ which describes Taylor’s first date with someone new after going through the heartbreak that inspired the rest of the Red album. On the bridge, she almost brings up her ex in conversation before noting that her new date started to “talk about the movies that [his] family watches every single Christmas,” bringing her back to the present and letting her appreciate the new love that’s stepped into her life. It’s what she deserves!

Which film reference in Taylor Swift’s catalog is your favorite? Is there a certain movie you wish featured her music? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! And for more Taylor content – because who doesn’t need more Taylor in their life? – click here


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