The Meaning Behind Taylor Swift’s Four-Year Late No. 1 Hit “Cruel Summer”

In 2016, Taylor Swift‘s years-long feud with Kayne West came to a head with the release of his song “Famous,” which referenced her as a bitch—I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous (Goddamn) / I made that bitch famous. Their pubic fight, which started seven years earlier after West bum-rushed Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, now escalated into another feud between West and his then-wife Kim Kardashian.

Videos by American Songwriter

That same year, Swift had a messy breakup with Calvin Harris, which segued into more Twitter spats.

For Swift, it was a “Cruel Summer,” indeed.


When Swift released her seventh album Lover in 2019, there were four singles off the album: “Me,” “You Need to Calm Down,” “Lover,” and “The Man.”

Another track Swift intended to release as a single was “Cruel Summer,” which she wrote with Anne Clark (St. Vincent) and longtime producer and friend Jack Antonoff.

The latter track was held back during the onset of the pandemic in 2020, then had its resurgence when Swift began performing it on her Eras Tour in 2023.

The Meaning

“Cruel Summer” cited some of the harsh times from a few years back and Swift also pivoted around the hardships, all while falling in love with British actor Joe Alwyn.

Lover mostly chronicles the budding romance with her new lover.

Fever dream high in the quiet of the night
You know that I caught it
Bad, bad boy
Shiny toy with a price
You know that I bought it

Killing me slow, out the window
I’m always waiting for you to be waiting below
Devils roll the dice, angels roll their eyes
What doesn’t kill me makes me want you more

And it’s new, the shape of your body
It’s blue, the feeling I’ve got
And it’s ooh, whoa, oh
It’s a cruel summer
It’s cool, that’s what I tell ’em
No rules in breakable heaven
But ooh, whoa oh
It’s a cruel summer
With you

“Cruel Summer” Returns in 2023

When it was finally released as a single in the summer of 2023, “Cruel Summer” initially went to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The song had another resurgence following the theatrical release of the Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour concert film, which resulted in a streaming boost of Swift’s entire catalog, in particular “Cruel Summer.” Swift also released two new versions of the song: “Cruel Summer (Live from Taylor Swift The Eras Tour),” and a remix, “Cruel Summer (LP Giobbi Remix)” on the EP The Cruelest Summer.

By October 2023, Swift made history with “Cruel Summer” when it topped the chart, making her the first female artist to score 10 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and 10 No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart.

“We just wanted to say thank you so much for making ‘Cruel Summer’ Hot 100 No. 1 and it’s not even the summer anymore,” said Swift in an Instagram video with Antonoff. “It’s deep fall. We love you guys.”

Photo: John Medina/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Olivia Rodrigo Shares a Wholesome Car Ride with Jimmy Kimmel and His Family Before Appearing on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’