Swift threads the colour blue throughout Lover. It’s the colour of her lover’s heart. The colour they paint the town and her boyfriend’s brother’s room. ‘Cruel Summer’ is the first song on the album where Swift paints her feelings in colour. It’s blue/ The feeling I got.
‘Cruel Summer’ is like walking out into the wild surf up to your thighs. Letting the waves hit you one after the other, each one more intense than the last. But you stay standing, wading further out into the ocean until you disappear only to resurface after the water is calm and the last note has faded to blue.
Written by Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff and Annie Clark aka St Vincent, and produced by Antonoff and Swift, ‘Cruel Summer’ has that same pulsating, frantic drive that ‘Getaway Car’ had from reputation. It’s zero-sixty in three seconds. As each verse and chorus comes and goes, the stakes are raised, the guitar-electro-pop pulse is ramped up, and you just know Swift is going straight for the bone. Said “I’m fine” but it wasn’t true/ I don’t wanna keep secrets just to keep you
Each listen doesn’t soften the feelings. The edges remain sharp and the hurt the music first conjured is never soothed. It’s visceral. It paints your insides neon. To have it cushioned in between a song about the beauty of indifference and a song about the softness of love, makes its rawness even more palpable and its fleetingness, coming in it at 2 minutes and 58 seconds, leaves you wanting more. And it’s new/ The shape of your body
Lines such as, I’m always waiting for you to be waiting below// I’m always waiting for you just to cut to the bone. There is a longing for something more, a waiting, a pining. But then there’s the cruel flipside of that feeling; the bracing yourself for the hurt, the anxiety of the inevitable end. What doesn’t kill me/ Makes me want you more
‘Cruel Summer’ is as much about desire as it is about the cruel side of love. Not only the cruelty the other person inflicts on you but the cruelty you inflict upon yourself. The desire is fever dreams, bad, bad boys and devils grinning, but it is also those split-second, mundane to the casual observer moments, when you look at that person and want them in way that you know is bad for you. Hang your head low/ In the glow of the vending machine/ I’m not dying
There is a line that’s repeated twice in each verse. It is hidden and distorted so you can’t hear it unless you are really listening. Or maybe because you’ve listened to the song more times than you care to admit. But at the end of each negative sentiment, a voice or the all-knowing part of herself sings, oh yeah, you’re right, I want it.
Then there’s that bridge. A bridge is normally sung once before the last chorus but this one is so poignant, so do-or-die, that she closes the song with it too. Swift can write a bridge better than anyone, and ‘Cruel Summer’s’ is no exception. Swift said she was so proud of the last line that she screamed it.
I’m drunk in the back of the car/ And I cried like a baby coming home from the bar/ Said “I’m fine” but it wasn’t true/ I don’t wanna keep secrets/ Just to keep you/ And I, snuck in through the garden gate every night that summer/ Just to seal my fate/ And I scream “For whatever’s it’s worth/ I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?”
I can picture the garden gate in the summer night, the creak as it opens, and the tiptoeing across the damp grass into what you so desperately want but is never within your reach.