Any album Harry Styles makes, whether it’s his new self-titled debut, or one ten years down the line, will be scoured for references to Taylor Swift. That’s the curse of an ultrafamous pop-star union — every song you write will have its lyrics magnified and scrutinized by FBI-level teen sleuths for any clues that could tie it back to your ex. More than four years ago, Harry Styles and Taylor Swift dated for all of two months and, oh, what that fling hath wrought. Swift beefed up the situation-ship into a full-blown romance novella for 1989, impressing even Harry with what he’s praised as “the most amazing unspoken dialogue ever.” Now it’s Styles’s turn: Just as Vulture did for 1989, we present our totally accurate and deeply literal reading of all the Swift subliminals on Harry Styles.
Clue: “I met her once and wrote a song about her.”
Translation: We can rule out Taylor as the subject of this song because she’s not from the Carolinas and doesn’t have a grandma that told her to move to the West Coast. And, if Taylor did, she clearly didn’t listen. This song is about a mystery woman whose identity may or not be Styles’s rumored ex Caroline Flack (only if her dad watches the Today show), but even so, it’s in the spirit of Swift. “I met her once and wrote a song about her” may as well say “I am stealing Taylor’s shtick.” It’s also a callback to a line already believed to be Harry’s first time writing about Swift, on One Direction’s “Perfect”: “If you’re looking for someone to write your breakup songs about, baby, I’m perfect.” How quickly the student becomes the teacher.
Clue: “Same lips red, same eyes blue / Same white shirt, couple more tattoos.”
Translation: This is what you came for. Most of Harry’s words for Taylor on this album are coded, but “Two Ghosts” doesn’t play games. Here he responds directly to Taylor by lifting her own words from “Style.” (And hasn’t denied it!) She sang at the time, “I got that red lip, classic thing that you like … You got that long hair slicked back, white T-shirt.” Now he flips her whole fantasy by playing along with it, then quickly snaps out of it to remind her that they were both delusional in taking the charade too far. He goes on to sing: “But it’s not you and it’s not me / Tastes so sweet, looks so real / Sounds like something that I used to feel / But I can’t touch what I see / We’re not who we used to be / We’re just two ghosts standing in the place of you and me / Trying to remember how it feels to have a heartbeat.” Your move, Taylor.
Clue: “I must admit I thought I’d like to make you mine / As I went about my business through the warning signs / And end up meeting in the hallway every single time / And there’s nothing we can do about it / Told it to her brother and she told it to me / That she’s gonna be angel, just you wait and see / When it turns out she’s a devil in between the sheets.”
Translation: Taylor’s lyrics read about as chaste as the Bible, but she has saved her more PG-13 side for songs about Harry (again, see: “Style,” which Harry alludes to in his reference to a “skirt that short”). And as she demonstrated on her Fifty Shades Darker song (with Zayn!), she’s capable of playing the vixen. Was the entirety of of Haylor’s romance, which probably never evolved past lust anyway, conducted via clandestine hallway rendezvous at various hotels? Does Taylor not also have a brother? Suspicious!
Clue: “It’s New York, baby, always jacked up / Holland Tunnel for a nose, it’s always backed up / When she’s alone, she goes home to a cactus / In a black dress, she’s such a such an actress.”
Translation: New York City was the epicenter of the Haylor romance. It’s where they had their second and most staged date of all, in Central Park, that established the whole whirlwind romance. Any lyrical mention of New York City, however nebulous, will tie the pair together in the eyes of their fans. Those are the rules. It’s also been well documented that Taylor can’t resist a black dress. Elsewhere in this song, Harry sings about getting a very headstrong woman pregnant and her demand that he have nothing to do with it going forward. If that just so happened to be nonfiction involving Taylor, then that’s none of our business either.
“Ever Since New York”
Clue: “Brooklyn saw me, empty at the news / There’s no water inside this swimming pool / Almost over, had enough from you / I’ve been praying, I never did before / Understand I’m talking to the walls / And I’ve been praying ever since New York.”
Translation: This song isn’t even trying to pretend like it’s not a wink at Taylor’s own tourist trap, “Welcome to New York.”
Clue: “I’m selfish, I know / But I don’t ever want to see you with him / I’m selfish, I know / I told you, but I know you never listen.”
Translation: It’s! About! A! Woman! That woman easily could be Taylor Swift. She could also be anybody. But for the sake of wild speculation, let’s call her Taylor Swift. It’s also about intense jealousy! Taylor’s been with other men since Harry — remember Calvin Harris? and poor Tom Hiddleston? — and he has been with other women. Who’s to say he’s never been envious of the other lads from the U.K. she’s since moved on with? Maybe this is just how Brits do passive-aggression.
“From the Dining Table”
Clue: “Woke up alone in this hotel room / Played with myself, where were you? Fell back to sleep, I got drunk by noon / I’ve never felt less cool / We haven’t spoke since you went away / Comfortable silence is so overrated / Why won’t you ever be the first one to break? Even my phone misses your call, by the way.”
Translation: Haylor canon firmly believes that Harry and Taylor broke up after a nightmare Caribbean couples trip, where Taylor allegedly ghosted on Harry and left him high and dry in their hotel room. And it certaintly does sound like Harry’s spent plenty of time since then thinking about what he’d say to her now, should they ever speak again. It all adds up. More clues: “I saw your friend that you know from work / He said you feel just fine / I see you gave him my old T-shirt / More of what was once mine.” Could this friend be Ed Sheeran? We have no proof that Swift has ever given an old Harry Styles hand-me-down to Sheeran, but we also don’t have proof that she hasn’t. Nothing says “friend zone” quite like being gifted your crush’s ex-boyfriend’s shirt. Also, “your friend you know from work”? The only male friend in Swift’s squad is Ed Sheeran, and they happen to share a profession.