look what you made them do

‘It Made Me Believe That Love Wasn’t Real Anymore. And I Puked.’

Swifties on Cornelia Street take the Joe Alwyn breakup news as well as you’d expect.

Photo: Rachel Handler
Photo: Rachel Handler

It’s 2 p.m. on Monday afternoon, and I am solemnly approaching 23 Cornelia Street, a previously purple West Village carriage house that Taylor Swift rented in 2016 while her $50 million Tribeca condo underwent renovations, during which she paid $45,000 per month for three bedrooms and one indoor pool and after which she wrote the song “Cornelia Street,” widely believed to be about her longtime lover Joe Alwyn, with whom she allegedly severed ties over the weekend, throwing her devoted fan base into varying degrees of agony, conspiracy theorizing, and meme-making. Frequented in happier times by Swifties from around the globe, the carriage house has, in the fraught 49 hours since Entertainment Tonight announced Swift and Alwyn’s breakup, become something of a memorial site for the untimely death of their relationship: Fans have left bouquets, belted Swift songs while being yelled at by the street’s residents, and attempted to tear down the street’s sign.

On this sunny weekday afternoon, the area isn’t quite swarmed, but it is consistently occupied with a new group of fans and an increasing stream of local journalists arriving every few minutes, incidentally obstructing traffic and drawing forlorn looks from the neighbors. The vibe here isn’t as mournful as it is on the internet. Instead, it’s by turns hopeful, nostalgic, gently delusional — and, for every single vehicle operator and one local elderly man, furious. When I arrive, I immediately become part of the problem, accidentally blocking several cars and the shot of a teenage girl who’s holding a bouquet of roses, slowly walking toward a friend’s camera. “I’m gonna pretend to cry,” she informs her friend.

Aisha and Kyra, NYU students and longtime Swifties, tell me they marched over to Cornelia Street post-class to “pay their respects” after a period of total disbelief. When they heard the news Saturday afternoon, they “thought it was fake; we were very confused,” says Kyra. “It didn’t feel right. They just looked right for each other. I thought it was gonna be endgame,” says Aisha. They had also hoped to spot the Duolingo bird, who was “here earlier, crying,” adds Aisha. (The Duolingo bird, a fair-weather Swiftie, was no longer present.)

Before drawing any permanent conclusions about Alwyn and Swift, both women are waiting for the latter, who’s in the middle of her Eras tour, to address the matter at a Tampa show over the weekend. “I don’t think she’ll say too much; she’s very cryptic, so she’ll satisfy people enough but won’t give too much information,” explains Aisha. “Like, ‘Whatever you guys have heard, I’m okay.’” Kyra just hopes she’ll make a new song about it: “In an upcoming album, it might be addressed there.” They leave a bouquet of pink roses on the doorstep “because of Lover,” adds Aisha.

Giselle, 14, begged her mom to drive her here from New Jersey so she could drop leftover Easter flowers in front of the house (“I didn’t think he would mind,” says her mother, referring to Jesus Christ). She agreed to the trip after witnessing her daughter’s emotional response to the breakup. “I started crying. I cried for a couple of hours, and the next day I stayed in my room all day,” says Giselle calmly. “People were checking in on me because I wasn’t responding to anyone. It made me believe that love wasn’t real anymore. And I puked.”

Her mom was initially startled (“I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ She said, ‘You don’t understand! You’re not a Swiftie!’ My husband was like, ‘Is somebody hurt?’”), but after asking Giselle to clean up her vomit, she empathized with her daughter. “I grew up in the ’80s,” she explains. “I get it.”

I ask a sanitation worker who’s sweeping in front of the house if he’s seen increased traffic over the weekend, and he confirms it has been dirtier and more floral than usual. But he’s leaving the flowers where they are. “It’s nice,” he says.

Cassie, 16, is also visiting with her mother. The two Philadelphians were touring NYU on Cassie’s spring break, and “I was like, ‘We have to pay our respects,’” Cassie says, even though she and her mom were at the carriage house doing the same thing one month ago. Cassie heard the news at a bowling alley Saturday night, and she was “in shambles,” she says. “I thought they were getting married. All of these songs that are written about him — ‘Invisible String’?” Although she wasn’t quite brought to Giselle’s level of tears and physical illness, “my whole ‘For You’ page is people crying.”

Another mother-daughter pair, Rena and Linda, visiting from California, are the least visibly upset about the news. “I just really feel bad for her after six years,” says Rena. “If it is true. I don’t even know what’s true anymore. What about all of that stuff about her being secretly married? And I think they were together on Easter?” Linda nods. “At least it’ll be a good album, though.”

Sayaan, 15, is similarly doubtful. “I don’t think the breakup is real, to be honest,” he says, standing with his parents and his 6-year-old brother, who are so eager to continue exploring the Swiftian totems of New York City that they never tell me where they’re visiting from. “ET is always doing that stuff.”

It is nice. Photo: Rachel Handler

A man who confirms he lives on Cornelia Street waves me off when I ask him about what it’s been like to be a resident during this historic time. “My opinion doesn’t matter. Ask anybody else.” A posh British woman walking her dog tells me she’s noticed an uptick in foot traffic over the weekend. “I know it’s because of Taylor Swift,” she says. “But I don’t think she still lives there?” I tell her Swift moved seven years ago. “Jesus,” she sighs.

Margaret, another longtime Cornelia Street resident, is happy to talk to me despite the fact that I’m trespassing in the lobby of her building. “I never saw Taylor, but I knew she was here,” she says, grinning. “I just knew she was remodeling a condo in Soho somewhere, so that was exciting. I don’t remember being bothered by it at all, even though it’s a small street.” Margaret’s doorman, listening nearby, has no idea who we are talking about.

At the Green Room, a CBD shop a block away from 23 Cornelia Street that opened two years ago and, thus, has never been frequented by Taylor Swift or Joe Alwyn, the owner, Elliot, tells me he saw a “huge increase” in Swifties on the block over the weekend taking pictures and chatting. “They were there at 10 o’clock at night. I wasn’t sure why,” he says. I explain the breakup, and he looks cheered: “That makes sense.” The shop was busy, he says, and it must have been due to the breakup, which he feels confident stating even though he has absolutely no idea who Alwyn is and is only marginally aware of Swift’s discography (“I knew she wrote a song about Cornelia Street, but I’m more of a Jimi Hendrix guy”). I ask what Elliot would recommend for a Swiftie in search of relief. “My go-to would be the White Wizard. It’s a CBG strain which is quite soothing,” he says. “It’ll be good for the heartbreak and also good for any GI issues.”

Susanna, another NYU student, tells me that “this is more sad than other celebrity breakups. I was trying to explain to my boyfriend — it’s like if the Obamas broke up.” Susanna and I get into a conversation about the Kaylors, a subset of the fandom who believes Swift and her onetime-best-friend Karlie Kloss had (and according to some subsubsets, continue to have) a secret lesbian relationship that Swift’s heterosexual male counterparts helped her cover up as hired beards. Some Kaylors even believe “Cornelia Street” is about Kloss, not Alwyn, which is deeply controversial among the greater fandom. Though she doesn’t explicitly identify as a Kaylor, “lowkey, yes, I believe it,” says Susanna. “People are very attached to that theory and aggressive about it. I see both sides of it. I feel like there are people who read everything she does as, ‘She’s definitely gay’ or ‘She’s definitely not.’ But it’s not that deep.” Giselle agrees, with caveats. “I don’t think she and Karlie are good for each other,” she says. “I believe that they definitely had a relationship, but I don’t support it. ‘It’s Time To Go’ is about Karlie, not ‘Cornelia Street.’”

A Greenwich Village tour group pauses in front of the house. “I don’t care about her at all,” says one of the women in a thick Russian accent.

That sentiment is echoed and intensified by Nick, an 80-year-old artist who I interrupt mid-conversation on his doorstep and who has no idea who Alwyn is (“Is he an Allman brother?”). “It’s a fucking nightmare! These fucking morons come here and yell, ‘Come out, Taylor!’” he says of the surreal experience of living on Cornelia Street post-2016. “But she never lived there. She may have slept there maybe three times; I saw her one time walking from her car, and there were paparazzi everywhere all the time. She only rented it because her SUV could go inside and there was a pool. It’s behind the wall. It’s really tacky. Who the fuck wants to swim in the dark?”

Nick, who has lived on the block since 1996, works himself into a lather as he describes the “horrible renovations” that have been made to the Cornelia Street residence, which once housed horse stables. But he’s less enraged about Swift’s brief pseudo-residency there than he is about her accompanying fandom. “It wasn’t annoying for me. I don’t give a shit,” he says. “What’s annoying is these assholes come down from New Jersey with their parents and do these videos. There’s always a group there. They’re crazy. They’re insane. They come in and they dance; it’s like a freak show. It’s so insipid and shallow.” He stops for a moment. “‘Cornelia Street’ is a piece-of-shit song,” he adds.

In the lyrics to the song in question, Swift sings, “I hope I never lose you, hope it never ends / I’d never walk Cornelia Street again.” I ask the Swifties on the block if they, too, will never walk Cornelia Street again out of solidarity. “I don’t know,” says Cassie slowly. “It’s definitely sadder.” Kyra is more decisive. “I go to a lot of things in this area, so it will be hard to avoid it,” she says. Susanna “thought about not doing it in protest,” she says. “But, logistically, it is on the way to a lot of things that I do. So, yes, I will walk Cornelia Street again.”

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‘It Made Me Believe That Love Wasn’t Real. And I Puked.’