Critic Jody Rosen once called Taylor Swift “a songwriting savant with an intuitive gift for verse-chorus-bridge architecture” in Rolling Stone; and indeed, most of her songs follow the same sturdy structure of first verse/ chorus/ second verse/ chorus/ bridge/ chorus.
Though several pieces have been written about the bridge’s declining popularity, the bridge is where pop star Swift consistently reveals something new and less sterile; where she shows her cards, plops down powerful bits of information. Musically, her bridges are often modified choruses without new harmonic formations—but lyrically, they dominate. And what makes TS good has always been her lyricism.
Swift’s seventh studio album, Lover, is out this Friday. Of the title track released last week, Taylor told Vogue, “This has one of my favorite bridges. I love a bridge, and I was really able to go to Bridge City.” That particular bridge is not on this list (it’s a little corny; Taylor has had years of practice writing on heartbreak, but less experience with effervescent joy) and it mimics wording you might hear at a wedding, making clear her intentions with current boyfriend Joe Alwyn: “Ladies and gentlemen, will you please stand? / With every guitar string scar on my hand / I take this magnetic force of a man to be my lover.”
Anyway, here are ten times she’s genuinely taken us to Bridge City.
10) “Dress,” Reputation
Despite this song’s famously sexy chorus (“only bought this dress so you could take it off!” she yelps breathlessly), the bridge makes exceedingly tender points: first, that the track is about Alwyn (“Flashback when you met me / your buzzcut and my hair bleached” is a clear reference to their first encounter at the Met Gala), and second, that Joe fell for Taylor despite her widely-publicized problematic qualities (“Flashback to my mistakes / my rebounds, my earthquakes / Even in my worst light, you saw the truth in me.”) The pair got together in 2016, a year where Taylor was roundly mocked for her Tom Hiddleston showmance and ganged up on by Kim and Kanye and Snapchat. It’s impressive to land a soulmate with that kind of negative press.
9) “Shake It Off,” 1989, and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Red
These two might as well be combined, considering their myriad similarities: both were lead singles off their respective albums, both were kind of bad/slight/annoying and not indicative of those albums as a whole, and both are brat anthems with spoken bridges. On the former, Swift raps cheekily (“to the fella over there / with the hella good hair”) and in the latter, she pauses to talk on the phone in a bored, snide tone (“So he calls me up and he’s like, ‘I still love you’”). It’s not Shakespeare, but that’s kind of the point.
8) “Sparks Fly,” Speak Now
This stadium-pleaser was made complete by a video shot during various arena gigs on Taylor’s Speak Now tour, all glittering dresses and bouncing blonde curls. It’s a balls-to-the-wall love song, strangely bold and even mildly sensual, on which Taylor demands a green-eyed lover “kiss me on the sidewalk, take away the pain.” In the bridge, she administers further instructions, telling the guy what to do and say as though he’s not eloquent enough to please her: “Lead me up the staircase / won’t you whisper, soft and slow / ‘I’m captivated by you baby, like a fireworks show,’” she sings, giving it the nasally Southern drawl of faaar-works. Of course, at this moment in her live show, fireworks erupt from the stage. The way she rhymes “captivated” and “baby” and how shamelessly she compares herself to something that produces light, colors, and more noise than anything else in the civilized world, well—these are good things.
7) “I Knew You Were Trouble,” Red
This was Taylor’s official sonic crossover, the song on which she proved herself capable of both country croons and bass-dropping pop verging on dubstep. It’s about boy-bander-turned-androgynous-rocker Harry Styles breaking her heart, even though she expected he’d do that from the start (“ow! ow!” she wails on the chorus)—Swift seemingly confirmed the ‘who’ of it by tweeting a lyric from the song directly after their IRL second breakup; she wrote this song after their first. On the bridge, the bass suddenly fades to nothing as Swift skewers Styles by suggesting he might not have loved “me, or her, or anyone, or anything.” She follows this shaky admission with one long screechy “yeaaaah!”, as if to emphasize the vicious assumption.
6) “Begin Again,” Red
Following an album packed with crimson lovesick, this closer is optimistic and wistful, the first green buds of spring: a song about meeting someone new following a bitter breakup. Over low guitar and fiddle, Taylor sings of watching love blossom again “on a Wednesday, in a café” (another excellent rhyme). Her new paramour appreciates all the things her ex did not (her heels; her music taste; her sense of humor) and while she’s still thinking of the man who left, wary of doing it all over again with somebody else, her date distracts her with innocent conversation on the bridge: “We walked down the block to my car and I almost brought him up / But you start to talk about the movies that your family watches every single Christmas / and I wanna talk about that.”
5) “Dear John,” Speak Now
Everybody knows this track to be about John Mayer—including Mayer himself, who has said he was “humiliated” by the takedown. The two dated when Taylor was nineteen and Mayer was in his early thirties, after collaborating musically on “Half of My Heart.” It’s apparent the young ingénue both admired and respected the elder musician’s artistry; but something went wrong, and Taylor named names. On the six-minute-long ballad “Dear John” (she once said it was “presumptuous” that Mayer believed it to be about him), Swift lambasts him for taking advantage of her naïveté. As is her custom, she gets the last laugh at the bridge, calling out the guitarists’ head games line by line (“you are an expert at sorry / and keeping lines blurry / never impressed by me acing your tests”) and concluding with yet another fireworks show, this time sparked by vengeful triumph rather than romance: “I took your matches before fire could catch me / so don’t look now / I’m shining like fireworks over your sad, empty town.” “Dear John” is the reason people say, don’t date Taylor Swift or she’ll write a mean song about you. I’m sure he deserved it, but damn.
4) “Wildest Dreams,” 1989
Prior to this record, Swift steered prudishly away from sex, but “Wildest Dreams” came awfully close to imitating coital sighs on the chorus with those ah-ah-ha’s. Its cascading bridge also lays down some uber-erotic imagery: “You’ll see me in hindsight / tangled up with you all night / burning it down / Someday when you leave me / I bet these memories follow you around.” Taylor is an earnest try-hard who thinks compulsively about leaving men with good memories of her, and the chorus implies she wants to be remembered demurely, “red lips and rosy cheeks” in front of a sunset; however, the sultry bridge tells another tale.
3) “Out of the Woods,” 1989
This was the second single off 1989, the first official collaboration between TS and pop star–whisperer Jack Antonoff (every lady musician he touches, from Lorde to St. Vincent to Lana Del Ray, turns to gold). Taylor breathes new life into an old idiom— “out of the woods” meaning “safe from danger”—by turning it into a question posed again and again in a precarious relationship: “are we out of the woods yet?”. On an already frenetic song, Swift double-times the bridge, during which she gets specific about Styles once more by alluding to a snowmobile accident they were in together (“Remember when you hit the brakes too soon? / twenty stitches in the hospital room / When you started crying, baby I did too.”) She also recounts how she called things off because they couldn’t take the public heat, but in the end, “the monsters turned out to be just trees.” The whole thing is anxiously reminiscent of two people dodging snow-covered evergreens, fleeing down a hill from paparazzi, just moments away from catastrophe.
2) “New Year’s Day,” Reputation
The most fragile and characteristically Swiftian track off Taylor’s decidedly unSwiftian reputation, with barely any production to speak of besides a piano. The acoustic bridge also happens to hold the record’s most sentimental lines: “Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you / and I will hold on to you / Please don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere.” Swift’s voice lightens into whisper as she pleads that last line several times, conveying the universal fear of becoming a stranger to someone you were once deeply intimate with.
1) “All Too Well,” Red
Ah, Swift’s undisputed greatest track, a work of feminine fury and an ode to the ferocity of her love affair with Jake Gyllenhaal. I have yet to meet a woman who doesn’t identify with this bridge; it’s visceral and nasty and begins with Swift first suggesting ways she could’ve screwed up the relationship (“maybe I asked for too much”) but then twists around and slashes with claws, certain that “this thing was a masterpiece, ’til you tore it all up.” And there are still more cuts to come for our cowardly suitor, whose dismissiveness she recalls in searing detail: “You call me up again just to break me like a promise / so casually cruel in the name of being honest / I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here” she snarls, her voice darting up to what feels like an impossible octave, relaying an all-too-common excuse. Taylor Swift has been holding men accountable for years.