Taylor Swift – Illicit Affairs | Lyrics Meaning & Song Review

“Illicit Affairs” is the tenth track on Taylor Swift’s 2020 album ‘Folklore.’ The song talks about, well, an illitic affair, an act of adultery committed by her…!

Taylor Swift announced her 8th studio album ‘Folklore‘ just a few hours ahead of the album release on July 24, 2020. The album had no singles prior to the album release, and Taylor stated the reason for the ‘surprise’ album release as the “uncertainty” surrounding the world right now.

In the song, Taylor Swift talks about having a secretive relationship–possibly even a friends-with-benefits type of relationship with a person. She hates it, as the feelings of dying runs inside her after the act is committed. But something keeps her going for more and more.

Listen to “illicit affairs” by Taylor Swift


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“illicit affairs” Lyrics Meaning and Song Review

Verse 1

In the first verse of the song, we hear Taylor singing about the guilt that flushes through her stemming from her illicit affairs. She takes extreme measures such as covering her head with a hoodie when she exits his apartment. She tells her friends that she is going out for a run, but returns with flushed cheeks. She even has to take a road less traveled by people to minimize the risk of running into somebody on her way back.

The first few encounters may have been beautiful–hotel rooms and flowers and candy. But as the encounters stack up, the hotels downgrade to motels and even to backseats of a car in a parking lot.

Chorus

Taylor Swift understands that this is the nature of illicit affairs. There is no love here. So there is no care for each other’s emotions. It is just physical. And it has just stripped down to fulfilling a human need. This ‘relationship’ was born from a stare and from the moment it was born, it keeps on dying and dying.

Verse 2

What makes this affair worse is the fact that it is “illicit” in nature, meaning Taylor Swift has a boyfrind. She talks about not wearing any perfume when she sneaks out to meet her FWB. She is a typical ghost during these runs. No traces left.

Taylor Swift sums up her thoughts on these kinds of relationships: “A dwindling, mercurial high.” A ‘mercurial high’ could be a reference to the temporary thrill of the act of cheating that draws people towards it. It is also a reference to being ‘crazy’ or ‘mad’ that stemmed from the lore that mercury was suspected to make hat-making women go mad in the 1800s.

But as high as it goes during the act, it crashes so low after the fact. Hence, it is like a sudden shot of drugs that last for a while and damages for a lifetime.

Verse 3

In the third verse, Taylor gives us some context about the guy whom she is having the illicit affairs with. He seems to be the toxic kind Taylor would not want to spend the rest of her life with. But this is the exact same fact that has her hooked on to him. The taste of what is so repulsive and so forbidden to her nature. There is always a certain thrill in pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone. Besides the beautiful wordsmith in this verse, the simple reason is that the sex is just so great!

Let us hear what you think about this song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics and further meaning breakdown on Genius.

Adam McDonald

Hi! I am the founder and lead author and editor of Justrandomthings music community. A vast range of personal interests from Hip-Hop to Country to Hard Rock and Punk music will keep you entertained.

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9 Responses

  1. Kiki_Nola says:

    I agree with Alex and I need to listen to Betty and asses that point. I just went through an on/off, years long fwb relationship with someone who was in a relationship. This song hit me to my core. All of her lines rang true. The baby line. The colors and shapes lines. Because we had amazing chemistry and it’s been difficult to find that with someone else even though I have dated others while seeing him and in between seeing him. There is a dying feeling that she accurately portrays with each encounter when you knows that an affair is ongoing and needs to end at some point.

    Everything is beautiful about this song: her singing, the arrangement, the lyrics. Alex’s analysis was well-done.

  2. Alex says:

    I think most of this analysis is wrong. Taylor is writing about someone that she is deeply in love with, who is in a relationship with someone else, and the only way she gets to be with him is through sex.

    “Take the road less traveled by” i see as more of a metaphor, not a word for word exact retelling. In an ideal world, she would be able to have an actual relationship with this man and not simply rely on sex as the only time of seeing him.

    The chorus “and longing stares, they show the truth one million times but it dies and it dies and dies, a million little times” this is talking about how Taylor loves this guy that’s using her for sex. She longingly stares in wishes that she could actually be with him but it dies inside of her because she knows she’s just sex.

    The second verse is completely wrong. “Leave the perfume on the shelf…so you leave no trace behind, like you don’t even exist” he’s told her not to wear perfume and to keep herself in the shadows so he can keep both relationships, the one with Taylor and the one with his actual partner, this isn’t talking about how she’s cheating on her S.O. And this is further refuted when you take in the next line “take the words for what they are, a dwindling mercurial high, a drug that only worked, the first few hundred times.”
    This shows a few things. A: confirms that Taylor has some form of romantic feelings towards this man, probably love.
    B: this man more than likely knows how she feels and is using that to get what he wants from her, sex.
    C: he does this by telling her what she wants to hear, that could be interpreted in many ways, but it’s probably something along the lines of he loves her, or how beautiful and perfect she is. Something complimentary.
    D: Taylor is aware she’s being used. She knows that he only wants sex and that’s why he says these things. This is refuted by the line “a drug that only worked the first few hundred times.” Shes saying how easily coerced she was when she believed it, and now she knows that these are lies to get into bed with her, but she doesn’t care because she loves him and this is probably the only time that he lets her see him, when they have sex.

    The second chorus is just retelling the same story we’ve already heard. She loves him and lets him use her because it’s the only way she gets to see him, and if letting him use her is the only way she gets to be with him, then so be it. The problem is though, is that a piece of her dies everytime because she knows she’s being used. Hence the line “it does a million little times”

    Now the last verse is where it gets interesting and overly emotional. Taylor is finally starting to get fed up with everything. And you can see that in the line “don’t call me kid, don’t call me baby, look at this godforsaken mess that you’ve made me”
    Pet names that he calls her, in an effort to get her into bed with him, ones that probably used to make her giddy and feel special, have become sour, because she knows he only calls her that to get what he wants from her. She’s finally confronting him about all the manipulation that he’s done to her and just using her to get what he wants. He knows that she’s in love with him and is using it to his advantage.
    “You taught me secret language I can’t speak with anyone else” she wants him to know how angry she is, that she has to go through this pain. She’s screaming look how in love with you I am, look at how much you mean to me, look at all the things I’ve let you do to me, and the same goes for the second line of this part. “You showed me colors you know I can’t see with anyone else” she’s saying it’s hard for her to fall in love with people, but she’s fallen in love with him.
    And finally the last line is what makes it truly tragic and ties everything together. “And you know damn well, for you I would ruin myself, a million little times.”
    He knows her feelings, he knows what he’s doing to her is wrong, as does she. But she doesn’t care, she’s wrecking herself into an emotional turmoil over this because she loves him, but he’s hurting her over and over and over with all of this, and she lets it happen again and again.

  3. August says:

    Taylor isn’t having an affair, this song is part of the love triangle of songs that she wrote about three fictional people : cardigan, betty and illicit affairs. “betty” is from the perspective of James, “cardigan” is from the perspective of Betty and “illicit affairs” is from the perspective of the girl James is cheating with.

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