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.


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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4 Responses

  1. 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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