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illicit affairs

folklore (2020)

“illicit affairs” is track ten on Taylor’s eighth studio album, folklore (2020). It tackles the idea of infidelity in a nuanced and sympathetic way. Taylor recognizes both “the dwindling, mercurial high” that infidelity can bring and the heartbreak that it inevitably results in.
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Background and Composition

In the documentary/concert film folklore: the long pond studio sessions Taylor said that “illicit affairs” is not based on her own life, but rather a story she came up with. Not constantly having to write about herself anymore was really important to her:

«This was the first album that I’ve ever let go of that need to be 100 percent autobiographical because I think I needed to do that. I felt like fans needed to hear a 'stripped from the headlines' account of my life and it actually ended up being a bit confining. Because there’s so much more to writing songs than just what you’re feeling and your singular storyline. And I think this was spurred on by the fact that I was watching movies every day, I was reading books every day, I was thinking about other people every day. I was kind of outside my own, personal stuff. I think that’s been my favorite thing about this album: that it’s allowed to exist on its own merit without it just being, ‘Oh, people are listening to this because it tells them something that they could read in a tabloid’. It feels like a completely different experience.»

In the song, Taylor tells the story of a love affair, including the description of the details such as pretending to go out for a run to get one’s cheeks flushed in order others would not suspect that they flush after the meeting with one’s love interest. Another common precaution mentioned here is not using perfumes during the secret meetings because fragrance can reveal an affair to one’s actual significant other.


folklore producer Aaron Dessner told Vulture: “This feels like one of the real folk songs on the record, a sharp-witted narrative folk song. It just shows her versatility and her power as a songwriter, the sharpness of her writing. It’s a great song.”

Live Performances

Taylor first performed “illicit affairs” as part of the concert film and documentary folklore: the long pond studio sessions (2020), together with Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff. On “The Eras Tour” (2023-2024), a shortened version of “illicit affairs” was part of the regular setlist.

Commercial Performance

Upon the release of folklore, “illicit affairs” debuted at No. 44 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the chart week of August 8, 2020.


[Verse 1]
Make sure nobody sees you leave
Hood over your head
Keep your eyes down
Tell your friends you’re out for a run
You’ll be flushed when you return
Take the road less traveled by
Tell yourself you can always stop
What started in beautiful rooms
Ends with meetings in parking lots

[Chorus 1]
And that’s the thing about illicit affairs
And clandestine meetings
And longing stares
It’s born from just one single glance
But it dies and it dies and it dies
…a million little times

[Verse 2]
Leave the perfume on the shelf
That you picked out just for him
So you leave no trace behind
Like you don’t even exist
Take the words for what they are
A dwindling, mercurial high
A drug that only worked
The first few hundred times

[Chorus 2]
And that’s the thing about illicit affairs
And clandestine meetings
And stolen stares
They show their truth one single time
But they lie and they lie and they lie
…a million little times

[Verse 3]
And you wanna scream
Don’t call me kid
Don’t call me baby
Look at this godforsaken mess that you made me
You showed me colors you know I can’t see with anyone else
Don’t call me kid
Don’t call me baby
Look at this idiotic fool that you made me
You taught me a secret language I can’t speak with anyone else
And you know damn well
For you I would ruin myself
…a million little times

General Information
ArtistTaylor Swift
ReleasedJuly 24, 2020
RecordedMay–July 2020
StudiosKitty Committee (Los Angeles)
Rough Customer (Brooklyn)
GenreIndie Folk
LabelRepublic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Jack Antonoff
ProducersJack Antonoff
Taylor Swift
Joe Alwyn
this is me tryingillicit affairsinvisible string
Song Certification
"Platinum" certification by the Recording Industry Association of America. Signifying 1,000,000 units sold.
Song Artwork
Live Performance
Lyric Video
Official Audio
Official Live Audio