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Cruel Summer

Single | Lover (2019)

“Cruel Summer” is track two and the fifth official single from Taylor’s seventh studio album, Lover (2019). It narrates the fragility and uncertainty of a summer romance. One of Taylor’s most popular songs, “Cruel Summer” became Taylor’s milestone tenth No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in October 2023, over four years after its release.
Table of Contents

Background

Taylor wrote “Cruel Summer” with Jack Antonoff and St. Vincent, and produced it with Jack at New York City’s Electric Lady Studios in 2018. It is a breezy pop song with swirling synths, robotic voice effects and distorted vocals. Speaking to iHeartRadio in 2019, Taylor said:

«Jack and Annie [Clark] did the track and a lot of the instrumentation and I did the topline in whatever language that is. A topline is all the notes and the lyrics you hear. So whatever you would sing, that is what I wrote on this. It was just so fun to write this one and I really love this one. Jack and I like to do ranting bridges. Like in 'Out Of The Woods' where the bridge is the biggest moment of the song — we revisited that concept.»

In the “Lover Enhanced” Spotify campaign, Taylor added: “I wanted this song to feel like a desperate summer love that might be doomed from the start. My favourite line from this song is, ‘I love you. Ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?’

NME asked co-writer Annie Clark (St. Vincent) about the creation of “Cruel Summer” in a 2021 interview. She recalled: “Gosh, it was really casual. Just some people in a room jammin’.”

Single Release

After Taylor embarked on “The Eras Tour” in March 2023, “Cruel Summer” gained significant traction on streaming services. That is why the song was finally made the official fifth single from Lover. It impacted US Pop Radio on June 20, 2023, almost four years after its release. Taylor commented on that decision during her show in Pittsburgh on June 17:

«'Cruel Summer' was on the Lover album that came out four years ago. And I just need to let you know something: 'Cruel Summer' was my pride and joy on that album! That was my favorite song. And you know, you have conversations before the album comes out and everybody weighs in on what should be singles. And I was finally, finally about to have my favorite song become a single off of Lover. And I'm not trying to blame the global pandemic we had but that is something that happened that stopped 'Cruel Summer' from ever being a single. So, what's happening right now, thanks to you, and no one understands how this is happening: You guys have streamed 'Cruel Summer' so much right now, in 2023, that it's like rising on the streaming charts so crazy. And my label just decided to make it the next single! This is truly, truly perplexing to me because I just haven't had something like this happen in my career. So thank you to anyone who's been listening to that song like 500 times a day. That way my favorite one!»

Upon its release as a single, “Cruel Summer” became Taylor’s milestone tenth No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in October 2023. The song broke the record for “Longest Climb to No. 1 on the Hot 100 For A Non-Holiday Song” by a female soloist in history (over 4 years after debut). It also became Taylor’s 41st Top 10 hit on the Hot 100, extending her record as the female artist with the most Top 10 entries in the chart’s history. Furthermore, Taylor became the first female artist in history with ten No. 1 hits on the Hot 100 and ten No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200.

After the release of the Eras Tour’s accompanying concert film in theatres on October 12, a live recording of the song from the tour and a remix by LP Giobbi were released as part of a streaming compilation, titled The Cruelest Summer, on October 18.[51]

«What a truly mind blowing thing you’ve turned 'The Eras Tour Concert Film' into. I’ve been watching videos of you guys in the theaters dancing and prancing and recreating choreography, creating inside jokes, casting spells, getting engaged, and just generally creating the exact type of joyful chaos we’re known for. One of my favorite things you’ve done was when you supported 'Cruel Summer' SO much, I ended up starting 'The Eras Tour' show with it. For old times sake, I’m releasing the live audio from the tour so we can all shriek it in the comfort of our homes and cars PLUS a brand new remix by LP Giobbi. Thank you, so much, forever, wow, just thank you!!!»

Lyrical Theme

Lyrically, “Cruel Summer” describes Taylor’s intense and painful experience while falling for a summer romance. She told iHeartRadio:

«This song is one that I wrote about the feeling of a summer romance, and how often times a summer romance can be layered with all these feelings of pining away and sometimes even secrecy. It deals with the idea of being in a relationship where there’s some element of desperation and pain in it, where you’re yearning for something that you don’t quite have yet. It’s just right there, and you just can’t reach it. So, this has some of my favorite lyrics in it, and it was so fun to write this.»

The song was inspired by the beginning of Taylor’s relationship with her former partner, Joe Alwyn. One of the first times the two met was at the MET Gala in May 2016. She was dating DJ Calvin Harris at the time and started seeing British actor Tom Hiddleston shortly after. The fling between Taylor and Joe likely began soon after, lining up with the happenings of summer 2016. In “Cruel Summer”, Taylor seems to suggest that she secretly fell in love with Joe during what was supposed to be a strictly physical relationship. Taylor’s deluxe release of Lover comes accompanied with a personal journal, where she describes the summer of 2016 as “the apocalypse,” summarizing how painful that time was for her for many reasons.

Live Performance

“Cruel Summer” received its first-ever live performances as part of the regular setlist on Taylor’s sixth headlining tour, “The Eras Tour” (2023-2024).

Critical Reception

“Cruel Summer” received critical acclaim upon release, with praise towards the infectious melody and ethereal production, often being noted as an album highlight and one of Taylor’s best pop songs. In their year-end best music lists, Billboard and Rolling Stone named the song as one of the top-ten best songs of 2019, with the latter naming it the third best song of Taylor’s career: “Like so many songs in the Taylor Swift pantheon, ‘Cruel Summer’ sprints on the knife-edge of a crush, reckless, anticipating the wreck, but compelled and consumed by capital-F ‘feeling.’ There’s an acknowledgement that we’ve been here before (‘Angels roll their eyes’), and even Swift seems exasperated, crying out in the bridge, ‘I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?’ But then the music cuts out, and from the dark comes a sound unlike anything Swift’s ever recorded — a raw, back-of-the-throat howl. It’s vintage Swift, a burst of mischief and desire, messy drama with a wink, yet it hits at fresh power, the thrill of hearing one of pop’s most underestimated chameleons daring you to wonder what she can’t do.”

Retrospectively, “Cruel Summer” continued to receive acclaim, cited as the signature track of Lover. In a 2021 list ranking the best bridges of the 21st-century, Billboard placed “Cruel Summer” at No. 11. The song has ranked highly on critics’ rankings of Taylor’s songs in her discography, appearing on such lists by Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone (2021) at No. 11 out of 229, and Hannah Mylrea of NME (2020), at No. 6 out of 161. Clash critics picked the song as one of Taylor’s 15 best, citing its “highly addictive” song structure. In 2022, Exclaim!‘s Alex Hudson and Megan LaPierre ranked it second on another list of the best 20 songs by Taylor, praising St. Vincent’s artistic input that complements Taylor’s. Allaire Nuss of Entertainment Weekly described it as a “buzzer-beating, angst-wielding anthem”. Brittany Spanos of Rolling Stone wrote in 2023, “Swift flaunts a rock-star edge alongside a grand sense of romantic urgency” in “Cruel Summer”, making it one of her best songs.

Commercial Performance

“Cruel Summer” was released as the second track on Lover, on August 23, 2019, via Republic Records. The track originally charted as an album cut within the Top 30 in Singapore (8), Malaysia (13), Ireland (20), New Zealand (20), Australia (23), the United Kingdom (27), and Canada (28). In the United States, the song debuted at No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 dated September 7, 2019; it is one of the seven tracks from Lover to reach the Top 40 and remained on the chart for two weeks. The song became a fan favorite over time and critics and fans questioned Taylor’s decision over not having released “Cruel Summer” as a single. Beginning March 2023, Taylor embarked on “The Eras Tour”, her sixth headlining concert tour, as a tribute to all of her “musical eras”. The concerts begin with the Lover act, on which “Cruel Summer” is the second song performed. The song resurged in popularity and streaming after it became viral on social media. In the US, the single re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 49 on the chart dated June 3, 2023. As a result, Republic Records released it as the fifth Lover single to US contemporary hit radio on June 20, 2023.

After its single release, the song became Taylor’s 41st Top 10 entry on the Hot 100, and extended her record as the woman with the most Top 10 entries. It also became the fourth Lover track to enter the Top 10, after “ME!“, “You Need to Calm Down“, and the title track all in 2019. After a massive global fan campaign urging American Swifties to make the song the No. 1 one from the Lover era, “Cruel Summer” skyrocketed in every consumption medium available. The song has since peaked at No. 1 on the Hot 100. It stayed at the top for three weeks. Taylor replaced herself at No. 1 on the Hot 100 for the third time in her career when “Cruel Summer” replaced “Is It Over Now?” on November 13, 2023. She is the only female artist in history to ever have replaced herself at No. 1 on the chart.

On airplay charts, “Cruel Summer” was Taylor’s 12th No. 1 single on the Pop Airplay chart and 11th No. 1 single on Adult Pop Airplay, making her the solo artist with the most chart toppers on both. It spent 10 weeks atop Pop Airplay and eight weeks atop Adult Pop Airplay, becoming her longest-running No. 1 song on both the charts. In early October 2023, it became Taylor’s eighth song to reach No. 1 on the Radio Songs chart. Commenting on the song’s resurgent success, Jason Lipshutz of Billboard said, “a Lover track organically rising to new heights at the same time simply demonstrates Swift’s current ubiquity, unprecedented in the modern music era.”

As of October 2023, “Cruel Summer” has reached new peaks in Singapore (1), Australia (2), Canada (2), the UK (2), New Zealand (3), Malaysia (6), and Ireland (12). It peaked at No. 1 in the Philippines and entered the Top 10 in Indonesia and Japan. The song has received certifications from Denmark (Gold), Greece (Gold), Italy (Gold), New Zealand (Double Platinum), Poland (Gold), Portugal (Platinum), and the UK (Platinum). It peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Global 200.

Interpolation

American singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo interpolated “Cruel Summer” on her hit single “deja vu” which appears on her debut studio album, SOUR (2021). Taylor is Olivia’s biggest role model.

Lyrics

[Intro]
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)

[Verse 1]
Fever dream high in the quiet of the night
You know that I caught it (Oh yeah, you’re right, I want it)
Bad, bad boy
Shiny toy with a price
You know that I bought it (Oh yeah, you’re right, I want it)

[Pre-Chorus]
Killing me slow
Out the window
I’m always waiting for you to be waiting below
Devils roll the dice
Angels roll their eyes
What doesn’t kill me
Makes me want you more

[Chorus]
And it’s new
The shape of your body
It’s blue
The feeling I got and it’s
Ooh
It’s a cruel summer
It’s cool
That’s what I tell ’em
No rules in breakable heaven but
Ooh
It’s a cruel summer
With you

[Verse 2]
Hang your head low
In the glow of the vending machine
I’m not dying (Oh yeah, you’re right, I want it)
We say that we’ll just screw it up in these trying times
We’re not trying (Oh yeah, you’re right, I want it)

[Pre-Chorus 2]
So cut the headlights
Summer’s a knife
I’m always waiting for you just to cut to the bone
Devils roll the dice
Angels roll their eyes
But if I bleed you’ll be the last to know

[Chorus]
It’s new
The shape of your body
It’s blue
The feeling I got and it’s
Ooh
It’s a cruel summer
It’s cool
That’s what I tell ’em
No rules in breakable heaven but
Ooh
It’s a cruel summer
With you

[Bridge]
I’m drunk in the back of the car
And I cried like a baby coming home from the bar (Oh)
Said, “I’m fine” but it wasn’t true
I don’t want to keep secrets
Just to keep you
And I snuck in through the garden gate every night that summer
Just to seal my fate (Oh)
And I scream, “For whatever it’s worth,
I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?”
He looks up grinning like a devil

[Chorus]
It’s new
The shape of your body
It’s blue
The feeling I’ve got and i’ts
Ooh
It’s a cruel summer
It’s cool
That’s what I tell ’em
No rules in breakable heaven but
Ooh
It’s a cruel summer
With you

[Outro]
I’m drunk in the back of the car
And I cried like a baby coming home from the bar (Oh)
Said, “I’m fine” but it wasn’t true
I don’t wanna keep secrets just to keep you
And I snuck in through the garden gate every night that summer
Just to seal my fate (Oh)
And I scream, “For whatever it’s worth,
I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?”
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)

General Information
ArtistTaylor Swift
AlbumLover
ReleasedAugust 23, 2019
StudiosElectric Lady (New York City)
Conway (Los Angeles)
GenreSynth Pop
Electro Pop
Length2:58
LabelRepublic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Jack Antonoff
Annie Clark
ProducersTaylor Swift
Jack Antonoff
LOVER CHRONOLOGY
I Forgot That You ExistedCruel SummerLover
Single Certification
"7x Platinum" certification by the Recording Industry Association of America. Signifying 7,000,000 units sold.
Single Artwork
Live Performance
Official Audio
Live Audio
LP Giobbi Remix
Handwritten Lyrics