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Death By A Thousand Cuts

Lover (2019)

“Death By A Thousand Cuts” is track ten on Taylor’s seventh studio album, Lover (2019). It compares the break-up of a relationship to a slow, painful death. She said it was inspired by the film Someone Great rather than her own relationship at the time. Funnily enough, while working on the treatment for the movie, its writer was inspired by Taylor’s 1989 song “Clean“.
Taylor revealed that “Death By A Thousand Cuts” was the first breakup song she was able to write after finding her “happily ever after” with her partner at the time, Joe Alwyn.
Table of Contents

Background

Describing her seventh album Lover as a “love letter to love”, Taylor attempted to convey an emotional spectrum and vulnerability by looking at emotions including sadness and loneliness “through a romantic gaze”. The album took under three months to record; recording ended in February 2019. When asked about if her writing process had changed since entering a longterm relationship, she told Apple Music:

«I love writing more than anything I’ve ever done in my life, so it was like, 'If I was in a place where I had things to protect and a world to protect, because I’m very protective of certain elements of my life and my world, would that kind of mute me a bit as a writer?' And the answer is no, actually, because there are songs [on Lover] that are not all happy, joyful songs, there are songs about moments of conflict and complexity within a relationship, there are songs that I didn’t even write about what I was going through. There’s a song called 'Death By A Thousand Cuts' that’s the most emotional, sad lyric I’ve written in a very long time, and it’s about stuff that my friends were going through, it’s about a movie character dynamic I saw. I’m happy that, thus far, the songwriting faucet has still been on and hasn’t dried up.»

The song is one the strongest examples of Taylor’s ability to craft a story on Lover. She has said her favorite line from this song is, “Our songs, our films, united we stand. Our country, guess it was a lawless land. Quiet my fears with the touch of your hand. Paper cut stings from our paper thin plans.”

Lyrical Theme and Inspiration

“Death By A Thousand Cuts” was the last song written for Lover. Taylor penned and recorded it in June 2019, together with Jack Antonoff, just two months before the album’s release and after she had already launched the album’s lead single, “ME!“. The song compares the possible break-up of a relationship to a slow, painful death. Notably, it was inspired by the film Someone Great, rather than an aspect of Taylor’s own relationship, although she had dreams that she was going through the same thing in her life. She told the Elvis Duran Show in 2019:

«Basically, often times I’ll write songs about my own life, but there’s always flickers of other peoples work that influenced me in some way. I think when people make art, other people make art, and I think that especially women who make art, I find it highly inspiring, just based on how well they told a story. There’s just something you get from watching a good story take place. I watched this movie on Netflix, called Someone Great. It’s this amazing romantic comedy with a heart and depth to it because it’s about this relationship that ends after eight or nine years. It's a movie about how she has to end this relationship that she didn't wanna end because she's still in love with the person. But they just grew apart. And he's not a jerk, it's just sad. Because it's just realistic. Like, 'Yeah, time passed and now we're different people.' And that is the most devastating thing because it's not salacious and it's deeply, deeply upsetting. And so I cried watching the movie and for like a week I start waking up from dreams that I’m living out that scenario, that that’s happening to me. And I just would wake up and I’m like, 'Oh my God, I’m writing a breakup song', like I have these lyrics in my head based on the dynamics of these characters. And I went into the studio with Jack and I was like, 'I got these lyrics for a song I’ve written for this song called 'Death By A Thousand Cuts'.»

The film’s director and writer, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, said on Instagram after hearing the song: “I’ve been listening to Taylor’s music since her very first album. As she grew, I grew. […] In the fall of 2014 when I was a certifiable basked case wandering around LA in pajamas heartbroken over the boy I’d left behind in New York, 1989 was there like a best friend with a bottle of tequila and a bear hug. I found the most comfort in ‘Clean,‘ a song about rebirth after love lost. It inspired me and Someone Great. And now, in the most surreal, what the fuck is even happening, full circle situation I find myself with a new song that will help me through heartbreak.”

Live Performances

Taylor first performed the song at the “City of Lover” one-day concert at the Olympia on September 9, 2019, in Paris, France. She performed an excellent, stripped-down version of “Death By A Thousand Cuts”, backing herself on an acoustic guitar. The concert was filmed and later aired as a TV special on ABC on May 17, 2020. The performance of “Death By A Thousand Cuts” was released for digital download the following day, on May 18, 2020. Taylor also performed the song during her NPR “Tiny Tesk” concert. During her concert on “The Eras Tour” in Arlington, Texas, on April 1, 2023, she performed “Death By A Thousand Cuts” on her acoustic guitar and repeated the bridge three times. When introducing the song, she said:

«This [song request] actually came from one of my closest friends and my collaborator of dreams, who's actually here tonight. Jack Antonoff is here tonight! And I was telling him I played this song once before live and everybody screamed the bridge in the crowd so loudly that I kept telling him about it, 'I wish you were there, it was so insane!' Cause we wrote this song together. And I really want him to hear you do it, so I really hope you know the words to this song. I'm gonna take my chances. This one's called 'Death By A Thousand Cuts'.»

She once again chose “Death By A Thousand Cuts” as the first surprise song for her “The Eras Tour” show on August 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. On June 21, 2024, she mashed it up with “Hits Different” (2022) in London.

Critical Reception

“Death By A Thousand Cuts” received positive reactions upon release, with many critics naming it one of the highlights on Lover, including Rolling Stone. Furthermore, broadway icon Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber praised the song, saying: “‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’ is a really fantastic song. It really shows her country and western roots and I love it – and I love Taylor!”

Commercial Performance

Upon the release of Lover, “Death By A Thousand Cuts” debuted and peaked at No. 67 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

Lyrics

[Intro]
My, my, my, my
My, my, my, my
My, my, my, my
My, my, my, my
My, my, my, my
My, my, my, my
My, my, my, my
My, my, my, my

[Chorus]
Saying goodbye is death by a thousand cuts
Flashbacks waking me up
I get drunk, but it’s not enough ’cause
The morning comes and
You’re not my baby
I look through the windows of this love
Even though we boarded them up
Chandelier’s still flickering here
’Cause I can’t pretend it’s okay when it’s not
It’s death by a thousand cuts

[Verse 1]
I dress to kill my time
I take the long way home
I ask the traffic lights if it’ll be all right
They say, “I don’t know”
And what once was ours
Is no one’s now
I see you everywhere
The only thing we share
Is this small town
You said it was a great love
One for the ages
But if the story’s over
Why am I still writing pages?

[Chorus]
Saying goodbye is death by a thousand cuts
Flashbacks waking me up
I get drunk, but it’s not enough ’cause
The morning comes and you’re not my baby
I look through the windows of this love
Even though we boarded them up
Chandelier’s still flickering here
‘Cause I can’t pretend it’s okay when it’s not
It’s death by a thousand cuts

[Bridge]
My heart, my hips, my body, my love
Trying to find a part of me that you didn’t touch
Gave up on me like I was a bad drug
Now I’m searching for signs in a haunted club
Our songs, our films, united we stand
Our country
Guess it was a lawless land
Quiet my fears with the touch of your hand
Paper cut stains from our paper thin plans
My time, my wine, my spirit, my trust
Trying to find a part of me you didn’t take up
Gave you too much but it wasn’t enough
But I’ll be all right
It’s just a thousand cuts

[Chorus Variation]
I get drunk but it’s not enough ’cause
You’re not my baby
I look through the windows of this love
Even though we boarded them up
Chandelier’s still flickering here
‘Cause I can’t pretend it’s okay when it’s not
No, it’s not
It’s death by a thousand cuts

[Post-chorus]
Trying to find a part of me that you didn’t touch
My body, my love
But it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t enough, no, no

[Outro]
I take the long way home
I ask the traffic lights if it’ll be all right
They say, “I don’t know”

General Information
ArtistTaylor Swift
AlbumLover
ReleasedAugust 23, 2019
RecordedJune 2019
StudioElectric Lady (New York City)
GenrePop
Length3:18
LabelRepublic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Jack Antonoff
ProducersJack Antonoff
Taylor Swift
LOVER CHRONOLOGY
Cornelia StreetDeath By A Thousand CutsLondon Boy
Song Certification
Studio Picture
Song Artwork
Live Performance
Official Audio
Official Live Audio