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Dear John

Speak Now (2010) | Speak Now (Taylor's Version) [2023]

“Dear John” is track five on Taylor’s third studio album, Speak Now (2010). It is a heartbreaking song about her short-lived relationship with fellow singer-songwriter John Mayer and discusses manipulation and betrayal by a loved one. The re-recording of the song, “Dear John (Taylor’s Version)”, was released on July 7, 2023, on Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).
Generally speaking, a “Dear John” letter is an old expression referring to a wife or girlfriend writing to inform their partner their relationship is over, usually because the author has found another lover. It is possible the song takes its title from the phrase, but unlikely as Taylor had a very good reason to call out the song’s subject directly.
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Lyrical Theme

In the lyrics, Taylor conveys her feelings of frustration and hurt over the way she was treated by John Mayer and how she disregarded the warnings from others. Besides the obvious song title, there are multiple references to Mayer directly, including the mention of their more than ten-year age gap. She was 19, Mayer over 30 years old. Sonically, Taylor purposefully added guitar slurring to the background instrumentals, a guitar playing technique seen all throughout Mayer’s music. She said:

«The song 'Dear John' is sort of like the last email you would ever send to someone that you used to be in a relationship with. Usually, people write this venting last email to someone and they say everything that they want to say to that person, and then they usually don't send it. I guess by putting this song on the album I am pushing send.»

A Toxic Relationship

Mayer, who is well-known for publicly talking about his relationships with various famous women in the press, has whined in an interview with Rolling Stone about Taylor writing the song about him. In an issue of Glamour magazine, Taylor called Mayer “presumptuous” for saying that he was “really humiliated” by the song’s lyrics. She went on to say that she did not want to hear his comments about the song, because of her desire to stay happy:

«I know it wasn’t good, so I don’t want to know. I put a high priority on staying happy, and I know what I can’t handle. It’s not that I’m this egomaniac and I don’t want to hear anything negative, because I do keep myself in check, but I’ve never developed that thick a skin. So I just kind of live a life, and I let all the gossip live somewhere else. If you go too far down the rabbit hole of what people think about you, it can change everything about who you are.»

Live Performances

Taylor included “Dear John” on the regular setlist of her “Speak Now World Tour” (2011–2012). During the shows, as the song approached its end, fireworks exploded onstage to accompany the lyrics, “I’m shining like fireworks over your sad, empty town.” Taylor didn’t perform the song for eleven years because the memories from that relationship still hurt too much, as she told fans multiple times. She eventually chose it as the first surprise song for her concert in Minneapolis on June 24, 2023, while on “The Eras Tour” (2023-2024), 13 days before the release of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version). Before playing the song, she said:

«I’m 33 years old. I don’t care about anything that happened to me when I was 19, except the songs I wrote and the memories we made together. So what I’m trying to tell you is: I am not putting this album out so that you can go out and should feel the need to defend me on the internet against someone you think I might have written a song about 14 billion years ago. I do not care. We have all grown up. We’re good. So I am saying that only because I am proud of it as a song, I am going to play 'Dear John'.»

Other Songs About the Relationship

Taylor and John Mayer notably collaborated on his 2010 song “Half of My Heart,” which was released four months before “Dear John”. Besides Mayer’s public statement to Rolling Stone in 2012, he also replied to “Dear John” three years later in his 2013 song “Paper Doll.” In the song, he directly replies to Taylor’s line, “You paint me a blue sky then go back and turn it to rain” with, “And if those angel wings don’t fly, someone’s going to paint you another sky.”

Taylor supposedly also wrote the songs “I Knew You Were Trouble.”, “The Story of Us” and “Ours” about her relationship with John. However, their relationship deeply scarred Taylor. In 2022, when she was the same age John was when they dated (32), she released the heartbreaking “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” which describes how the relationship still haunts her to this day, one of the most poignant lyrics being: “I regret you all the time.”

Taylor's Version

The re-recording of the song, “Dear John (Taylor’s Version)” was released on July 7, 2023. In the prologue for Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), Taylor writes:

«I made sure to say it all in these songs. [...] It was an album that was the most precious to me because of its vast extremes. It was unfiltered and potent. [...] My most scathing [song] is 'Dear John'.»

An acoustic live recording, “Dear John (Live From Minneapolis)”, was released on July 13, 2023, on the Deluxe Digital Album of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).

Upon the release of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), “Dear John (Taylor’s Version)” debuted and peaked at No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the week ending July 13, 2023.


[Verse 1]
Long were the nights when my days once revolved around you
Counting my footsteps praying the floor won’t fall through again
And my mother accused me of losing my mind
But I swore I was fine

[Verse 2]
You paint me a blue sky, then go back and turn it to rain
And I lived in your chess game
But you changed the rules everyday
Wondering which version of you I might get on the phone tonight
Well, I stopped picking up and this song is to let you know why

[Chorus 1]
Dear John, I see it all now that you’re gone
Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?
The girl in the dress cried the whole way home
I should’ve known

[Verse 3]
Well, maybe it’s me and my blind optimism to blame
Or maybe it’s you and your sick need to give love and take it away
And you’ll add my name to your long list of traitors who don’t understand
And I’ll look back and regret how I ignored when they said
“Run as fast as you can”

[Chorus 1]
Dear John, I see it all now that you’re gone
Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with
The girl in the dress cried the whole way home

[Chorus 2]
Dear John, I see it all now, it was wrong
Don’t you think 19’s too young to be played by
Your dark, twisted games when I loved you so?
I should’ve known

You are an expert at “Sorry”
And keeping lines blurry
Never impressed by me acing your tests
All the girls that you’ve run dry
Have tired, lifeless eyes
Cause you burned them out
But I took your matches before fire could catch me
So don’t look now
I’m shining like fireworks
Over your sad empty town

[Chorus 1]
Dear John, I see it all now that you’re gone
Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?
The girl in the dress cried the whole way home

I see it all now that you’re gone
Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?
The girl in the dress wrote you a song
You should’ve known
You should’ve known
Don’t you think I was too young?
You should’ve known

General Information
ArtistTaylor Swift
AlbumsSpeak Now
Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)
ReleasedOctober 25, 2010
Re-ReleasedJuly 7, 2023
GenreCountry Rock
LabelsBig Machine Records
Republic Records
SongwriterTaylor Swift
ProducersNathan Chapman (original)
Christopher Rowe
Taylor Swift
Speak NowDear JohnMean
Hidden Message
Loved you from the very first day
Song Artwork
Live Performance
Lyric Video
Taylor's Version
Acoustic Live Version
Original Audio
Original Live Version
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