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Saturday, March 02, 2024
Courtesy of Taylor Swift's instagram

‘Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve’: Predation on the young in the music industry

Taylor Swift’s song “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” gives perspective on the damages and traumas of age gap relationships.

Taylor Swift's 10th studio album “Midnights” was released in mid-October, breaking streaming records and temporarily, streaming services. A few hours later, Swift released seven extra tracks as part of a deluxe album release titled “Midnights (3am Edition).” 

Track 19 on the deluxe edition titled “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” seems to directly describe the relationship Swift had with singer-songwriter John Mayer in 2010. At the time, Swift was 19 years old and Mayer was 31 years old — a 12-year age gap between the two. 

“And I damn sure never would’ve danced with the devil / At nineteen, and God’s honest truth is that the pain was heaven / And now that I’m grown / I’m scared of ghosts / Memories feel like weapons,” she sings.

Swift’s lyricism is one of the most critically appraised aspects of her artistry. “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” is no different. Swift alludes to a “grown man,” presumably Mayer, who had a relationship with Swift when she was a “child.”

“If I was some paint, did it splatter / On a promising grown man / And if I was a child, did it matter / If you got to wash your hands,” Swift sings in the first verse. 

One of the most raw and emotionally honest songs of her career, “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” exemplifies the trauma she holds regarding her relationship with Mayer. 

“Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” has a depth that “Dear John,” Swift’s other song about Mayer, lacks. After years of reflection and maturation, Swift’s new song gives a blunter perspective to the relationship that emphasizes the lasting, damaging effects from it.

“I fight with you in my sleep / The wound won’t close / I keep on waiting for a sign / I regret you all the time,” she sings repeatedly.

In the bridge, Swift belts, “Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first” — a heart-wrenching line about her loss of innocence.

John Mayer is not the first, nor the only, man to date a much younger woman in the music industry. Swift’s relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal was also marked with a significant age gap. Swift has since shown grievance over the relationship and detailed it in her musical epic “All Too Well,” both in song and short film. 

However, Swift is not the only artist affected by this trend. Wilmer Valderrama dated Demi Lovato when she was only 18 years old and he was 30, after meeting a year prior when Lovato was only 17.

Lovato released a song this past summer named “29.” The single directly criticizes the relationship between Lovato and Valderrama, questioning the intentions of an older man who wishes to date someone much younger.

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Traumatic relationships with older men proved to be an issue in the early 2010s, but is this an issue today?

Young artists such as Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish have taken the world by storm in the last few years, but as a result, many have shown concern that the toxic relationship cycle is repeating. 

Rodrigo’s past relationship with Adam Faze, a music producer, brought up concerns for fans. They started dating when Rodrigo turned 18 years old, while Faze was 24. 

Eilish, 20, was recently rumored to be in a relationship with The Neighborhood’s lead singer Jesse Rutherford, 31. The two seemingly met when Eilish was merely 16

This trend continues beyond the music industry. A great degree of media romanticizes the idea of dating an older man; television, movies, music and more have profited off the “Lolita” narrative. This grooms young girls into a false sense of “maturity” which leads to toxic and unhealthy relationships.

Swift illustrates how easily this can happen to young women or anyone who is particularly vulnerable, no matter how unexpected or unintentional. 

Not all relationships with significant age gaps have gone disastrously; Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, and more have maintained long-term, seemingly stable relationships.

Typically, successful age gap relationships have a commonality in which the partners met as full-fledged adults minimully in their mid-twenties and without power inequality.

Swift’s musical accounts on personal scarring and regret of her age gap relationships serves as both a painfully honest exposé and a forewarning. Only time will tell whether the message was received.

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