Taylor Swift Tells the Story Behind “Clean,” Says She Learned About Love From Lena Dunham

Taylor Swift in Elle
Taylor Swift talked with pal Tavi Gevinson for Elle, revealing the inspiration for her song "Clean" and sharing what she's learned about love and heartbreak Michael Thompson for ELLE

No more teardrops on her guitar. Taylor Swift has written a lot of songs about love and heartbreak, but one of the most intriguing songs on her new album is about what happens after the love, and after the heartbreak. Speaking with Tavi Gevinson for the June issue of Elle, the "Bad Blood" singer, 25, opened up about what inspired the tune "Clean," widely thought to be about her ex-boyfriend Harry Styles.

"'Clean' I wrote as I was walking out of Liberty in London. Someone I used to date — it hit me that I'd been in the same city as him for two weeks and I hadn't thought about it," Swift shared. "When it did hit me, it was like, 'Oh, I hope he's doing well.' And nothing else." (It's worth noting that Styles is British, and used to meet up with Swift in London, where she was when she came up with "Clean.")

Her reaction, or lack thereof, brought her to the realization that she was finally over her ex — that she was no longer one of the "heartbroken people."

Taylor on the cover of Elle
Taylor Swift on the cover of Elle. Michael Thompson for ELLE

"A heartbroken person is unlike any other person. Their time moves at a completely different pace than ours," she explained. "It's this mental, physical, emotional ache and feeling so conflicted. Nothing distracts you from it. Then time passes, and the more you live your life and create new habits, you get used to not having a text message every morning saying, 'Hello, beautiful. Good morning.' You get used to not calling someone at night to tell them how your day was."

She continued: "You replace these old habits with new habits, like texting your friends in a group chat all day and planning fun dinner parties and going out on adventures with your girlfriends, and then all of a sudden one day you're in London and you realize you've been in the same place as your ex for two weeks and you're fine. And you hope he's fine."

The 1989 hitmaker — whose exes, in addition to Styles, include Jake Gyllenhaal, John Mayer, Taylor Lautner, and Joe Jonas — has clearly learned a lot about relationships over the years. And it shows in her songwriting.

"I'd never been in a relationship when I wrote my first couple of albums, so these were all projections of what I thought they might be like," she told Gevinson of tunes like "Love Story," a Romeo and Juliet-inspired track from 2008's Fearless. "They were based on movies and books and songs and literature that tell us that a relationship is the most magical thing that can ever happen to you."

Taylor in Elle with guitars
Taylor Swift in Elle. Michael Thompson for ELLE

That's not always the case, as Swift learned. "And then once I fell in love, or thought I was in love, and then experienced disappointment or it just not working out a few times, I realized there's this idea of happily ever after which in real life doesn't happen," she told Elle. "There's no riding off into the sunset, because the camera always keeps rolling in real life."

Now, she says, she has "more of a grasp on the fact that when you're in a state of infatuation and you think everything that person does is perfect, it then — if you're lucky — morphs into a real relationship when you see that that person is not in fact perfect, but you still want to see them every day."

One relationship she admires is BFF Lena Dunham's romance with Jack Antonoff. In fact, they inspired her song "You Are in Love," which includes the line "You're my best friend."

"I've never had that, so I wrote that song about things that Lena has told me about her and Jack," Swift shared. "That's just basically stuff she's told me. And I think that that kind of relationship — God, it sounds like it would just be so beautiful — would also be hard. It would also be mundane at times."

Pick up the June issue of Elle for more.

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