Friendship Anthems: Deciphering the Meaning Behind Taylor Swift’s ‘Fifteen’ and ’22’

Relationships may be the inspiration behind much of Taylor Swift’s music, but her friendships have served as the source behind some of her biggest hits.

Swift is known for her many famous friendships, forming strong bonds with stars such as Selena GomezEd Sheeran and Emma Stone. However, Swift revealed in a March 2019 essay for Elle that navigating friendships in the public eye has its ups and downs.

“In my twenties, I found myself surrounded by girls who wanted to be my friend,” she shared, noting that she wasn’t “popular as a kid” before making it big. “So I shouted it from the rooftops, posted pictures, and celebrated my newfound acceptance into a sisterhood, without realizing that other people might still feel the way I did when I felt so alone. It’s important to address our long-standing issues before we turn into the living embodiment of them.”

She also addressed that not all friendships are ones that will last the test of time. “It’s sad but sometimes when you grow, you outgrow relationships,” Swift stated. “You may leave behind friendships along the way, but you’ll always keep the memories.”

Keep scrolling to see which of Swift’s songs were inspired by her friendships:

‘I’m Only Me When I’m With You’ (Taylor Swift): Abigail Anderson

While the track can be interpreted as Swift expressing her love for a partner, it is rumored to be about her longtime friendship with her high school bestie. Anderson is even featured heavily throughout the song’s music video, which is comprised of home video clips of Swift hanging out with friends, family and her bandmates on tour.

“I’m only up when you’re not down / Don’t wanna fly if you’re still on the ground /It’s like no matter what I do,” Swift sings in the song’s chorus. “Well, you drive me crazy half the time / The other half, I’m only trying’ to let you know that what I feel is true / And I’m only me when I’m with you.”

A Guide to Taylor Swift Songs Inspired by Her Friends Abigail Anderson

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

‘Fifteen’ (Fearless): Abigail Anderson

Swift makes a direct reference to her friendship with Anderson in the Fearless track, in which she sings about her freshman year of high school. “You sit in class next to a redhead named Abigail / And soon enough, you’re best friends,” the lyrics state.

’22’ (Red): Selena Gomez, Dianna Agron and More

The song’s positive themes about having fun with friends was allegedly inspired by many of Swift’s close pals. According to Genius, the album booklet features a hidden message which spells out the names Ashley, Dianna, Claire and Selena. Swifites were quick to realize the message was a shout-out to the singer’s friends: Ashley AvignoneDianna AgronClaire Kislinger and Gomez.

A Guide to Taylor Swift Songs Inspired by Her Friends Selena Gomez

John Shearer/Getty Images for MTV

‘You Are in Love’ (1989): Lena Dunham and Jack Antonoff

Swift previously admitted that she wrote this romantic 1989 track about Dunham and Antonoff’s relationship. (The song was released four years before the pair ended their five-year romance in 2018.)

“I remember sitting in my bed, and when I realized that these lyrics that I [was] writing were channeling everything Lena’s told me about the two of you,” Swift stated in a joint 2014 MTV interview with Antonoff before he chimed in, stating, “I didn’t know until yesterday.”

Swift went on to joke, “I didn’t want to be creepy about it, and be like, ‘I wrote a song about your relationship.’”

She continued: “I was just really emotional writing this song because I’m so happy for you guys and you guys are like the benchmark of actual, true, real love like it talks about in that song. And I didn’t tell Lena or you about the fact that that was what I was channeling when I was writing it. But I figured when Lena deemed it her wedding song, that she knew I was talking about you two.”

Antonoff went on to tie the knot with actress Margaret Qualley in August 2023, while Dunham wed musician Luis Felber in September 2021. Swift attended both of the couple’s nuptials.

A Guide to Taylor Swift Songs Inspired by Her Friends Lena Dunham

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

‘Bad Blood’ (1989): Katy Perry

While Swift and Perry have since squashed their beef with one another, Swift wrote “Bad Blood” in the midst of her feud with her fellow pop star. The pair’s drama began after Swift accused Perry of poaching several of her backup dancers. Following the 2014 release of “Bad Blood,” Perry compared Swift to Regina George from Mean Girls, tweeting, “Watch out for the Regina George in sheep’s clothing …”

“Did you think we’d be fine? /Still got scars on my back from your knife /So don’t think it’s in the past /These kind of wounds they last and they last,” Swift sings in the song’s second verse. “Now did you think it all through? / All these things will catch up to you / And time can heal, but this won’t / So if you come in my way, just don’t.”

Since making amends in 2018, Perry appeared in Swift’s 2019 “You Need to Calm Down” music video and attended an Eras Tour show in Australia in 2024.

‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ (Reputation): Loyal Friends

“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” seemingly references Swift’s feud with Kanye West, but it also praises her friends for sticking by her side through her public ups and downs.

“Here’s a toast to my real friends / They don’t care about the he-said, she-said,” Swift sings in the Reputation track’s bridge.

A Guide to Taylor Swift Songs Inspired by Her Friends Jack Antonoff

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

‘Dress’ (Reputation): Ed Sheeran

In “Dress,” Swift sings about wishing she and one of her pals could become more than just friends. While the song is most likely about one of Swift’s ex-boyfriends, many Swifites speculated the song was about Sheeran, as he is one of her closest guy friends.

“Say my name and everything just stops / I don’t want you like a best friend / Only bought this dress so you could take it off / Take it off, ha, ha, ha-ah,” the song’s chorus states.

Sheeran, however, squashed the theory in a November 2017 Instagram livestream with August Man. “I don’t think it is. I think if you read into it … it’s not … You know, because she mentions someone with a buzzcut hair cut, and I’ve never had a buzz cut hair cut,” he explained at the time.

‘It’s Nice to Have a Friend’ (Lover): Close Friends

As the song’s title suggests, Swift was inspired by her friendships while writing this Lover track.

“I love metaphors that kind of have more than one meaning, and I think I loved the idea that, on an album called Lover, we all want love, we all want to find somebody to see our sights with and hear things with and experience things with,” she told Billboard in December 2019.

She continued: “But at the end of the day we’ve been searching for that since we were kids! When you had a friend when you were nine years old, and that friend was all you talked about, and you wanted to have sleepovers and you wanted to walk down the street together and sit there drawing pictures together or be silent together, or be talking all night. We’re just looking for that, but endless sparks, as adults.”

A Guide to Taylor Swift Songs Inspired by Her Friends Ed Sheeran

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

‘Seven’ (Folklore): Childhood Friendship

While each of the songs on Folklore tell a unique tale, the story of “Seven” was seemingly inspired by a childhood friend of Swift’s who experienced an unhappy home life.

“And I’ve been meaning to tell you / I think your house is haunted / Your dad is always mad and that must be why,” she sings in the bridge. “And I think you should come live with me / And we can be pirates / Then you won’t have to cry / Or hide in the closet / And just like a folk song / Our love will be passed on.”

‘Happiness’ (Evermore): Abigail Anderson

“Happiness” tells the story of a dying relationship, leading many to believe the song was written about Anderson. Not long after Evermore’s late 2020 release, Anderson reportedly announced via her Instagram Story that she had separated from her ex-husband, Matt Lucier. She has since found new romance with Charles Berard, whom she wed in 2022.

“There’ll be happiness after you /But there was happiness because of you,” the song’s chorus states. “Both of these things can be true / There is happiness.”

A Guide to Taylor Swift Songs Inspired by Her Friends Emma Stone

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

‘Forever Winter’ (Red: Taylor’s Version): Jeff Lang

The Red TV vault track is heavily rumored to be about Swift’s late friend Lang, who died by suicide not long after the 2010 release of Swift’s second album, Speak Now.

“All this time, I didn’t know / You were breakin’ down / I’d fall to pieces on the floor If you weren’t around / Too young to know it gets better / I’ll be summer sun for you forever / Forever winter if you go,” the song’s emotional chorus states.

Swift honored Lang while accepting the BMI award for Country Songwriter of the Year in 2010. “Yesterday, I sang at the funeral of one of my best friends. And he was 21 and I used to play my songs for him first,” she said at the time. “So, I would like to thank Jeff Lang.”

‘When Emma Falls in Love’ (Speak Now: Taylor’s Version): Emma Stone

Given the song’s title features the name Emma, many Swifies were quick to theorize the Speak Now TV track was about Stone. Adding to the theory, the lyrics describe the song’s subject as “Little Miss Sunshine,” which some believe to be a reference to the scene in Stone’s film Easy A where she dances to “Pocketful of Sunshine” by Natasha Bedingfield.

“You would have to ask [Taylor],” Stone told Entertainment Tonight when asked about the speculation at the December 2023 premiere of her film Poor Things. Swift was later spotted with the actress at the event.

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