“Dear John”

Written by Abby Bourland. 3 November 2015.

By now, it is safe to say that everyone has heard the name Taylor Swift. From the voluptuous, long, blonde, country curls to the short, straight, and edgy pop hair, her physical and musical changes have only earned her a larger fan base. The young, country Taylor has transitioned into a pop princess and has sold over 100,000,000 albums in singles, won 5 Grammy’s in 2010, and received 179 awards. The evolution of Swift’s identity and sound as a pop artist still embody the stationary themes of her songs: love, hate and everything in between. In 2010, Taylor Swift released her first album that contained a bit more pop than country, Speak Now, which included very successful songs about unsuccessful relationships. Her lengthy “Dear John” song resembles an “open letter” to an ex-boyfriend and epitomizes the feelings of being manipulated by a person you love.

Although a young artist, Taylor Swift reaches out to a wide range of people. All the way from elementary school kids singing “Trouble” on the playground to employees singing “Sparks Fly” in the office, Taylor Swift magically relate3s to people of all ages. The original country star started her singing career in Pennsylvania by posting videos of her singing on YouTube. Her grit and passion relocated her family to Nashville, the capital of country music, and earned her a place on the Top 10 hits for her first single, “Tim McGraw” in 2006. Swift’s beauty and talent soon propagated throughout the country world as she won the Horizon Award during the Country Music Association in 2007. This captured the attention of many country fans and lovers. Country music had reached out to young people and was now being infused into teenager and kids’ music playlists due to Taylor Swift.

As Swift became more successful, the sound of her music altered. “You know, I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, I don’t want to betray Nashville, whatever, but essentially it comes down to challenging yourself as an artist.” Swift told musictimes in response to why she’s changed music genres. From her first full album, Fearless, to her most recent album, 1989, one can easily distinguish the audible differences. The absence of violins was compensated by the presence of electric guitars in her songs over the past 7 years. This change didn’t diminish her fan base, but instead exponentially increased it. Her old songs are played on country radio stations while her new songs are played on various pop stations.

Swift’s fame has led her to meet an overabundance of people, including potential boyfriends. With boyfriends come heartbreaks, and Swift is notorious for writing and singing songs about boys who have done her wrong. From Joe Jonas to Harry Styles, Taylor Swift has written a plethora of songs related to her personal breakups. The hidden messages about these celebrity boys who teenage girls idolize allure young girls into Swift’s compelling musical web.

Taylor Swift is well aware that teenagers hold the highest portion of her fan base. Within the teenager subset lie the girls who are in or recently out of a relationship. Swift is more than cognizant of this and takes advantage of it by producing more and more songs about relationships. Swift shows empathy to her audience by directly and personally relating to their emotions by singing about her own. Her point of view is not only respected and revered in real life, but is also prevalent in a vast majority of her music, including “Dear John”.

“Dear John”, resting at 6 minutes and 48 seconds, is the longest song on Swift’s album Speak Now. The long 24-second intro of slow strums on the guitar and steel guitar convey the melancholy tone and somber theme of the song.

Taylor Swift plays the innocent young girl who romantically got her hopes up with a bad guy. The first and second verses of the song intertwine the insecurity and worry she feels with her relationship along with the emotional rollercoaster she’s on. “Counting my footsteps/praying the floor won’t fall through, again” describes the caution she took while dating him because she didn’t want to ruin their relationship. “And I lived in your chess game/ but you changed the rules everyday” expresses the multiple changes she made for “John” to be exactly what he wanted. These verses both enhance the listener’s ability to empathize with Swift. She also captivates the audience by making them sympathize with her and make them feel sorry for her with her lyrics, “Don’t you think nineteen’s too young to be played by your dark twisted games/ when I loved you so”.

The way Swift blames herself for the end of their relationship in verse 3, “well maybe it’s me and my blind optimism to blame”, is another way for the listener to relate to Swift, and vice versa. Taylor Swift wants her intended listeners to recognize the change in chorus at the end of the song from “I should’ve known” to “you should’ve known”. This stresses Swift’s realization of ‘John’s’ wrongdoing and her innocence.

Swift breaks out into a bridge with power and dominance towards the end of her song. “You are an expert at sorry” informs the audience that she has been told sorry multiple times before. However, Swift uses a simile, “I’m shining like fireworks over your sad empty town”, to highlight the recovery she made from being “the girl in the dress [who] cried the whole way home” to a girl who is still fragile but strong. Following the bridge, Swift has a 20-second period of only vocals. The long 20 seconds of Swift’s smooth voice accentuate the sadness of the song and also make the song enjoyable to listen to. Even without listening to the content of the song, listeners still cherished it. Michael Jenkins from YouTube said, “… I am not going to talk about the content of the song, just want to say that this is a great song with even more amazing vocals.” Even without words in the 20 seconds of vocals, Swift still manages to captures her audience through the pain and sorrow you can hear in her soothing voice.

One of the evident appeals to this song is the fact that it is written as a letter. Taylor Swift assumes her audience is familiar with the “Dear John” letter tradition. Since the 1940’s, a “Dear John” letter has revolved around the ending of a relationship by a girlfriend or wife through a letter addressed to her significant other. “A Dear John Letter” sung by Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky was released in 1957 and depicted the woman in the relationship as cruel for breaking up with her faithful boyfriend and marrying his brother. Women writing these letters were negatively viewed and perceived as brutal and heartless. Swift modifies this letter and plays the heartbroken victim instead of the one who is breaking hearts. Swift twists the meaning and roles of the Dear John tradition while implementing it into a unique song form that engages the listeners. Swift also incorporates irony in this song in that it was released in 2010 after her breakup with John Mayer in 2009. Not only did Swift’s fans infer that this song was in spite of her ex, but John Mayer did as well. The double meaning results in more discussion and controversy of the song, and thus making it more popular.

Within the song, Swift appeals to her audience by painting a picture in their mind. “You paint me a blue sky, and go back and turn it to rain” elaborates on the emotional change, from happiness to heartbreak, Swift was feeling in her relationship. Swift uses metaphors to enhance and convey her own feelings and thoughts she’s trying to express. “All the girls that you’ve run dry/ have tired lifeless eyes ‘cause you burned them out” illustrates an image in the listeners mind and aids in the understanding of Taylor Swift’s pain.

Swift remarkably conveys her emotions and feelings through her songs by appealing to her audience. Her modification of the Dear John tradition, use of musical country conventions, and soothe, yet heartbroken, voice all contribute to the suffering felt in her relationship with “John”. Swift’s empathetic songs have secured her an expansive fan base. It seems as though the more relationships she has, the more people she can connect with, and the more popular she becomes. Although broken hearts are inevitable, Taylor Swift has the resilience of a fighter and forms her pain into personable lyrics. As one door to a relationship closes, another one to a number one hit single opens.


Time Form Listening Cues Discussion
0:00-0:24 Intro Guitar and steel guitar Introduces a slow beat and rhythm to the song
0:24-1:46 Verse 1 “Long were the nights when my days once revolved around you…” Describes her carefulness and worry with their relationship
1:00-1:46 Verse 2 “You paint me a blue sky and go back and turn it to rain…” Discusses how she was toyed with and not treated right
1:46-2:16 Chorus “Dear John…” Now that John is gone, she see was wrong in dating him
2:16-2:24 Instrumental Interlude Guitar and steel guitar Resembles intro
2:24- 3:11 Verse 3 “Well maybe it’s me and my blind optimism to blame…” Debating who’s to blame for the failure of the relationship
3:11-3:35 Chorus “Dear John…” Now that John is gone, she see was wrong in dating him
3:35-4:02 Chorus look alike Dear John I see it all now it was wrong…” He is the one who is wrong for messing with her to begin with
4:02-4:10 Instrumental Interlude Guitar and electric guitar Indicates change in pace and power in tone
4:10-4:58 Bridge “You are an expert at sorry…” He was a disappointment to girls in past relationships too. She left the relationship before he could hurt her too bad
4:58-5:18 Vocals Vocals Emphasizes sadness in song
5:18-5:46 Chorus “Dear John I see it all now that you’re gone…” Now that John is gone, she see was wrong in dating him
5:46-6:08 Chorus look alike “I see it all now that you’re gone…” She clearly sees he was the one who was wrong
6:08-6:13 Instrumental Interlude Guitar and steel guitar Resembles intro
6:13-6:32 Hook “You should’ve known…” He should’ve known not to mess with her young heart
6:32-6:48 Outro Guitar and steel guitar Winding down of song


Works Cited

“A DEAR JOHN LETTER ~ Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (1957).”YouTube. YouTube, 20 Jan. 2010. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

Jenkins, Michael. “Taylor Swift Dear John Lyrics.” YouTube. YouTube, 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

Laurence, Emily. “A Taylor Swift Song For Every Breakup.” Seventeen. Hearst Communications Inc., 17 Aug. 2013. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

Rolling Stone. “John Mayer: Taylor Swift’s ‘Dear John’ Song ‘Humiliated Me.'” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, 06 June 2012. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

“Taylor Swift to Receive CMA Pinnacle Award at 2013 CMA Awards – 2015 CMA Awards.” 2015 CMA Awards. CMA World, 04 Nov. 2013. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

“Why Did Taylor Swift Go Pop? The ‘1989’ Star Explains In New Interview [WATCH].” Music Times RSS. Music Times, 05 Oct. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

World Heritage Encyclopedia. “List of Awards and Nominations Received by Taylor Swift.” Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing Press, n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.