Taylor Swift is equally comfortable rocking a stadium packed with 60,000 or an NPR office crammed to the rafters with 300 Swifties craning to see the pop icon play a set of stripped-down songs for her Wednesday morning (Oct. 16) Tiny Desk Concert debut. Looking business casual in a checkered suit and burgundy velvet shirt, Swift opened her four-song solo acoustic run by explaining the day’s set-up.
“I just decided to take this as an opportunity to show you guys how the songs sounded when I first wrote them,” she said, apologizing for showing up alone with no dancers and quipping about the impeachment buzz in D.C., “you guys have anything exciting going on the last couple weeks? Any possible changes in play?” Lavishing praise on one of her favorite corners of the internet, Swift kicked off the Lover mini-set with “The Man,” explaining that she’s been trying to write the song about society’s double standards when it comes to men and women for the past decade after thinking about it “700 million times a day.”
The strummy jam that included a precision-strike hair toss during the Leo DiCaprio line was followed by a piano version of the album’s title track, which she set up by describing those days when you show up to the studio and the ideas don’t come. “Lover” was not one of those, however, as it flowed out almost all at once in the middle of the night when Swift was in her pajamas. “Songwriting is really just a cathartic, therapeutic thing for me,” she said, explaining that the line about the scars on her fingers are literally from the times she was a kid learning to play guitar and she practiced until her fingers bled. But, she added, they’re also a metaphor about accumulating emotional scars over years in the spotlight and how if someone is going to take your hand, they need to hold it “scars and all.”
The emotionally bare take on the title track was followed by a slight jab at all the journalists who’ve asked her over the years “what will you ever do if you get happy? What will you write about?” When she thought about it, though, a hint of worry crept in about not being able to write her beloved break-up songs. “Then I happened to be writing this album Lover, which is a very, very happy, romantic album,” she said, revealing that she still talked to her friends about their break-ups and watched movies and read books about hard splits, which lead her to wake up one day with tons of romantic woe lyrics. “It’s still here! Yes!” she yelped, before providing the proof that heartache and misery can still come when you’re happy.
Cue a folky, acoustic guitar version of “Death by a Thousand Cuts” and the set-ending beloved, “autumn-y” “All Too Well” from 2012’s Red album.
Watch the Tiny Desk concert below.