Breaking Down Taylor Swift’s ‘Old Habits Die Screaming’ Playlist About Depression

Breaking Down Taylor Swift’s ‘Old Habits Die Screaming Songs’ Playlist About Depression
Taylor Swift. Jeff Kravitz/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

UPDATE, 4/19/24 at 4:00 p.m. ET:

The depression era had a list of new songs when Taylor Swift released The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology on Friday, April 19.

Now, “Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus” is the first song on the playlist with “How Did It End?” coming next. “I Look in People’s Windows,” “Clara Bow,” “loml,” “Florida!!!,” “Down Bad” and “Fortnight” were also added. It seems these were the songs that show Swift getting over her six-year romance with Joe Alwyn.

Original story continues below:

When Taylor Swift’s depression works the graveyard shift, she makes a playlist about it.

Swift, 34, partnered with Apple Music earlier this month to unveil five exclusive playlists featuring songs from her discography that represent the stages of heartbreak: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. The playlists came after Swifties theorized that the singer’s forthcoming 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, would explore the stages of grief.

The depression playlist, which is titled “Old Habits Die Screaming,” explores “the feelings of depression that often lace their way” through Swift’s catalog, the singer explained during a voice recording introducing the collection of songs.

“In times like these, I’ll write a song because I feel lonely or hopeless. And writing a song feels like the only way to process that intensity of an emotion,” Swift continued. “And while these things are really, really hard to go through, I often feel like when I’m either listening to songs or writing songs that deal with this intensity of loss and hopelessness, usually that’s in the phase where I’m close to getting past that feeling.”

Four of the 19 songs on “Old Habits Die Screaming” come from Midnights, the last album Swift penned before her split from Joe Alwyn made headlines in April 2023. One of those tunes is “You’re Losing Me (From the Vault),” which was released in May 2023.

While it initially seemed that the song may have been the first one written by Swift post-breakup, the Grammy winner’s longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff later revealed that the tune was written over one year prior.

“Written and recorded at home on 12/5/21,” Antonoff, 40, wrote via his Instagram Story in November 2023 while celebrating the song’s release on all streaming platforms.

Fans were surprised by the new information about the song’s timeline, and some felt it proved that there was trouble in paradise for Swift and Alwyn, 33, for longer than they’d previously thought.

“So she felt this way for years,” one X user wrote at the time.

Another chimed in: “Insane how she still tried to make it with him for a whole year after writing this devastating song.”

Breaking Down Taylor Swift’s ‘Denial’ Playlist: ‘I Love You, It’s Ruining My Life’ Songs Linked to Joe Alwyn

In the breakup ballad, Swift sings about a romantic partner who has stopped trying to fix the problems in their relationship.

“I glared at you with storms in my eyes / How can you say that you love someone you can’t tell is dying?” she sings. “I sent you signals and bit my nails down to the quick / My face was gray, but you wouldn’t admit that we were sick.”

“You’re Losing Me” isn’t the only Midnights-era song that fans began to see differently after Swift and Alwyn’s split. Some Swifties have theorized that the record is littered with clues that the pair’s seemingly perfect romance was on the rocks long before they called it quits.

“Taylor Swift’s album Midnights is a breakup album in disguise and no one can convince me otherwise,” one X user wrote in April 2023.

On the Midnights song “Maroon,” which also has a home on the “Old Habits Die Screaming” playlist, Swift recalls a love interest “standing hollow-eyed in the hallway” after the pair lost “sight of us again.”

Swift mentions a hallway in three songs from the depression playlist — “Maroon,” “You’re Losing Me” and Evermore’s “Coney Island” — causing fans to wonder if the tunes are all referencing one painful moment.

“Were you standing in the hallway, with a big cake, happy birthday / Did I paint your bluest skies the darkest gray?” The National’s Matt Berninger sings on “Coney Island,” which is a duet between him and Swift.

Elsewhere in the tune, Swift seemingly mentions her longterm relationship with Alwyn.

“If this is the long haul, how’d we get here so soon? / Did I close my fist around something delicate, did I shatter you?” she asks. The use of the word “delicate” could be a nod to Swift’s 2017 song of the same name, which is widely considered to be a love song about Alwyn.

While the “Old Habits Die Screaming” playlist seems to offer insights into Swift’s relationship with Alwyn, it also features a song that the former couple wrote together: “Champagne Problems.”

The Evermore tune is sang from the perspective of a woman who has turned down a marriage proposal, prompting people to say, “She would’ve made such a lovely bride, what a shame she’s f—ked in the head.”

Although some fans have speculated that “Champagne Problems” was inspired by Swift’s own reluctance to marry Alwyn, Swift said during a December 2020 interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe that she and Alwyn simply “really love sad songs” and “write the saddest ones” together. However, she didn’t need Alwyn to pen one of the depression playlist’s most forlorn entries: the Evermore bonus track “Right Where You Left Me.”

“I stayed there, dust collected on my pinned-up hair / They expected me to find somewhere, some perspective, but I sat and stared right where you left me,” Swift sings of getting literally and figuratively paralyzed by heartbreak.

There are also plenty of pre-Alwyn breakup songs on the playlist, including Red’s “All Too Well,” Speak Now’s “Last Kiss” and the Fearless vault track “We Were Happy.”

“All Too Well” is widely believed to be about Jake Gyllenhaal, whom Swift dated from 2010 to 2011. Swift notably did not include the 10-minute version of the song on the playlist, suggesting that the lengthier rendition transcends depression and is imbued with other emotions as well.

On “Last Kiss,” Swift admits to a love that got away that she doesn’t know “how to be something you miss.” Fans have speculated that the somber, six-minute long song is about Joe Jonas, whom Swift dated in 2008.

“We Were Happy,” meanwhile, speaks to the pain that comes with the decision to end a relationship that was once flourishing.

“I hate those voices tellin’ me I’m not in love anymore, but they don’t give me choices / And that’s what these tears are for, cause we were happy,” Swift sings.

Breaking Down Taylor Swift’s ‘You Don’t Get to Tell Me About Sad Songs’ Playlist About Anger

Breaking Down Taylor Swift’s ‘Old Habits Die Screaming Songs’ Playlist About Depression
Buda Mendes/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

Not all of the songs on “Old Habits Die Screaming” are about breakups. The playlist’s other two Midnights tracks, “Bigger Than the Whole Sky” and “Dear Reader,” explore other forms of loss.

“Bigger Than the Whole Sky” is seemingly about a miscarriage as Swift sings “I’m never gonna meet what could’ve been, would’ve been, what should’ve been you” in the heart-wrenching chorus.

“Dear Reader,” meanwhile, is about losing touch with yourself.

“Dear reader, burn all the files, desert all your past lives / And if you don’t recognize yourself, that means you did it right,” Swift sings. After sharing wisdom in each verse, Swift warns listeners in the chorus that she doesn’t feel authorized to tell anyone what to do.

“Never take advice from someone who's falling apart,” she croons.

During the bridge, Swift details “walking to a house, not a home, all alone cause nobody’s there,” which was particularly striking during an era where she was supposedly still happy with Alwyn.

Other themes explored on the depression playlist include betrayal, death, and fears about aging out of relevancy.

On Folklore’s “My Tears Ricochet,” Swift likens her falling out with Big Machine Records CEO Scott Borchetta to a death, singing, “If I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake?”

Borchetta founded Swift’s first record label, Big Machine, and worked closely with her until 2018 when she signed with Republic Records. The duo clashed in 2019 when Scooter Braun bought the masters for Swift’s first six albums, which Swift claimed Borchetta, 61, knew would hurt her.

Taylor Swift’s ‘Bargaining’ Playlist: Harry Styles and Joe Alwyn, This One’s for You

“I still talk to you when I’m screaming at the sky / and when you can’t sleep at night, you hear my stolen lullabies,” Swift sings on “My Tears Ricochet,” nodding to the musical catalog she lost.

Another Folklore track included on “Old Habits Die Screaming” is “Epiphany,” which Swift wrote about healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and her grandfather Dean, who fought in World War II.

“Some things you just can’t speak about,” Swift sings of the death that both veterans and frontline workers must face.

Swift turns her gaze back inward during the Red vault track “Nothing New,” which is a duet with Phoebe Bridgers.

“Lord, what will become of me once I've lost my novelty?” Swift asks, fearing that the world will no longer want her when she’s “nothing new.”

After sharing some of her own deepest fears on “Nothing New”, Swift explores other people’s sadness on both “Carolina” and “Forever Winter.”

She penned the former for the 2022 film Where the Crawdads Sing, and has said via X that the song is about the protagonist, Kya’s “loneliness & independence. Her curiosity & fear tangled up. Her persisting gentleness & the world’s betrayal of it.”

“Forever Winter,” meanwhile, is about “checking up on” a loved one whom Swift is “scared to death” might decide to opt out of life while going through a difficult time.

It wouldn’t be Swift’s take on depression without a song about feeling like her reputation has been tarnished, a role fulfilled by the Speak Now vault track “Castles Crumbling.”

“Once, I had an empire in a golden age, I was held up so high, I used to be great / They used to cheer when they saw my face / Now, I fear I have fallen from grace,” the song begins.

Swift wraps up the “Old Habits Die Screaming” playlist with the Fearless tune “White Horse,” a heartbreak ballad about realizing a boy with “the face of an angel” wasn’t worth believing in.

“I’m gonna find someone someday who might actually treat me well,” Swift sings in the heartbreaking final chorus.