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'Speak Now' rereleased: Everything Taylor Swift and John Mayer have said about each other in their songs

With the re-release of her third studio album, we look back at the battle of words between the exes.

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 08:  Musicians John Mayer (L) and Taylor Swift attend the launch of VEVO, the world's premiere destination for premium music video and entertainment at Skylight Studio on December 8, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for VEVO)
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Taylor Swift's rerelease of Speak Now, on Friday, brings her brief relationship with John Mayer back to the forefront once again.

The year was 2009. Barack Obama became our 44th president, Michael Jackson died of a propofol overdose, Kanye West interrupted a certain someone's MTV VMAs acceptance speech — and known Hollywood heartbreaker Mayer tapped that certain someone, via the "tweet version of The Secret," for a collaboration on his song "Half of My Heart."

The duet was part of Mayer's album Battle Studies, out in November 2009, which reflected on his split from another very famous person: Jennifer Aniston. The musical collab lit a new flame, with Swift, and the singer-songwriters started dating at some point at the end of 2009 — when she was 19 and he was 32. However, it was fleeting, with no full-fledged romance ever developing, ending in early 2010.

John Mayer and Taylor Swift perform onstage during Z100's Jingle Ball 2009 presented by H&M at Madison Square Garden on December 11, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)
John Mayer and Taylor Swift performing onstage at Z100's Jingle Ball 2009 on Dec. 11, 2009. (Photo: Theo Wargo/WireImage)

And seemingly with bad blood. While they appeared friendly enough initially — presenting her with an award at the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June 2010 and gushing about her talent — they both went on to process the parting of ways in dueling songs thought to be about each other. It started with her "Dear John," released Oct. 25, 2010 on her Speak Now album. The blistering lyrics call out an older guy she dated, at 19, who played “dark twisted games" with her heart. Three years later, he replied with his own "Paper Doll," singing about a girl who didn't know herself, solidifying the bitter rift. He's become a persona non grata to Swifties.

NEW YORK - JUNE 17:  Singer/songwriter Taylor Swift and singer/songwriter John Mayer attend the 41st annual Songwriters Hall of Fame at The New York Marriott Marquis on June 17, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
Taylor Swift hugging ex John Mayer at the 41st annual Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 17, 2010. (Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

We know from history that Swift's re-releases have led to new scrutiny of the exes she's sung about. For instance, when she dropped her 2021 Red redo, which included songs written after her brief, post-Mayer relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal in 2010, it included an extended edition of her heartbreak song “All Too Well," which is thought to be about Gyllenhaal, with new, cutting lyrics. She even made a short film, casting Dylan O'Brien, and making him look Jake-esque. The album also included previously unheard songs "from the vault" thought to be about Gyllenhaal, churning up that side saga.

That's led many to speculate that the Speak Now reboot to be a doozy for Mayer. Another ex, Taylor Lautner, who was inspiration for "Back to December," quipped that he's praying for Mayer. As for Swift, she made a plea to her fans not to cyberbully her exes on her behalf prior to performing "Dear John" at an Eras tour show in June.

With Swift and Mayer's relationship being dredged up again, we decided to look back at what they said about each other in their lyrical war of words — and in between...

"Dear John," 2010

Whatever Mayer and Swift had going on was short-lived, after being linked in late 2009, sharing a cozy dinner in January 2010 and then fizzling soon after. While they hugged it out at the Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony in June 2010, Mayer gave two very controversial interviews that year — to Playboy and Rolling Stone — that weren't well received by the women in his life or the general public. Fast-forward to Oct. 25, 2010, when Swift released Speak Now, and it didn't take a detective to figure out who the subject of her song "Dear John" was.

"Dear John, I see it all, now it was wrong / Don't you think 19 is too young / To be played by your dark twisted games, when I loved you so? / I should've known," she sang.

Swift said she "ignored" those who told her to "run as fast as you can," presumably when getting involved with Mayer, whose exes also have included Jessica Simpson, Minka Kelly and Katy Perry. "I lived in your chess game" and became "the girl in the dress" who "cried the whole way home." She accused him of having a "sick need to give love and take it away."

She called her John "an expert at sorry / And keeping the lines blurry," saying, "All the girls that you've run dry / Have tired, lifeless eyes /'Cause you burned them out / But I took your matches before fire could catch me."

At the time, Swift told Yahoo about the album, "Every single song is like a road map to what that relationship stood for, with little markers that maybe everyone won't know, but there are things that were little nuances of the relationship, little hints. And every single song is like that. Everyone will know, so I don't really have to send out emails on this one."

She used a different email analogy with People, saying, "A lot of times when people's relationships end, they write an email to that person and say everything that they wish they would have said. A lot of times they don't push send. This was a tough one to write and I guess putting it on the album was pushing send."

Two year later, Mayer shared his feelings about the song. He slammed Swift for what he called "cheap songwriting," in an interview with Rolling Stone, saying she "humiliated" him. "It made me feel terrible. Because I didn't deserve it. I'm pretty good at taking accountability now, and I never did anything to deserve that. It was a really lousy thing for her to do." He added, "I never got an email. I never got a phone call. I was really caught off guard. ... [That's] abusing your talent to rub your hands together and go, 'Wait 'til he gets a load of this!' That's bulls***."

She replied, in an interview with Glamour magazine, saying, "How presumptuous!" that he thought the song was about him. "I never disclose who my songs are about."

"The Story of Us," 2011

This Speak Now track was also about the aftermath of their relationship, Rolling Stone reported. The song is about the awkwardness of seeing an ex — in this case at an awards show — after a split. "I used to think one day / we'd tell the story of us / How we met and the sparks flew instantly / And people would say, 'They're the lucky ones.' While her spot used to be "next to you," they're no longer on the same page after their "miscommunications lead to fallout." She ended up "standin' alone in a crowded room / and we're not speakin' / and I'm dyin' to know / Is it killin' you like it's killin' me?" She said their story "looks a lot like a tragedy now."

While fans thought it was about her earlier ex Joe Jonas, she later revealed the song was the last she wrote for Speak Now and put in a hidden message in liner notes that it took place at the 2010 CMT Awards, which they both attended. Her reference to the "battle" being in his "hands now" seems to be a nod to his album Battle Studies, which their collaboration appeared on.

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 09:  (3rd L-R) Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley attends the 2010 CMT Music Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on June 9, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
Taylor Swift at the 2010 CMT Music Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on June 9, 2010 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 09:  (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) (L-R) Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban and John Mayer attend the 2010 CMT Music Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on June 9, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
John Mayer at the same awards show. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

"Paper Doll," 2013

Swift said in that era, "If I'm gonna write songs about my exes, they can write about me," and, "cheap songwriting" or not, Mayer responded with his own verses in the release of "Paper Doll" in June 2013 off his album Paradise Valley.

"Paper doll, come try it on / Step out of that black chiffon / Here's a dress of gold and blue / Sure was fun being good to you," he sang, disagreeing with her take on whatever happened.

He suggested that Swift didn't know herself as he sang, "You're like 22 girls in one / And none of them know what they're runnin' from / Was it just too far to fall? / For a little paper doll."

And that she made herself out to be an angel when she wasn't. "Cut the cord and pull some strings / And make yourself some angel wings / And if those angel wings don't fly /Someone's gonna paint you another sky."

Not only did the song go viral, but the video as well. It starred then internet star Prancercise guru Joanna Rohrback.

Asked on the Today show if the speculation from the press was right that the song was about someone, he replied, "Yeah, songwriters write songs because of people, about people. Anything someone else wrote is their reception of a song. I don't get involved with [it]. It's none of my business."

But by 2015, he fessed up. "The song never got listened to as a song. It became a news story because of the lyrics," he told MSNBC. "I'm not in the business of telling people what the song is about. I never said anything about it. And now I just go, 'Look, I can say the name Taylor Swift. She's an artist. I'm an artist. Let's just ... everybody stop. Nobody's got an incurable cancer. We're rich people who get to live out our dreams. Let's just stop it.' I'm a musician who's bigger than one song or one record."

The self-professed "recovered ego addict" showed it wasn't behind him the following year, however, when he tweeted, "Tuesday, December 13, may be the lamest day of the year, conceptually." When fans called him out on the shade — it was Swift's birthday — he wrote in a follow-up post, "NOPE. No. Nuh-uh. People I am 39. I am deleting those tweets. Come right at me for doing so. Absolutely no shade."

After Swift re-released her album Red in 2021 — and with the re-release of Speak Now forthcoming — Mayer started getting death threats from Swifties still not over whatever he may have done to their idol. He responded to one, asking, "Do you really hope that I die?" After the person apologized, he replied, "It's OK. I wanted to understand. So it's a fun thing people are doing without taking into account that I might see it and be affected by it?"

"Would've, Could've, Should've," 2022

The dis tracks didn't stop. Just months ago, in October, when Swift dropped her 10th album, Midnights, it included bonus tracks and fans speculate one, "Would've, Could've, Should've," is another go at Mayer. It happened to be track 19 and about when she was 19 — the age which we previously established that she dated the older rocker.

In that song, Swift sang about about being 19 and in a relationship with a poisonous "grown man," who later dismissed her as "a child." She said she "danced with the devil" and called him "a crisis of my faith." She said he made her "feel important," but then he "tried to erase us."

While older and wiser, "I regret you all the time" she sang, "I fight with you in my sleep," adding, "Living for the thrill of hitting you where it hurts."

Perhaps the deepest cut was the line, "Give me me back my girlhood, it was mine first."

At the time, a source told Us Weekly, “John is trying his best to avoid the attention he's been getting from Taylor's new album. He's not going to make any public comments directly related to her songs or album."

Since then, both Swift and Mayer have publicly referenced their drama.

On April 8, the very day news hit that Swift's six-year relationship with Joe Alwyn had ended, Mayer discussed "Paper Doll" on stage for the first time, with Rolling Stone noting it is "suspiciously timed." On stage for his show in Sacramento, Calif., he wondered aloud if "Paper Doll" came off as too "bitchy" when it was released now 10 years ago. "I wonder if people don't like it because it sounds a little pissed off," he said. "I don't like 'pissed off' as a song. I think it was more hurt. Is there something about it that's a little bitchy? I try not to give bitchiness in the song, and that happens sometimes. I guess I don't do it very well, sarcastic bitchy, but I didn't really see it. I guess it is a little bit like, meh."

In May, Swift announced that Speak Now would be coming in July.

On June 24, Swift played "Dear John" live for the first time in 11 years. Prior to singing it, she told the audience, “I was hoping to ask you, that as we lead up to this album, I would love for that kindness and that gentleness to extend onto our internet activities." She continued, "I'm 33 years old. I don't care about anything that happened to me when I was 19 except for songs I wrote and the memories that we made together. What I'm trying to tell you, is that I am not putting this album out so that you can go and should feel the need to defend me on the internet against someone you think I might have written a song about 14 million years ago. I do not care. We have all grown up. We're good."

As Speak Now (Taylor's Version) is released into the world, we expect the saga to continue. Stay tuned.

This story was originally published on April 12, 2023.