All The Sneaky References And Easter Eggs In ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’

We decoded the hidden meanings of Taylor Swift's mammoth album - and there's a lot going on.

taylor swift red photo

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On Friday, Taylor Swift dropped the highly-anticipated Red (Taylor’s Version), which was streamed over 90 million times on Spotify by fans upon release, breaking the previous record also held by Taylor for her album folklore.

Swift has described Red as her only “true breakup album” and has been long known to weave personal details about her life into her music. As such, Swifties have made something of a sport out of trying to decode her lyrics, easter eggs and secret messages over the years — so it only feels appropriate to do the same for Red (Taylor’s Version).

Apologies in advance to Jake Gyllenhaal, who’s got a big storm coming.

A note on Secret Messages:

Up until the release of reputation, Taylor Swift put ‘secret messages’ in the liner notes of her albums, stylised as uppercase letters amongst the rest of the lower-case lyrics (although in 1989 she did the opposite). Over the years, Swifties have poured over the liner notes for each album, decoding these secret messages (usually, they are indications towards who the song could be about). The original release of Red contained a total of 16 secret messages.

‘State Of Grace’

In the original release of Red, ‘State Of Grace’s secret message was ‘love you doesn’t count after goodbye’. Interestingly, in this song, Taylor touches upon a revelation about love that she only truly embraces on Lover’s album closer ‘Daylight’ — in ‘State Of Grace’, she says “This is the golden age of something good, and right, and real” and in ‘Daylight’, she says, “I once believed love would be burning red, but it’s golden.”

Who: Jake Gyllenhaal. Taylor and Jake are widely believed to be the ‘twin fire signs’ (both Sagittarius) in the song.


In ‘Red’, Taylor continues to use colours to describe how it feels to fall for someone, begin a turbulent love affair, then lose them; blue, dark gray, in contrast to the burning red of the love. The secret message in ‘Red’ is “SAG”: most fans believe this stands for Sagittarius, the fire sign that Jake Gyllenhaal and Taylor share. Others believe that SAG stands for Screen Actors Guild; Taylor and Jake allegedly first met at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2010.

Who: Jake Gyllenhaal.


In ‘Treacherous’, Taylor describes a burgeoning relationship that she knows could hurt her, but cannot help but pursue anyway. The secret message in ‘Treacherous’ is “Won’t stop ‘til it’s over,” a lyric from the song ‘Sweet Disposition’, the huge hit from The Temper Trap. You know who else had a ‘sweet disposition’? The guy in ‘All Too Well’. Hmm.

Who: Jake Gyllenhaal…probably. ‘Treacherous’ was allegedly demoed on April 11, 2012, along with ‘Come Back…Be Here’. The thing is, by early 2012, Taylor had already met Harry Styles — so ‘Treacherous’ *could* be one of the very first Haylor songs…but due to the ‘All Too Well’/’Sweet Disposition’ connection, probably not. One Tumblr Swiftie has put together a pretty convincing investigation involving Harry’s tattoos, though.

‘I Knew You Were Trouble’

One of the first songs that Taylor worked on with pop masterminds Max Martin and Shellback, ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ is about knowing that someone is no good for you, but going for it anyway. We’ve all been there Taylor. The secret message for this one is “when you saw me dancing,” and it was one of the last songs to be finished for Red, approximately around June 2012 (according to this Lover journal entry).

Who: Jake Gyllenhaal…or Harry Styles. Swifties are split practically down the middle on this one; on the one hand, Taylor seemed to say explicitly that the song is about Harry when she apparently referenced him while speaking about her 2013 Brit Awards performance. On the other hand, it was Jake Gyllenhaal that ‘flew her to places (she’d) never been’ when he allegedly spent £100,000 to fly her to London to be with him.

‘All Too Well’ (Original & Ten Minute Version)

Arguably Red’s strongest song and even one of Taylor Swift’s best songs to date, ‘All Too Well’ is a true heartbreaker, detailing the process of remembering a troubled love and trying to heal. ‘All Too Well’s original secret message is “maple lattes”, seemingly a reference to when Jake Gyllenhaal and Taylor popped into a coffee shop in autumn of 2010 for a couple of, well, maple lattes.

Who: Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s the “little kid with glasses in a twin size bed,” and Taylor and Jake got ‘lost upstate’ in October of 2010 when they went apple-picking, which is rather quaint. The ten-minute version offers more insight into the song’s subject, too, as Taylor coldly ‘jokes’ that all her ex’s lovers ‘stay her age’ (Gyllenhaal’s current girlfriend is 25, he’s 40). He’s also the one who didn’t show up to her 21st birthday party (as also referenced in ‘The Moment I Knew’).


The whiplash of ‘All Too Well’ into ’22’ is something I’ll never recover from, ever — but it’s what Red is all about; the frustration, the complexities, the contradictions, the heartbreak, the wild nights, the friendships of youth. ’22’s secret message, “Ashley Dianna Claire Selena,” is more of a dedication than anything else.

Who: Ashley Avignone, Dianna Agron, Claire Kislinger and Selena Gomez.

‘I Almost Do’

We’ve all been here — fingers hovering over someone’s phone number, one second away from calling…and then deciding not to, and it’s all for the better. ‘I Almost Do’s secret message is “wrote this instead of calling”, which feels pretty self-explanatory, even if it doesn’t reveal who she didn’t call.

Who: This one actually isn’t super clear — but most Swifties think it’s about Jake Gyllenhaal (again). If we look back to ‘All Too Well’, it seems like Jake was actually doing some of the calling (just to break Taylor like a promise), so good on her for not calling back, I say.

‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’

Apparently inspired by an off the cuff rant in the studio with Max Martin and Shellback, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together is about calling it quits on a tumultuous relationship for real, this time. The secret message in this one is “When I stopped caring what you thought”.

Who: This is another confusing one, as Taylor famously performed the spoken word section in a British accent at the Grammys in 2013, making fans question whether this song is actually about Harry Styles. Most Swifties still think this one is about Jake Gyllenhaal, as he famously loves all those ‘indie records’ (he did star in Vampire Weekend’s video for ‘Giving Up The Gun’, remember).

‘Stay Stay Stay’

This is a cute little story, apparently completely fictional, about true love. I mean, it’s still a little toxic — Taylor, um, don’t throw your phone at someone you’re arguing with — but it wouldn’t really fit in on Red if it wasn’t, now would it. The secret message for ‘Stay Stay Stay’ is “Daydreaming about real love.”

Who: A made-up guy who honestly sounds pretty good. This is also one of Taylor’s first forays into totally fictional songwriting, something she leant fully into with folklore and evermore.

‘The Last Time’ (feat. Gary Lightbody Of Snow Patrol)

The darker, quieter older sister to ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’, ‘The Last Time’ details a relationship that drags on a lot longer than it really should. In ‘The Last Time’, Taylor has finally had enough. The secret message for this song is “LA on your break”.

Who: Jake Gyllenhaal. “LA on your break” apparently refers to the time Jake called the cops on the paparazzi following the couple’s car on December 9th, 2010 — right before Taylor’s 21st birthday, which he, notoriously, missed.

‘Holy Ground’

Similar to ‘State Of Grace’, in ‘Holy Ground’, Taylor describes reminiscing on a love that completely cleansed the two people involved — a love so pure, so all-encompassing, it totally redeemed the couple, and all their past mistakes. Even in hindsight, after the relationship has ended, the love burns bright. The secret message in ‘Holy Ground’ is “When you came to the show in SD.”

Who: The secret message for ‘Holy Ground’ presents a bit of a puzzle — who exactly came to the show in SD? ‘Holy Ground’ was written in early 2012, and by that stage Taylor had played a show in San Diego in October 2011 on the Speak Now tour (South Dakota, another contender for the SD abbreviation, was not a stop on this tour).

There are no known TS-ex sightings at this show — Joe Jonas was in Paris, Jake Gyllenhaal was in New York City. The song is still largely thought to be about Joe Jonas — Joe was spotted in the audience at other TS shows on the Speak Now tour, notably the San Jose shows (did Taylor just get confused and think he was at the San Diego show instead?), and despite a messy breakup they did manage to reconcile and become friends afterwards, which gels with ‘Holy Ground’s overall theme of reminiscing fondly on a past love. So, probably Joe Jonas, but no one really knows this one for sure.

‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’

Allegedly one of the first songs written for Red and written in June 2011 while Taylor was on the Speak Now tour, ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’ details a, well, sad, beautiful, tragic love affair; according to Taylor, “This is a song I wrote about a love that didn’t have a happy ending, but it was still worth writing about.” The secret message for ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’ is “while you were on a train.”

Who: Jake Gyllenhaal; he was on a train with Mumford and Sons around the right time for this secret message to make sense.

‘The Lucky One’

Written in Australia around the same time as Vault track ‘Nothing New’, ‘The Lucky One’ details the life of a starlet who decides to give it all away in favour of a more private life. Most fans believe there’s some parallels between Taylor’s life and the starlet’s, particularly when considered alongside ‘Nothing New’; even at 20-21, Taylor was already feeling the pressures of aging in the music industry. The secret message for ‘The Lucky One’ is “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Who: The tantalising secret message has kept fans guessing the subject of this song for years. Some believe it could be Joni Mitchell (Taylor wrote Joni Mitchell lyrics on her arm multiple times for the Speak Now tour), others believe it could be Kim Wilde, who became a landscape gardener after her longstanding career in music (“chose the rose garden over Madison Square”). Taylor is constantly keeping fans guessing, though, even after the release of Red (Taylor’s Version): fans are now speculating that ‘The Lucky One’ could be about Britney Spears.

‘Everything Has Changed’ (feat. Ed Sheeran)

Similar in vibe to ‘Begin Again’, ‘Everything Has Changed’ tells the story of a very young, very new love, the kind that changes the subject’s perspective on relationships completely and irrevocably. It’s one of the first songs Ed Sheeran and Taylor ever wrote together (the other being ‘Run’, another Vault track), and the secret message is “Hyannis Port.”

Who: Conor Kennedy. Taylor briefly dated Conor in the summer of 2012, and bought a house in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, where the Kennedys also live.


Explaining the meaning behind ‘Starlight’, Taylor said, “’Starlight’ is a song I wrote, actually, after seeing a picture of Ethel and Bobby Kennedy when they were 17. I saw this picture and I didn’t know anything about, like, what they were doing or what was going on in the picture, but I just thought ‘They look like they’re having the best night.’ And so I wrote this song about what the night might’ve been like. And I ended up meeting Ethel and going and playing it for her and she just loved it.”

The secret message for ‘Starlight’ is “For Ethel.” It’s one of the first songs that Taylor wrote that was inspired by historical figures — folklore’s ‘the last great american dynasty’, for example, was inspired by heiress Rebekah West Harkness.

Who: Ethel and Bobby Kennedy.

‘Begin Again’

Written in December 2011, ‘Begin Again’ describes a refreshing first date with someone new, after healing from a toxic relationship. The beauty of the date is in its simplicity, and the ease of the spark between the two people involved. The secret message for ‘Begin Again’ is “I wear heels now.”

Who: No-one really knows for sure. Will Anderson from the band Parachute is a rumoured candidate, as he and Taylor went on a coffee date on a Wednesday in 2011. Apparently, the white dress she wears in the single artwork is also the same dress she wore to his birthday party.

‘The Moment I Knew’

Poor Taylor. ‘The Moment I Knew’ is a devastating song about that one moment that everything seems to make sense; that moment you know a relationship has to end for good. For Taylor, this moment was when her partner didn’t show up to her 21st birthday party. We’ve reached the end of the secret messages, as they only appear for the songs on the original standard version of the album — but we don’t really need one to interpret the meaning of this one…

Who: Jake Gyllenhaal. Seriously dude…you really should’ve just gone to the birthday party.

‘Come Back…Be Here’

Ah, the long distance situationship — it’s not quite a relationship (yet), but distance makes it impossible to develop it any further. As someone who conducted a relationship over Zoom for almost the entirety of 2020, I unfortunately relate. According to Taylor, ‘Come Back…Be Here’ is about “about this guy that I met. You know, you meet someone and then they just kinda happen to go away and it’s, like, long-distance all of a sudden. And you’re, like, ‘b-b-but, but, come back, be here!’ So it’s a song that I wrote about having distance separate you, which is something I face constantly.”

Who: There are three potential candidates; Harry Styles, Jake Gyllenhaal, and our wildcard entrant, Zac Efron. The “I guess you’re in London today” has long been thought to be a reference to Harry — however, as we already know, Gyllenhaal (allegedly) actually did fly Taylor out to London to meet him.

Taylor and Zac Efron never officially dated — however, they did work together on the film The Lorax, and Zac called Taylor ‘an angel’ on the red carpet of the film’s premiere. Zac was doing promo for The Lorax which saw him in both New York City and London around the time that Taylor wrote ‘Come Back…Be Here’, according to this fan-made video. It wouldn’t be the first time Taylor’s written about a crush rather than an established relationship, either — ‘Enchanted’, for example, is about the time Taylor and Adam Young from Owl City first met.

‘Girl At Home’

The song with arguably the most dramatic production makeover on Red (Taylor’s Version), ‘Girl At Home’ now sounds almost more like a 1989 cut than a Red track. The song, which has somewhat divided fans over the years, is about a man who flirts with Taylor, even though they both know that he’s got a ‘girl at home’. It’s a little ‘holier than thou’, considering Taylor ended up writing ‘Gorgeous’ in which Taylor clearly mentions that she has a boyfriend and is still flirting with another guy, but we’ll let this one pass.

Who: No-one knows for sure, but many Swifties think this one is also about Zac Efron, who was supposedly dating Lily Collins at the time.


The first of the Red (Taylor’s Version) Vault tracks, Ronan is a heartbreaking song about the grief of losing a child to illness much, much too young. Originally, Taylor performed this song in 2012 for a Stand Up To Cancer event, and the song was only available on iTunes for a short time after this performance, with all proceeds going to cancer research. Taylor only performed the song live one more time, in Glendale, Arizona, while Maya Thompson was in attendance.

Who: Ronan Thompson, an almost-four year old boy who sadly died after a battle with neuroblastoma. Taylor was inspired to write the song after reading his mother Maya’s blog, Rockstar Ronan, and the song is written from her perspective (Maya is also credited as a songwriter on Ronan).

‘Better Man’

Originally released by Little Big Town, ‘Better Man’ is a track that Taylor penned around 2011 (‘Better Man’ is alleged to have been amongst the first 25 songs Taylor wrote for Red). The song describes pining after an ex, just wishing that they’d been kinder, more thoughtful, more caring, just…better. After Little Big Town released it, Taylor ended up winning a Country Music Award and a Grammy nomination for ‘Better Man’.

Who: No-one knows for sure, but judging by the time period, most Swifties think Taylor wishes Jake Gyllenhaal were a ‘Better Man’.

‘Nothing New’ (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)

Similar in theme to ‘The Lucky One’, and allegedly written around the same time during a trip to Australia, ‘Nothing New’ is a raw, vulnerable track about aging, and being a woman in the music industry. The main image for the lyric video for ‘Nothing New’ is an hourglass slowing running out of sand, a poignant reminder that most women in the music industry (and many other industries, for that matter) only have a very small window in which to achieve their success. Phoebe Bridgers is the only artist who has been given a true duet on Red (Taylor’s Version), matching Taylor’s forlorn vocal tone perfectly.

Who: Taylor wrote this one about herself.


Co-written by Train lead singer Pat Monahan, and gifted to country duo Sugarland (Taylor remained a feature artist on the track though), ‘Babe’ is a song that was originally penned in 2012, allegedly for Red. It’s a sweet, almost-sister track to ‘All Too Well’, in which Taylor tells her lover that they “really blew this one.”

Who: Many fans speculate that it’s about Jake Gyllenhaal, mainly due to the timing of her writing it — and the only other guy she was publicly dating around this time was Conor Kennedy, who, by all accounts, was very nice (and didn’t cheat on her, as alleged in this song…)

‘Message In A Bottle’

‘Message In A Bottle’ is another track that feels like it’s bridging the gap between Red and Taylor’s next album 1989; poppy, upbeat, and co-written with pop masterminds Max Martin and Shellback. It’s reminiscent of ‘Come Back…Be Here’, in that Taylor is trying to reach a potential lover who’s “so far away”.

Who: Well, we don’t know for sure, but if it’s about the same person that ‘Come Back…Be Here’ is about (which does make chronological sense, and lyrical sense — “how is it in London?”), it could be about Harry Styles, Jake Gyllenhaal, or Zac Efron.

‘I Bet You Think About Me’ (feat. Chris Stapleton)

Ah, Mr Superior Thinking…’Mr Perfectly Fine’s older brother perhaps? ‘I Bet You Think About Me’ is a gorgeous yee-haw romp, in which Taylor tries to convince us (unsuccessfully) that she grew up poor, and also clowns her ex for thinking about her after they break up.

Who: Jake Gyllenhaal. He grew up in “glamourous, shiny, bright Beverly Hills,” and in the song, Taylor also makes another reference to Jake’s penchant for “cool indie music concerts”. Poor old Jake…that’s something like 15 songs now about how much he sucks — and this one might be the most brutal of the lot.

‘Forever Winter’

Co-written with Mark Foster of Foster The People (how very 2012), ‘Forever Winter’ is a deeply emotional song about trying to convince a friend not to harm themselves. It’s an unusually sombre and affecting song from Taylor, particularly emphasised by the tender delivery of the line “I didn’t know you were breaking down.”

Who: We don’t know. Some fans have speculated the subject of the song, but because the theme is so personal, it’s not much fun, nor is it fair, to investigate deeply into this one.

‘Run’ (feat. Ed Sheeran)

Allegedly the first song Taylor and Ed Sheeran ever wrote together, ‘Run’ is a sweet love song about two lovers toying with the idea of running away from the world together. Written in a hotel room in Arizona, ‘Run’ marks the beginning of Ed and Taylor’s long-running friendship and fruitful artistic collaboration.

Who: ‘Run’ makes a few lyrical references to other songs on Red — notably, she talks about a locket, something she also referenced in ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic‘. By that logic, ‘Run’ *could* be about Jake Gyllenhaal. Alternatively, the subject in ‘Run’ also “laughs like a child”, which is exactly how the guy in ‘Begin Again’ laughs…so maybe Conor Kennedy? To be honest though, Taylor Swift is so famous that I imagine she’d want to run away with anyone she was dating at the time just to escape the attention…so this one could be about anyone, really.

‘The Very First Night’

Similar in vibe to ‘Starlight’ and ‘Message In A Bottle’, ‘The Very First Night’ also feels like the perfect bridging track between Red and 1989. The vocal melody is deeply pop; soft, bouncy, catchy — the sweet track about new love doesn’t necessarily fit in with the country-pop vibes on the standard version of Red — but it’s a stunning Vault track.

Who: Many Swifties think this one is about Harry Styles, due to lyrical parallels with other Taylor songs about Styles; “we were built to fall apart” is a line that also appears on the 1989 track ‘Out Of The Woods’. There’s also a Polaroid picture reference in ‘The Very First Night’, an image that is brought back in ‘Out Of The Woods’. Some fans also think that this song *could* be about Karlie Kloss — according to the implied AABB rhyme scheme in the pre-chorus, the line should end with “They don’t know how much I miss her” instead of “They don’t know how much I miss you”. It’s a weak link, but it’s not nothing!

Eilish Gilligan is a musician and writer from Melbourne. She streams at and tweets at @eilishgilligan.