Who Is Taylor Swift's "Cruel Summer" About? What We Know

Some of Taylor Swift's most devoted fans were very happy this June when news broke that her song "Cruel Summer," off of 2019's "Lover," was officially being released as a single. The news was first reported by U.S. Radio Updater on X (formerly Twitter) on June 14 and was later confirmed by Billboard. The song, cowritten by Swift, Jack Antonoff, and St. Vincent's Annie Clark, has long been a Swiftie fan favorite (in fact, it sits at No. 6 on POPSUGAR's ranking of Swift's best songs).

But if you're a more casual Swiftie, you might not be as familiar with "Cruel Summer." Ahead, we break down what the song's about, why the single release of "Cruel Summer" was such a big deal for fans, and its chart performance.

What Is Taylor Swift's "Cruel Summer" About?

In "Cruel Summer," Swift narrates a casual relationship that takes place during the summer. She sings about sneaking out and around, slipping over garden walls, and climbing out of windows. She tries to keep her real feelings secret ("And if I bleed you'll be the last to know") and it all feels like a "fever dream" that's "killing" her. But, of course, the casual relationship can't stay casual, as Swift sings in the bridge, "And I screamed for whatever it's worth / I love you, ain't that the worst thing you ever heard?" But when her lover "looks up grinning like a devil," it seems he's caught feelings too.

Of course, since Swift is known to write about her real relationships, many have wondered which person in her past she's talking about in the song. She's never said, and fans don't have a consensus theory. Ultimately, it could be about one of Swift's public relationships or about a romance she's kept completely private. Swift's then-boyfriend Joe Alwyn was the muse for many of "Lover"'s tracks, so some fans think he's the most likely source of inspiration for this track, too.

Why Was "Cruel Summer" Released as a Single?

"Lover" was released at the end of August 2019, and fans were surprised to hear such an unabashed summer track for the first time when fall was on the horizon. Many wondered why Swift didn't release the song as a single earlier in the year so it could compete for song of the summer. But since Swift was planning to tour "Lover" in 2020, many assumed she would release it as a single the next summer.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled Swift's touring plans, and the song was never put forward as a single. The singer did release two surprise albums in 2020 — "Folklore" and "Evermore" — so fans couldn't really complain, but it seemed "Cruel Summer"'s moment had come and gone without Swift ever even performing it live.

However, Swift did end up including the song on her Eras Tour setlist. In fact, it's the second song of the show and has received a huge reaction from fans, organically boosting its streaming numbers. In June, with no promotion, the song reentered the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time since "Lover" was released in 2019, showing that there was a groundswell of support for it already.

How Did "Cruel Summer" Perform on the Billboard Hot 100?

"Cruel Summer" originally peaked at No. 29 when it was released in 2019, immediately after "Lover"'s release. This summer, it made it to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 on the chart dated Aug. 19, and for weeks it seemed that was the highest the song would get (at least until summer 2024). However, for the chart dated Oct. 28, the song surged again (perhaps thanks to the Eras Tour film) and finally hit No. 1. It's kept that spot for the Nov. 4 chart, too. "Cruel Summer" is now Swift's 10th No. 1 hit.

Swift and Antonoff reacted to the news in an overjoyed video posted to Twitter on Oct. 23. "A song from five f*cking years ago!" Antonoff said. "Our favorite song from 'Lover'!" He added that song was always meant to be their "secret best song" from the album.

"We just wanted to say thank you so much for making 'Cruel Summer' a Hot 100 No. 1," Swift added. "It's not even summer anymore – it's deep fall, I'm wearing a sweater. We love you guys!"