Women in the music industry have been subtly exposing illicit behavior from older men

Graphic by Kelsey Mason

Heartbreak songs are arguably the backbone of the music industry. Celine Dion sings about love and loss in the infamous “My Heart Will Go On” and Dolly Parton and Whitney Houston break hearts in their respective versions of the iconic “I Will Always Love You”. 

While heartbreak is a popular trope in music, for many women in the industry, their heartbreak is unique. It’s a heartbreak that happens when a much older man takes advantage of a young woman.

When music icon Taylor Swift released her album “Red” in 2012, fans immediately gravitated towards the album’s fifth track, titled “All Too Well”

“All Too Well” is widely believed to be about Swift’s romantic relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal. The pair’s relationship caught the media’s attention, not just due to the duo’s star statuses, but because of the age gap in the relationship. 

Swift was 20 and Gyllenhaal was 29 when they started dating. After their short-lived relationship came to a close, the media was dying to know what went wrong. “All Too Well” offered up some vague hints, but it wasn’t until 2021 when Swift released “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” in her rerecording of “Red” — titled “Red (Taylor’s Version)” — that fans saw how the age gap crushed a young girl. 

In the ten-minute track Swift sings “You said if we had been closer in age / Maybe it would have been fine / And that made me want to die,”  seemingly referring to how the age gap between her and Gyllenhall led to their ultimate demise. 

This wasn’t Swift’s only relationship that had the public raising an eyebrow to the age gap. She had another relationship with fellow singer-songwriter John Mayer, who dated Swift when he was 32 and she was just 19. 

“Dear John, I see it all now it was wrong / Don’t you think nineteen’s too young to be played by /  Your dark twisted games when I loved you so?” Swift sings in “Dear John”, a song off her 2010 “Speak Now” album. Without much speculation, the public was quick to gather Mayer as the subject of the song. 

In 2021, at age 32 — the same age Mayer was when he entered a relationship with the teenage pop star — Swift released her tenth album “Midnights”, with a song that supposedly reveals how, thirteen years later, she is still grappling with the pain of her relationship with Mayer. 

“If I was some paint did it splatter / On a promising grown man? / If I was a child did it matter /  If you got to wash your hands? / And I damn sure never would’ve danced with the devil/ At nineteen,” Swift sings in one of the album’s bonus tracks, “Would’ve, Could’ve Should’ve”. 

A scorned Swift continues, singing, “If clarity’s in death, then why won’t this die?/ Years of tearing down our banners, you and I/ Living for the thrill of hitting you where it hurts/ Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first.” 

In 2022, music star Demi Lovato, released her eighth studio album, HOLY FVCK”. The album detailed Lovato’s journey and hardships, with the song 29” going into brutally honest detail about how a relationship from her past continues to haunt her. 

“Finally twenty-nine / Funny just like you were at the time / Thought it was a teenage dream, a fantasy / But was it yours or was it mine?” Lovato sings. The song is in clear reference to Lovato’s relationship with actor Wilmer Valderrama, who was 29 when he entered a relationship with Lovato, who was 17. 

“Far from innocent / What the f*ck’s consent? / Numbers told you not to / But that didn’t stop you,” Lovato continues. The song, written when Lovato had turned 29, is a reflection of a now-grown woman realizing she was in an inappropriate relationship that should have been stopped. 

The list of young women singing about an age gap that left them with nothing but pain and remorse can go on. It doesn’t stop there, but it needs to. 

We see through the honest testimonies of these women that an older man going after a young girl happens far too often, and leads to harm and regret. 

It is not just famous musicians who have stories like this. Countless women have stories of being flirted with, being in a relationship with or being made to feel uncomfortable by an older man. 

You are supposed to find this flattering. You are supposed to see it as an indication you are desirable and mature enough for an older man. But young women deserve the grace to grow up and discover themselves without the interference of sexual advances by grown men. 

When a young woman first enters a relationship with an older man, she may find it fun and exciting, but as we see through these young musician’s lyrics, the rose-colored glasses will rip off. The young woman will eventually come to realize that the relationship was founded on an unequal power dynamic that resulted in her exploitation. She will wonder if she was flattered and thrilled by this relationship because she truly loved the man or if it was all a result of social conditioning.

These young women turning their pain into art is inspiring and commendable, but the insidious deception of a young girl disguised as a promising romantic relationship is not worth a hit song and it simply needs to end.

If you or someone you know are feeling unsafe or uncomfortable by someone’s behavior, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 for 24/7, confidential support. 

You may also contact these numbers for support from Boise State University:

-Gender Equity Center – (208) 426-4259

-University Health Services – (208) 426-1459

-University Counseling Services – (208) 426-1601

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