What It’s Like Being Written About In a Breakup Song

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Charlotte Hoffman, Staff Reporter

Jake Gyllenhaal spent 3 months dating one of the most well-known names in the music industry. He probably should have expected one of Taylor Swift’s infamous breakup songs when the couple’s fling ended, but what he most likely did not expect was to become a worldwide enemy. Since Taylor’s Swift’s release of Red, Taylor’s Version (November 2021), fans have taken to social media to attack Gyllenhaal. Videos of booing during the trailer for Gyllenhaal’s new movie, Ambulance, and written ‘tests’ about what Gyllenhaal did wrong during the couple’s relationship have gone viral on various social media platforms. Quite frankly, it’s no surprise that Gyllenhaal has become an enemy; he represents an antagonist many listeners can relate to. And songs like Swift’s strike a chord with audiences. Heartbroken artists, recounting the breaking points of their intimate, toxic relationships, have created a genre of ‘sad-girl music’ that few other styles can compete with. Often, this means that only one side of an emotional story is told, painting exes as enemies and encouraging masses of people to side against them.

One of Taylor Swift’s lines about Gyllenhaal in her 10-minute version of “All Too Well” stated, “…you used to be a little boy with glasses in a twin-sized bed…”. When Gyllenhaal posted a TBT (Throw-Back Thursday) picture to his Instagram, featuring a short haircut and glasses, fans of Swift flooded his comment section with Swift’s line, as well as other remarks. Fans also criticized Gyllenhaal for the age gap between him and Swift (Gyllenhaal was almost 29 during the start of their relationship, while Swift was 20), and for the 16-year age gap between Gyllenhaal and his current partner. Swift even jabs at this relationship in All Too Well, singing, “And I was never good at telling jokes / But the punchline goes / I’ll get older but your lovers will stay my age”. Twitter threads, Instagram comments, TikTok hashtags, and Facebook Pages attacking Gyllenhaal have grown popular, garnering thousands upon thousands of likes and comments. Gyllenhaal has come to represent the manipulative, dismissive ex-boyfriend so many of Swift’s listeners can relate to, defining him as an enemy who deserves the same treatment he gave Swift way back in 2010. It has become popular to hate someone.

Joshua Bassett’s experience is very similar to that of Jake Gyllenhaal’s. The Nickelodeon actor was catapulted into the public eye after breakout singer/songwriter/actress Olivia Rodrigo released her debut album Sour, with many of the songs focused on the drama surrounding her ex, Joshua Bassett. In the single that launched Rodrigo to fame, “Drivers License”, she sings, “And you’re probably with that blonde girl / Who always made me doubt / She’s so much older than me / She’s everything I’m insecure about”. This line hinted at Bassett telling Rodrigo that she was too young for him and that he was instead dating singer Sabrina Carpenter (who, coincidentally, has blonde hair). Sabrina Carpenter responded to Rodrigo in her own song, “Skin”, where she sings, “Maybe we could’ve been friends / If I met you in another life / Maybe then we could pretend / There’s no gravity in the words we write / Maybe you didn’t mean it / Maybe blonde was the only rhyme / The only rhyme”, and later in the song, “You can try / To get under my, under my skin, under my skin / While he’s on mine”. At first, Bassett reported that he was happy for Rodrigo and the success she had with her album. But recent reports claim that Bassett hasn’t even talked to Rodrigo since “Drivers License” came out, despite the fact that they co-star on High School Musical the Musical the Series together. Bassett has even remarked that trying to defend himself amidst the media has felt ‘impossible’, and it is certainly true that he received a large amount of hate from Rodrigo’s fans online; reportedly even death threats. In December 2021 Bassett released his own mini-album, Crisis / Secret / Set Me Free, where he told the story of what it’s been like in the aftermath of “Drivers License”. In Set Me Free he sings, “I don’t know what I did to deserve all this / I don’t wanna be rude or on the defensive / But I’ve been goin’ through it too / And I know you feel used, I know you’ve been hurt / Anything I did to make you feel worse / I’d take it all back if I could / And nothin’ I say will ease the pain / But why must I hurt for you to feel okay?”. Bassett’s stint in the public eye has been defined by negativity, while Olivia Rodrigo has become an award-winning breakout singer.

The breakup songs we know and love so well have come at a price for the exes in them. Deep, meaningful lyrics are something we as an audience can consume, without very much regard for the feelings of the person they are about. Artists like Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo have every right to turn their personal experiences into art, and they have every right to write about relationships that have helped define who they are. Maybe Gyllenhaal should have given Swift her scarf back; maybe Bassett should have waited for Rodrigo or, at the very least, let her down a little kinder; and maybe partners should just stop breaking our hearts. Nonetheless, some would argue that most innocent people have had their lives ruined by these breakup songs. And at the very least, they have become judged through the lens of an artist who can only sing about one side of the story. In an era where the media amplifies literally everything, to be written about in a breakup song is most definitely the last thing anyone would want. And to be Jake Gyllenhaal, trying to garner excitement for his new movie in a post-Red world, would really suck right about now.