The first radio single from Taylor Swift's fourth studio album, Red, was written by the singer with the Swedish hitmaking duo of Shellback and Max Martin. Taylor told fans worldwide in a web-chat on August 13, 2012 that the scornful yet fun song is about one of her former beaus and is what she refers to, in jest, as "a really romantic song... touching and sensitive… to my lovely ex-boyfriend." When asked whom the tune is about, she replied with a smile, "I'm trying not to be too cryptic with it, but I'm trying not to give it all away."
The empowering kiss-off to an ex was inspired by an incident, when during a session in the studio with Max Martin and Johan Shellback, a friend of the singer's former boyfriend happened to walk in. Swift told ABC News' Nightline: "[My friend] starts talking about how he's heard [my ex and I] were getting back together and that was not the case. When he leaves, Max and Johan are like, 'So what's the story behind that?' And so I start telling them the story of 'break up, get back together, break up, get back together,' just, ugh, the worst."
"Max says, 'This is what we're writing; we're writing this song,'" continued Swift. "And I picked up the guitar and just started singing 'we are never.' It just happened so fast. It was so much fun."
As the lead single from Red, this song drew the spotlight back to the superstar with an intricately crafted piece of pop featuring very light country influences. Taylor Swift lends the song brand appeal, and it falls in line with previously successful releases by the singer by focusing on the pains of a failed relationship. Swift's vocal delivery is understated, foregoing over-emotive flourishes so that it better connects with a teenage audience.
The song mixes a linear progression with a very diverse assembly of structural elements, which creates a listening experience that is both easy to get into and consistently attention-grabbing. An especially strong payoff is offered by the chorus, which features an extremely catchy melody and very powerful lyrics - over a third of the song's playtime is devoted to the chorus. The title is both clever and appears frequently throughout the song, making it easy for us to remember while also catching the eye of a casual listener. Swift also wisely retreads very familiar thematic territory by focusing on a relationship, which allows her to further establish her musical identity while appealing to devoted fans. The tight songwriting, universal lyrics, and increased focus on purer pop stylings (to the neglect of her more country-style tendencies) made this a strong, appealing introduction to Swift's album.
"We Are Never" sold 623,000 units in its first week according to Nielsen SoundScan. This gave Swift the record for the biggest digital sales week for a song by a woman and second-largest sales week overall behind Flo Rida's "Right Round
," which debuted with 636,000 in February 2009.
This premiered at #13 on the Country Songs chart, the highest debut by a female artist in the SoundScan era.
So what was the previous #1 by a country act prior to this song? There are two possible answers:
1) Carrie Underwood's American Idol
coronation song "Inside Your Heaven
" topped the Hot 100 dated July 2, 2005. However, Underwood's label hadn't yet started promoting her as a country artist and it only reached #52 on Country Songs.
2) Lonestar's "Amazed
" spent eight weeks at #1 on Country Songs in 1999 and two weeks on top of the Hot 100 in 2000.
The song was Swift's 46th Hot 100 entry and first #1 - the most visits by an artist before achieving a chart-topper. Dionne Warwick held the previous record having appeared on the 100 39 times before leading on her 40th try with "Then Came You," with the Spinners, in 1974.
The song's music video was directed by Declan Whitebloom, of whom Swift has worked with on the visuals for both "Mean
" and "Ours
." It was shot with a Sony F65 Cinealta Camera and was the first music promo to be featured in 4K resolution.
The video was shot in one continuous take with no edits and features Swift in five different outfits, which required some very quick costume changes by the singer. "All modesty had to go out the window," Swift said to MTV News about her five furiously fast outfit switches. "All my clothes were put together with Velcro and snaps so that I could have three different outfits layered on top of each other."
"The costume changes were really hectic," she continued. "[We did them] in real time; it was crazy. At one point, I had a breaking point. 'I can't do five costume changes, there's not enough time!' but we ended up being able to do it."
Swift's band was only told at the last minute that they'd be performing in fuzzy animal costumes in the video. "All of the sudden, they wheel in their costume rack, full of animal costumes, and they were so mad," Swift recalled to MTV News. "It was hilarious. They were so angry. It took a couple hours, but they finally embraced it. It ended up being absolutely hilarious; they are really funny in that video. They owned it."
Swift's ex-love interest in the video is played by Canadian model-turned-actor Noah Mills (Sex and the City 2). Mills told MTV News that he enjoyed creating his character from such lines as, "And you would hide away and find your peace of mind with some indie record that's much cooler than mine." He said: "You hear what the lyrics are saying and think, 'Okay, if you're talking about this album you're listening to that's cooler than mine, I know that I'm listening to some album and subliminally sending some messages that I'm not in love with your music,' so you pick that up and as the character you play it."
Swift explained the Red album title relates to the intensity of her emotions during a series of failed relationships that were often very public. "All those emotions," she said, "spanning from intense love, intense frustration, jealousy, confusion, in my mind, all those emotions are red. There's nothing in between; there is nothing beige about any of those feelings."
Swift came up with this break-up anthem to drive a former boyfriend "crazy" when he heard the tune played on the radio. He'd belittled her music, and Swift wanted to make the song as catchy as possible so its constant airplay would annoy him. She explained to USA Today: "(It's) a definitive portrait of how I felt when I finally stopped caring what my ex thought of me. (He) made me feel like I wasn't as good or as relevant as these hipster bands he listened to...So I made a song that I knew would absolutely drive him crazy when he heard it on the radio. Not only would it hopefully be played a lot, so that he'd have to hear it, but it's the opposite of the kind of music that he was trying to make me feel inferior to."
The title of this song is a little cumbersome, and Swift said there were "lots of discussions" about what to call it. She preferred "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" from the start, telling Esquire: "It's very final, it's very aggressive, and it's not subtle."
Swift offers a sarcastic dismissal to her hipster ex when she sings: "Hide away and find your peace of mind. With some indie record that's much cooler than mine." She told The Guardian: "That was the most important line of the song. It was a relationship where I felt very critiqued and subpar. He'd listen to this music that nobody had heard of … but as soon as anyone else liked these bands, he'd drop them. I felt that was a strange way to be a music fan. And I couldn't understand why he would never say anything nice about the songs I wrote or the music I made."
Taylor told Digital Spy
that she wrote the song with Shellback and Max Martin, "in 25 minutes."
The song spent nine consecutive weeks at #1 on Billboard Country Singles, the most by a solo female artist in the history of the chart. The record was previously held by Connie Smith's "Once a Day," which spent eight weeks at peak position in 1964. Swift's run was the longest for any artist since David Houston stayed nine weeks with "Almost Persuaded" in 1966. The previous artist to have spent more than nine weeks at peak position on the country chart was Buck Owens, who led for 16 weeks in 1963-64 with "Love's Gonna Live Here."
The principal reason why Taylor chose this to be Red
's lead single was its catchy tune. Picking that track "jumped out to me," she told Radio.com
. "I would play it for my friends and family, and they would come back a few days later singing it, word for word. They couldn't get it out of their heads."
Swift opened the Grammy Awards in 2013 with a performance of this song, changing the words in her vocal interlude to say that she's "busy opening the Grammy Awards." She was dressed like a sexy ringleader and backed by a circus performance. Once she took her seat in the audience, Taylor became the go-to cutaway, as she could be seen eagerly singing along to other performances throughout the show.
Swift told US Elle that she writes about her personal relationships to feel better. "To me it's just writing songs the way I always have," she said. "It's me sitting on my bed feeling pain I didn't understand, writing a song, and understanding it better. If people want to dissect the lyrics, that's their right, but it's all coming from the exact same place as where I started. It's just something I do to feel better."
This song earned an entry in the 2014 edition of the Guinness Book of Records
. It took the title for the fastest-selling digital single after it reached the #1 spot on iTunes just 50 minutes after its release. The record was broken by Ariana Grande's "Problem
" which reached #1 in just 37 minutes after its release on April 28, 2014.
Taylor was also named in the book's 2014 edition as the first solo female artist with two million-selling weeks on the US album chart since records began in 1991.