In the heat of a fight, Taylor Swift walked away and is now ignoring her lover’s phone calls. She recalls how she said “leave” but what she really wanted was for him to stay and chase after her. In the outro, we learn that he has cheated on her in the past.
Literary Device: Irony
Irony is a literary device in which someone says the opposite of what they mean. The Other Side of the Door is littered with irony. Most prominently, Swift repeats “I said ‘Leave’ but all I really want is you” with each chorus. She said leave but she really meant stay! Irony highlights the slipperiness of the relationship between language and truth, the central focus of the song.
A door can symbolize an entrance as well as its opposite, an exit. In The Other Side of the Door, Taylor Swift grapples with instances where language fails to communicate truth, ultimately espousing the deconstructive approach of Jacques Derrida. In the first verse, Swift recalls “I walked away / Ignorin’ words that you were sayin’ / Tryna make me stay”. This simple communication breakdown occurred because the recipient willfully refused to participate. In the second verse, Swift recalls “goin’ back over… all the things that I misread.” While also due to the recipient, this communication breakdown was unintentional – Swift simply misinterpreted a text. Such misunderstandings can also be the fault of the speaker. In the outro, Taylor Swift references their “conversation with the little white lies”, an instance where the speaker intentionally chose to say something other than the truth.
Most of Swift’s examples of speaker-induced communication breakdowns are more complicated. In the chorus, Taylor Swift reflects “I said ‘Leave’ but all I really want is you.” Swift does not have a single truth that is consistent over time. In the heat of the moment, her statement was accurate, but it runs contrary to another truth that she wants this man in her life. In Derridean terms, there is no truth, just discourse. Similarly, Swift writes “‘There’s nothing you can say / To make this right again, I mean it, I mean it’ / But what I mean is…” Here, the speaker is ambivalent, holding two contrary truths at once. Swift truly means that this relationship is over, but also… she does not. In these two instances, the speaker’s internal incoherence causes the communication to fail. Swift adopts the Derridean stance that there is no such thing as a stable truth to communicate in the first place.
Taylor Swift croons, “I might tell you that its over / but if you look a little closer…” Swift, like Derrida, believes that language must be deconstructed in order to be understood. To the extent that successful communication is possible between complex beings that do not have single, stable selves, Swift argues that it requires a recipient who is willing to listen and to do interpretive work. Swift’s listener must take into account the supratextual contexts of emotions, body-language, and the relationship history of the two people. Without a commitment to Derridean deconstruction, this particular relationship is doomed to fail.