Taylor Swift and her partner Keith Urban take turns recalling when they were on a break. They list all of the circumstances – the “that’s when”s – in which they were on each other’s minds.
Literary Device: Repetition
Swift repeats the word “when” 42 times in the song, with particular zeal in the chorus:
And you said, that's when, when I wake up in the mornin'
That's when, when it's sunny or stormin'
Laughin' when I'm cryin'
And that's when I'll be waitin' at the front gate
That's when, when I see your face
I'll let you in, and baby that's when
Many fancy terms for repetition of a word apply:
Polysyndeton - use of a conjunction between each clause (when)
Anadiplosis - repeating the last word of one clause to begin the next (when)
Epizeuxis - repeating the same word without any other words in between (when)
Taylor Swift also uses repetition on a more conceptual level. Exergasia is the repetition of the same thought with multiple figures. The first three lines of the chorus repeat the same thought in three different ways. Keith Urban will take Taylor Swift back first, when he’s awake; second, no matter what the weather is doing; third, no matter what sounds are coming out of his face (laughter or tears.) These three expressions all mean the same thing: he will take her back anytime.
Taylor Swift uses the word “when” so many times you can’t miss that this is a song about time. Specifically, this is a song about a couple’s time apart, much like The Other Side of the Door. The two songs contain many parallels, including descriptions of hurtful words exchanged, telephone calls, bad weather, and entryways:
The Other Side of the Door
Ignorin’ words that you were sayin’
You said, "I know." When I said, "I need some time, need some space To think about all of this"
Instead of ignoring, they listen and acknowledge one another
You’ve called a hundred times but I’m not picking up
Through the phone came all your tears
Not only do they pick up the phone, they communicate so well that her tears actually come through the phone
Waitin’ at the front gate
Rather than a shut door, he is on the other side of an open gate
I wanted you to chase after me
When can I come back?
Rather than hoping he will chase after her, she asks when she may return
While Swift and her partner demonstrate horrible communication in The Other Side of the Door, they are more successful in That’s When.
Throughout Swift’s oeuvre, we have seen a preoccupation with time. That’s When bookends a couple’s reconciliation by having each partner ask the other to reflect upon their time apart. Before, Swift asks, “When can I come back?” After, Urban asks “When you were gone, did you ever think of me?” They each respond with the same words in the chorus, transforming their time apart into a shared experience. Furthermore, this couple's time apart is not represented using discrete moments in linear time, but as a series of oppositions blurred together (rain and sun, laughter and tears.) Rather than ruminating on each moment apart, Swift and Urban summarize and condense them in order to “leave those all in our past.”