Taylor Swift says she got the inspiration for this song when she overheard a male friend arguing with his girlfriend over the phone. You’ll see how this idea even ended up in the video. :-) Just goes to show that songwriting themes are all around you. Keep your ears open!
I promise you’ll learn new songwriting techniques from this huge Country/Pop hit that you’ll be putting to use in your own songs for months and years to come. The lyric details and melodic twists are exciting, fun, and an essential part of today’s hit songs in all genres.
Recorded by Taylor Swift
Writers: Liz Rose & Taylor Swift
Lyrics are available online.
The “Shortcut” numbers refer to specific chapters in my book Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting.
GENRE (What is a genre?)
This song is a perfect example of the Pop/Country Crossover style that works for both Country and AC (Adult Contemporary) radio. It reached the #1 spot on both music charts. Why? Well, it has a melody that features the fun twists you would currently hear in a chart-topping Pop song by an artist like Kelly Clarkson and all the lyric detail you would hear in a Country hit. Read the Melody and Lyric sections below to find out how to use these tools in songs of your own.
The song structure is:
Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus
Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus
Instrumental Break / Bridge
Final Choruses with variations.
The first Pre-chorus begins with “But she wears short skirts…” The Chorus begins with “If you could see that I’m the one…”
Watch the video, listen to the song and see if you can identify each section. It’s important to give listeners a sense of where they are as the song goes by. Notice how the melody changes between sections, how it defines the verse, pre-chorus, and chorus for you as you listen.
Here’s a lyric theme we’ve heard many times before: I love you. You love her. She’s no good for you. It’s a classic triangle. The title sums up the theme and every line works to explain and support it.
Because this theme is so familiar, the songwriters needed to do something to keep listeners interested. And they did! It’s all in the physical details. The lyric paints a very vivid picture of “me” (the singer) vs “she” (the other girl). No Betty and Veronica here; these two couldn’t be more different. And it’s seeing the contrast between them–from clothes, to music, to a sense of humor–that gives the lyric it’s great appeal.
Notice that the situation is never resolved. The boy doesn’t realize his mistake and suddenly change his ways. Instead, the song takes us deeper into same idea in Verse 2. It paints a picture of an easy-going friendship but suggests that this could turn into love. Again, there are plenty of physical details; we see them “laughing on a park bench” and we even hear her thoughts, “Hey, isn’t this easy?”
This lyric incorporates many of the techniques that make for strong Country lyric writing:
- Plenty of physical details that paint the scene
- A clear emotional situation
- Vivid characters
The title is used as the payoff line of the chorus (the last line). Think of this spot as the kicker or punchline–it wraps up everything that came before. It’s a key line that listeners will remember (Shortcut #56). This is a great example of a hook/title that functions like a “mini version” of the song, evoking the whole effect for listeners long after the song is over, making them want to hear it again (Shortcut #49). The lyric line is repeated to add emphasis.
What a well-crafted, contemporary melody this is! It’s got a ton of forward momentum and plenty of catchy melodic twists. In other words, everything today’s listeners like to hear. It offers a master class in writing for the current Pop/Country genre.
VERSE: The verse melody is very catchy and memorable but try singing along with it and you may find that it’s not that easy.
=> First, there’s no place to catch your breath until the fourth line!
=> Second, the lyric lines seem to be one syllable too long.
Let me explain what I mean by “one syllable too long.” We generally change chords on the first beat of a measure giving Beat 1 plenty of emphasis. Now, notice that the last syllable of the lyric phrase, “You’re on the phone with your girlfriend, she’s up-SET” lands on Beat 1 of the next bar, falling on the chord change. It puts a lot of emphasis on the last word of the line which is not something we expect to hear. The next line begins right away, on the upbeat after Beat 1, and it, too, ends on a chord change (the word is “SAID”). Again, the line that follows begins immediately. The result is to create a kind of off-balance feel and plenty of forward momentum.
Why does this work so well? Because you can take a very simple, familiar series of notes and make it feel fresh and interesting by playing with the way it relates to the steady beat of the song and the chord changes. It’s the great trick of writing catchy melodies for today’s market (Shortcut #88, #91, and #92).
Learning to play and sing this song will help you begin to get a feel for these techniques so they can occur to you as spontaneous choices when you’re writing a song.
And that’s just the verse melody!
PRE-CHORUS: Unlike the verse’s long phrases melody phrases, the pre-chorus features pairs of shorter lines. (“But she wears short skirts / I wear T-shirts.”) The difference in phrase lengths as well as a rising note range helps to define the pre-chorus as a separate section and build anticipation leading to the chorus.
Notice that almost all of these phrases begin on Beat 1, right along with the chord change which add a little more contrast between verse and pre-chorus.
CHORUS: The chorus returns to longer phrases, like the verse, but each line begins with the chord change on Beat 1 like the pre-chorus, creating a unique identity for this section of the song. The note range rises to its highest point at the top of the chorus, finally falling on the payoff line.
Notice that the chorus keeps the forward momentum going by eliminating pauses between lines. The final two lines of the chorus also add a little contrast in pace: “see” and “me” are stretched out over a series of falling notes. The title line is then repeated for emphasis in a conversational tone that returns us to the level of the verse both in tone and note range.
Overall, if your taste runs more to the traditional Country style, I don’t suggest trying a melody like this one which borrows many techniques from today’s Pop melodies. On the other hand, if you’re interested in Contemporary Mainstream Country and your melodies are sounding a little dated, try blending a few of theses ideas into your writing to give it a more current sound.
DO IT NOW!
Choose an emotional theme or situation like the one in this song and write a lyric that paints a picture of the people involved and their relationship using vivid physical details. Look for a title / payoff line that sums up the situation for listeners.
Try singing a few of your lyrics lines to the melody of “You Belong With Me.” See if you can make your lines begin and end where the lines in the hit song do. You might need to add or drop a few words. It’ll probably feel a little odd at first because the melody has so many current Pop features. It’s a good exercise, though, to get a feel for how your lyrics sound with a contemporary melody like this.
This is a four-chord song. Easy to play! It’s just | D | A | Em | G |
Learn to play and sing this song to get a feel for the unusual relationship between melody phrases and chords. Embedding the song so you get used to changing chords while continuing a lyric or melody line through the chord change is a crucial technique to master if you want to write in any of today’s genres. Here’s a video that will show you how to play it on guitar.
by Robin Frederick