“Breathe” by Taylor Swift (ft. Colbie Caillat)
Taylor Swift’s “Breathe” is a breakup song. And being based on such a storyline, most people would presume that it is of the romantic variety. The singer herself implies as much, sort of deceptively, when she states that she ‘feels like she just lost a friend’ in the bridge.
And the reason we’re classifying that statement as a misdirection is because the song is in fact about the vocalist losing a friend, not a lover.
It commences with Taylor recollecting the two of them, i.e. she and the addressee, parting ways for good. It was an emotional, even unexpected experience. And we are also made aware, in a roundabout way, that they have been close to each other for quite some time.
But “people are people, and sometimes we change our minds”. And that is actually one of the most-important lines in the song. For it is there where it is revealed that this isn’t a case of a relationship being dissolved due to one person screwing up or doing each other dirty. Instead it’s more like the union has run its course, and both parties involved have internally evolved, i.e. grown apart, from when it was first initiated.
A Devastated Narrator
Furthermore, at least on the singer’s end, she is actually sad about what is transpiring. In fact she is not sure how her life will look in the aftermath, now that this person who has played an all-important role in it will no longer be around. In fact the pre-chorus goes on to imply that she is closer to this person than anyone else on Earth.
Or as the vocalist puts it, the addressee is ‘the only thing she knows like the back of her hand’.
And as indicated by the chorus itself, it is such which serves as the thesis sentiment of this tune. Despite knowing that this breakup had to happen, there is absolutely no indication at all that the vocalist wanted it to transpire. Nor, as indicated in the third verse, did she desire to “hurt” her partner.
So now with the two of them having in fact parted ways, the narrator is finding it difficult to “breathe” without the addressee in her life. And of course that is not a literal statement. A simpler way of understanding it would be to replace the word “breathe” with ‘live’.
So instead of reading “I can’t breathe without you”, the chorus would instead be phrased ‘I can’t live without you’. But again this is not something the vocalist is stating, as such sentiments are usually used in songs, in the name of trying to save the featured relationship. For it has already been, apparently, irrevocably terminated.
Therefore even though she feels she may not be able to “breathe”, i.e. live without the addressee, the narrator concludes that still she must.
A Letter from Taylor to Her Former Friend
So conclusively, being that this former friend is indeed the addressee, the song comes off like being a letter to her from the singer. And the message being put forth is twofold. First is that the addressee should not be under the impression that this whole ordeal has been easy on the singer herself. And secondly yes, the vocalist is in fact apologizing for the fact that it had to end in the first place.
Facts about “Breathe”
Of course the featured storyline has a general applicability in that the nature of the relationship between the vocalist and the addressee is never specified. But we know that, at least in conception, it isn’t romantic in nature as Taylor Swift fashioned it after a relationship with “one of (her) best friends”, not a former lover.
And it has been presented that said individual is one Emily Poe, who formerly served as a fiddler and backup vocalist for Taylor Swift. And Swift described the song as “total therapy” in terms of assisting her in getting over said friendship.
Meanwhile Colbie Caillat’s take on the song is that “it can relate to anyone, anything”.
Colbie Caillat is a singer from Los Angeles. Her signature song has been a track called “Lucky”, a duet with Jason Mraz, which earned the pair a 2010 Grammy Award in the category of Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
That same year she took home another Grammy as part of the overall team behind “Fearless”, the Taylor Swift album which “Breathe” is featured on.
And it was actually Taylor’s idea for she and Caillat, who acts more as a backup on this song, to join forces in the name of rendering the track. And just as an interesting side note, “Breathe” was actually nominated for the selfsame aforementioned Grammy, losing to “Lucky”.
Breathe marks the only time Taylor Swift and Colbie Caillat has dropped a song together. And that fact still stands true as of 2021, when it was re-recorded and re-released as part of “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)”. And yes, Colbie did in fact lay down fresh vocals to be featured on this newer edition of Taylor Swift’s second album.
Original Version of “Breathe”
The original “Breathe” came out on 11 November 2008, being the seventh song on the playlist of Fearless. And in addition to collaborating on vocals, Swift and Caillat also wrote the song. And Taylor also produced it, doing so alongside Nathan Chapman.
This track was recorded at two different facilities in Nashville, Starstruck Studios and Blackbird Studios. And it went on to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 in addition to being certified gold by the RIAA.