“Cruel Summer” narrates the fragility and uncertainty at the beginning of Taylor’s relationship with Joe Alwyn. The two met officially at the Met Gala in May 2016, although she was dating DJ Calvin Harris at the time and started seeing Tom Hiddleston shortly after. The fling between the two likely began soon after, lining up with the summer of 2016. Moreover, Taylor seems to suggest that she secretly fell in love with Joe, who she describes as a “bad boy,” during what was supposed to be a physical relationship.
Swift’s release of Lover comes accompanied with a personal journal, where she describes the summer of 2016 as “the apocalypse,” summarizing how painful it was for her.
Taylor’s vulnerability and the theme of this song is similar to the November 2017 track “Delicate.”