I Knew You Were Trouble

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"I Knew You Were Trouble"
I Knew You Were Trouble.png
Single by Taylor Swift
from the album Red
ReleasedNovember 27, 2012 (2012-11-27)[1]
LabelBig Machine
  • Max Martin
  • Shellback
Taylor Swift singles chronology
"Begin Again"
"I Knew You Were Trouble"
Music video
"I Knew You Were Trouble" on YouTube

"I Knew You Were Trouble" (stylized as "I Knew You Were Trouble.") is a song recorded by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift for her fourth studio album, Red (2012). It was released on October 9, 2012, by Big Machine Records, as the third promotional single from the album. It was later promoted as the third single from the album on November 27, 2012. As the fourth track on Red, the song was written by Swift, Max Martin and Shellback, with the production handled by the latter two. "I Knew You Were Trouble" has been described as a "kiss-off" and "breakup banger" with an uptempo pop rock, electropop, and dance-pop sound, with strong influences of dubstep. Its lyrics detail a toxic relationship.

"I Knew You Were Trouble" received positive reviews from music critics, who commended its mainstream appeal yet noted Swift's experimentation with dubstep as relatively limited. Upon release as a promotional single, due to strong digital sales, the song sold more than 416,000 copies in its first week, and debuted at number-three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the third consecutive top-ten single from Red. Swift became the first artist in digital history to have two songs sell more than 400,000 copies in their first-weeks, the other being the lead single of Red, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together". In January 2013, "I Knew You Were Trouble" reached a new peak of number-two on the Hot 100, selling a further 582,000 copies in a week. The song also topped the Billboard Digital Songs, Pop Songs and Adult Pop Songs charts.

At the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, "I Knew You Were Trouble" was nominated for Video of the Year and won the Best Female Video—her second win in the category following "You Belong with Me" (2009). It also won the Song of the Year at the 2013 Radio Disney Music Awards and the YouTube phenomenon award at the inaugural YouTube Music Awards in 2013.[2] As of July 2019, the song had sold 5.42 million pure copies in the United States. It has been certified 7× Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for moving over 7 million units in the country. It is also received 6× Platinum and 5× Platinum certifications in Australia and Canada, respectively.

Background and release[edit]

Swift during her appearance on Good Morning America, where she talked about "I Knew You Were Trouble", and also previewed the song

During her performance at the 2012 iHeart Radio Music Festival in Las Vegas, Swift told Rolling Stone magazine that she would start unveiling the songs from her fourth studio album, Red, one-by-one. "Starting this week I’m gonna start unveiling new music... I really want there to be so many surprises left on the record for when it comes out eventually, some collaborations that haven't been talked about and some songs that are definitely what make the album so unique," she added.[3] Talking about the accompanying tour for the album, the singer explained that she always thinks about the visuals associated with a song—"Ooh, how are we gonna play this in concert? What's the lighting gonna be like? What costumes are we gonna have?"—and one of the songs that stood out to her for its visual aspect was called "I Knew You Were Trouble.".[3]

The song was written by Swift, Max Martin and Shellback, the latter two also producing the track.[4] When Swift previewed the song on Good Morning America on October 8, 2012, she said that it was "one of [the singer's] favorite songs on the album because it sounds just as chaotic as the feeling was when I wrote it. The song is about being frustrated with yourself because here you are heart-broken and you knew when you first saw that person you saw all these red flags and you just went for it anyway, so shame on me."[5][6] Initially the media had speculated the song to be about her ex-boyfriend, singer John Mayer, in light of her previous song "Dear John" from her third studio album, Speak Now (2010).[7] In an interview with MTV, Swift further explained that the song told the story of a good girl falling for the bad boy and continues about a "toxic relationship" between them, resulting in break-up.[8] Talking in-depth about "I Knew You Were Trouble":

"I had just gone through an experience that made me write this song about like knowing the second you see someone like, 'Oh, this is going to be interesting. It's going to be dangerous, but look at me going in there anyway... I think that for me, it was the first time I ever kind of noticed that in myself, like when you are curious about something you know might be bad for you, but you know that you are going to go for it anyway because if you don't, you'll have greater regrets about not seeing where that would go, but I think that for me it all went along with this record that was pushing boundaries, like the sound of this record pushes boundaries, it was writing about something I hadn't written before."[8]

"I Knew You Were Trouble" was released as the third promotional single from Red on October 9, 2012, to iTunes Store for digital download, following "Begin Again" and the album title track.[9][10] The song was later sent for radio adds in the United States on November 27, 2012, to Contemporary hit radio stations, thus becoming the third single from Red, and the second pop single after "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together". A CD single was released through Swift's official website on December 13, 2012; the same day also saw the release of an "I Knew You Were Trouble" single package collection, consisting of a black t-shirt, a red drawstring bag, a spiral notebook, and the CD single, which was individually numbered. In the United Kingdom, "I Knew You Were Trouble" was the second single from the album and was released on December 10, 2012.[11]

In December 2015, media reported that Swift's recording of "I Knew You Were Trouble" had been delivered to the streaming website Spotify, but that its credit and copyright was mistakenly given to Welsh band Lostprophets and lead singer Ian Watkins. The song was removed from the site after three days.[12][13]

Music and lyrics[edit]

The melody of the song was developed by Swift on a piano and she asked Martin and Shellback to make the final sound "as chaotic as that emotion felt".[14] She also wanted to sing the bassline of the song in a particular way and sound, to which Martin and Shellback suggested to infuse a little bit of dubstep.[14] Unaware of the fact that the sound she had asked for in "I Knew You Were Trouble" was actually dubstep, Swift recalled having listened to dubstep music presented to her by British musician Ed Sheeran, who played her the songs popular in the UK clubs. However, she confessed that she had not studied that particular genre of sound further.[14]

"I Knew You Were Trouble" is a departure from Swift's characteristic country songs,[15] and blends pop,[15][16] pop rock,[17] dubstep,[17][18] electropop,[19] dance-pop[20] and teen pop[21] in its composition. The song begins with a typical pop rock and sock hop sound with jaunty guitar sounds, with Swift singing the lyrics which describes the early stages of a romantic affair; the tune soon changes its composition.[6][22][23] Featuring instrumentation from bass guitar, electric guitar and keyboards, the chorus is built around "whirring" sub-bass according to Mark Hogan from Spin magazine, with digitally tweaked vocal hooks and dubstep.[24][25] Jonathan Keefe of Slant Magazine noted that the bass drops "fit naturally into the song's slick pop-rock arrangement and make its melodic hook all the more potent."[26] During the middle eight of the song, most of the background music stops and Swift sings in a shrill voice the lines "you never loved me, or her, or anyone, or anything".[27] The song is set in common time with a moderately fast tempo of 154 beats per minute, and switches to half time during the chorus.[28] It is set in the key of E minor with Swift's vocal ranging from B3 to E5.[28] The song follows an I–V–vi–IV chord progression in the verses and pre-choruses.[28]

The lyrics talk about a relationship which has ended and the protagonist was always aware of the fate, so the heartache is less evident.[29] Maloy felt that the lyrics consisted of more universal sentiments with the line "I knew you were trouble when you walked in/So shame on me now/Flew me to places I'd never been/Now I'm lying on the cold hard ground".[15] According to Stephanie Marcus of The Huffington Post, the chorus and its lyrics echo Swift's sentiments in "Dear John" with the similar themed lyrics like "And I'll look back and regret how I ignored when they said run as fast as you can".[30] There is also indication of romantic rivalry resulting in the end of the relationship with the lines "The saddest fear comes creeping in that you never loved me, or her, or anyone..."[29] Sam Lansky from Idolator observed that the lyrics touched on the romantic story from a broader perspective, unlike Swift's previous songs she had written, giving fewer details about the whole ordeal.[31]

Critical reception[edit]

The song received generally positive reviews from critics, who complimented its mainstream appeal though many noted Swift's experimentation with dubstep was relatively limited. The New York Times critic Jon Caramanica praised the song, calling it "one of [2012's] great pop songs" and noting that the dubstep element "arrives halfway through like a wrecking ball, changing the course not just of the song but also of Ms. Swift's career."[22] Spin's Mark Hogan compared the song positively to lead single "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together", calling it "peppy, uber-catchy pop" and "a far cry from traditional country". The reviewer also commented that "yes, 'Trouble' shows some wub... But as dubstep breakdowns have increasingly become just another feature of the ever-changing pop landscape, like Auto-Tune or 2 Chainz guest spots, what emerges here is merely another sharply crafted Swift kiss-off, in post-David Guetta dance-pop clothing."[24] Ray Rahman of Entertainment Weekly commented in a short review that "I Knew You Were Trouble" had the same kind of "defiant pop-radio oomph that made her fourth album's other big breakup banger, 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,' a number one."[25] Lewis Corner from Digital Spy gave the song four out of five stars and made a comparison that "[l]ike peanut butter and jelly, Taylor Swift and [dubstep] may seem at odds with her angelic image, but the result is surprisingly satisfying".[32] Randall Roberts from Los Angeles Times wrote in-depth about the repercussions of Swift using dubstep in her songs, and her departure from country music with the songs from Red:

It's unfair to criticize a 22-year-old for adapting with the times, though, especially considering the sound in question is merely one part of a precision-built machine that is 'I Knew You Were Trouble'. After all, Swift is the pop moment, and the ways in which she and her peers adapt new sounds and vibes into their work is the lifeblood of pop innovation. Even if the bass drop in question is a conceit – it's not like the song is going to be a hit among dudes rocking to Rusko – the Max Martin/Shellback collaboration is made better by the bass (as is usually the case).

It's for that reason that Swift's use of it has prompted so much discussion. Pop has been sonically conservative for the past half-decade (at least). Any hint at evolution or surprise from the upper echelons of the charts is a welcome development. And even if said surprise is little and relatively inconsequential, it serves as a reminder of pop's fluidity.[33]

MTV News' Jocelyn Vena described the track as "chaotic", commenting on how "the song touches on all genres of music, with moments of straight-up Top 40 pop, country and even dance, with its grinding effects, especially on the bumping chorus."[23] Sam Lansky from Idolator was conflicted but hopeful about the departure from Swift's typical sound, remarking that "the hook isn't quite as immediate as 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together', but Martin's stamp is still all over 'Trouble', from the bright, sparkly instrumentation to the keen, radio-friendly melody. There might be a little part of us that misses Swift's very personal and idiosyncratic songcraft, but it's already clear that it's elsewhere on the album – and the introduction of these all-star producers into the mix is giving Swift a chance to show that she's way more versatile than just a girl with a guitar."[31] Chris Wilman from The Hollywood Reporter dubbed the song as a "great rock & roll song – and an emotional one, though the ear candy elements disguise that at first."[27] Allison Stewart from The Washington Post gave a negative review of the song and its production, saying that "[Max Martin] and partner Shellback infect 'I Knew You Were Trouble' with a wobble right out of Hot Topic's dubstep department. It's gratuitous and weird, done for the sake of saying you did it, and so tentative they might not have bothered."[34] Amanda Dobbins from New York felt that the dubstep inclusion in the song was minimal and described the song as "yet another plucky, vowel-laden Taylor Swift breakup jam!"[35] James Reed from The Boston Globe compared the song and another track from Red called "22", saying that they "vaguely make Swift sound like she's Katy Perry approximating Joan Jett".[36]


Year Organization Award/work Result Ref
2013 MTV Video Music Awards Best Female Video Won [37]
Video of the Year Nominated
Nickelodeon Australian Kids' Choice Awards Aussie's Fave Song Won [38]
Teen Choice Awards Choice Single by a Female Artist Nominated [39]
YouTube Music Awards Response of the Year Nominated [40]
YouTube Phenomenon Won [40]
Radio Disney Music Awards Song of the Year Won [41]
2014 BMI Awards Award-Winning Songs Won [43]
Publisher of the Year Won
Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards Favourite Song Nominated [44]
ASCAP Awards Most Performed Song Won [45]

Commercial performance[edit]

Prior to its release as a promotional single on October 9, 2012, the song debuted at number three on Billboard Hot 100 and number one on Hot Digital Songs with 416,000 copies sold in its first week, Swift's second largest first week singles sales. It became Swift's 14th top ten hit and her 11th song to debut inside the top ten and also her second to chart at number one.[46] After the song debuted in the top ten and became Swift's fourth top ten hit from the album, Swift became one of the few artists with 3 consecutive albums that all included 4 top ten hits. With sales of 416,000 from "I Knew You Were Trouble", Swift became the first artist in digital history to have two songs that debuted with sales of 400,000 or more copies.[46] It also gave Swift two songs in the top five for the first time in her career when "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" held at number five on that week.[47] On November 27, 2012, the song was released as the second pop single from Red. It is Swift's second album single not to be released on country, following "The Story of Us". The song bounced back at the top ten and during the chart week of December 30, 2012 and three weeks later, after the song sold 582,000 copies, it reached its new peak at number two, being blocked by Bruno Mars' "Locked Out of Heaven" from the top spot, and tying the song with her previous released singles, "You Belong with Me" (2009), and "Today Was a Fairytale" (2010) as her second highest charting song on the chart. This became the fourth best single-week digital sales of all time and second best for a track not in its debut frame.[48] The song spent 16 non-consecutive weeks in the top ten, tying with "You Belong With Me" as her longest running top ten hit at the time, and 36 weeks on the chart in total, making it the longest charting single from Red on the chart. The song was certified 5× Platinum by the RIAA in December 2013,[49] and reached 5 million in sales by 2014.[50] In July 2018, "I Knew You Were Trouble" was certified 7× Platinum, for moving over seven million units in the US. As of July 2019, it has sold 5.42 million pure copies in the country.[51]

"I Knew You Were Trouble" debuted at number 38 on the Billboard Pop Songs chart and went to number one in its ninth week, where it stayed for seven consecutive weeks. It is her longest running number-one on that chart.[52] "I Knew You Were Trouble" also became her second number-one song there, following "Love Story," which reached number one for one week on the week ending February 28, 2009.[53] It also became her first number-one on the Billboard Adult Pop Songs chart, where she'd risen as high as number two with "You Belong with Me" and her second number-one song in Billboard Hot 100 Airplay, where it peaked at number one for four weeks.[54] "I Knew You Were Trouble" also became her seventh number-one song on the Billboard Hot Digital Songs chart, which tied her with Britney Spears as the artist with the third most number one hits on that chart.[47] Thirty-three unsolicited plays from Los Angeles radio station KKGO enabled the song to debut at number 55 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart in April 2013; it spent only that week on the chart.[55][56]

The song also attained commercial success worldwide, reaching top ten in ten countries. "I Knew You Were Trouble" became Swift's seventh top-five hit on Canada, reaching number two for two non-consecutive weeks, during its debut week and on January 12, 2013, when it was blocked from the top spot by "Scream & Shout" by Will.i.am featuring Britney Spears. At the time the song tied with "Love Story" and "Shake It Off" as her highest peaking song in United Kingdom after it reached number two on January 19, 2013.[57] "I Knew You Were Trouble" became Swift's seventh top ten hit and second top five hit from Red in Australia after it reached number three. It became her best-charting single in Denmark, reaching number three, surpassing her previous best peak of number 16 with "Love Story".[58] The track also peaked at number three in New Zealand, holding the position for three consecutive weeks. It became her fourth top five hit, and second from the Red album in that country.[59]

Music video[edit]

The music video began filming on November 18, 2012, in Los Angeles, California.[60] Two days later, pictures from the set surfaced online showing Swift with a more "rocker" look and pink-tipped hair.[61] The video was directed by Anthony Mandler, and premiered on December 13, 2012 on MTV as part of the channel's week-long celebration for the singer's birthday. Swift's love interest in the video is played by Reeve Carney who starred in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark as Peter Parker/Spider-Man.[62][63] A 25-second preview was released prior to the video's release on the same day on MTV.com.[64] The video was compared to "Ride" by Lana Del Rey, which also was directed by Mandler and had a "confessional voice over".[65][66] Rolling Stone magazine highlighted the similarities between Swift's music video and the music video for Rihanna's 2011 single, "We Found Love".[67] The video won Best Female Video at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards and was also nominated for Video of the Year.[68][69] It is Swift's second time winning in the former category, after winning in 2009 for "You Belong with Me".


The video starts with Swift speaking in a confessional voice-over. Swift wakes up on an abandoned desert, surrounded by trash and debris, and wearing dark makeup. Flashbacks show Swift and her boyfriend engaging in various stunts, along with a few tender moments, such as when Swift's boyfriend gives her a necklace as a gift. After a while of what seems to be a good relationship, she begins to realize something is wrong. While in his parked car, he leans over to kiss her when some police pull up for him. He starts a fight in a club, which results in the both of them being injured. There are also scenes of her in a grimy small bathroom, looking at herself in the mirror. While at an outdoor concert, she sees him kissing a large number of different girls. He then looks at her in a nonchalant fashion. She falls asleep in the desert where the party is being held, and wakes up alone the next morning. The video ends with her letting go of the necklace he gave her.

Live performances and covers[edit]

Swift premiered the song at the 40th Annual American Music Awards. Swift traveled to Australia on a promotional tour, which featured performances on Today, followed by a performance at the ARIA Music Awards 2012. She also performed at Times Square on New Year's Eve on Rockin Eve. Swift performed the song live at the 2013 BRIT Awards on February 20, 2013. Aaron Parsley of People magazine compared Swift's performance and look with that of American singer Beyoncé during the Super Bowl XLVII halftime show.[70] Biley Niles of Hollywood Life gave the performance a positive review, saying "It was her performance of "I Knew You Were Trouble" during the ceremony that's sure to be talked about for days to come!"[71] She also performed the song at The Graham Norton Show two days later.[72] The song was a regular part of the setlist for Swift's Red Tour as well as The 1989 World Tour.

In October 2012, Megan & Liz covered the song.[73] Walk Off the Earth recorded an a cappella version of the song.[74] Their version has received over 35 million views as of August 2018. Sammy Adams released a remix to the song in November 2012.[75] Tom Odell covered the song for BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge.[76] Ariel Winter also recorded a version of the song.[77] Ed Sheeran also made an acoustic rendition of the song.[78] Jessie J covered the song for BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge.[79] The song has also been covered by rock band The Animal in Me, metal band Past Inhale and metalcore band We Came as Romans, with the latter for Punk Goes Pop 6. The Veronicas covered the song and meshed it with Mad Love when they did their acoustic tour of America.[80]

In June 2013, The Voice competitor Michelle Chamuel covered the song, complete with coaching from Swift. The song reached the iTunes Store top 10 within 24 hours.[81]

A more rock and pop enhanced version was a regular part of the setlist on Swift's 1989 World Tour.

An acoustic version was performed as a surprise song on Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour during the first show in Manchester and the show in Perth.[82] On September 9, 2019, Swift performed the song at the City of Lover one-off concert in Paris, France.[83]

During the 47th Annual American Music Awards, held on November 24, 2019 in Los Angeles, Swift performed a medley of her hits, including "I Knew You Were Trouble".[84]

Track listing and formats[edit]

  1. "I Knew You Were Trouble" – 3:40
  • 2013 Brit Awards
  1. "I Knew You Were Trouble" (Live from the BRITs) – 4:30

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits and personnel adapted from liner notes of Red.[4]



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[146] 6× Platinum 420,000^
Austria (IFPI Austria)[147] Gold 15,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[148] 5× Platinum 400,000*
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[149] Gold 15,000^
Germany (BVMI)[150] Gold 150,000^
Italy (FIMI)[151] Gold 25,000double-dagger
Japan (RIAJ)[152] Gold 100,000^
Mexico (AMPROFON)[153] Gold 30,000*
New Zealand (RMNZ)[154] 2× Platinum 30,000*
Sweden (GLF)[155] Gold 20,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[156] Platinum 30,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[158] 2× Platinum 1,200,000[157]
United States (RIAA)[159] 7× Platinum 7,000,000double-dagger

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

List of radio and release dates with formats and record labels
Country Date Format Label
United States October 9, 2012 Digital download Big Machine Records
November 27, 2012 Mainstream radio
December 13, 2012[160][161] CD single
Italy[162] January 11, 2013 Contemporary hit radio Universal

See also[edit]


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