Picture to Burn

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"Picture to Burn"
Taylor Swift - Picture to Burn.png
Single by Taylor Swift
from the album Taylor Swift
ReleasedFebruary 3, 2008 (2008-02-03)
  • The Castles (Nashville, Tennessee)
  • Sound Cottage (Nashville, Tennessee)
  • Sound Emporium (Nashville, Tennessee)
LabelBig Machine
Producer(s)Nathan Chapman
Taylor Swift singles chronology
"Our Song"
"Picture to Burn"
"Should've Said No"
Music video
"Picture to Burn" on YouTube

"Picture to Burn" is a song recorded by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. It was written by Swift and Liz Rose, and produced by Nathan Chapman. It was released on February 3, 2008 by Big Machine Records and Republic Records as the fourth single from Swift's self-titled debut studio album (2006). It was inspired by the narcissistic and cocky nature of her former high school classmate and ex-boyfriend with whom Swift never established a formal relationship. In retrospect, Swift has stated that she has evolved on a personal level and as a songwriter, claiming she processed emotions differently since "Picture to Burn". The song was chosen as a single based on the audience's reaction to it in concert. Musically, the track is of the country rock genre with prominent usage of guitar, banjo, and drums. The lyrics concern setting fire to photographs of a former boyfriend.

"Picture to Burn" was praised by music critics, some who supported the feminist message. The single was commercially successful, peaking at number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at number three on the country-genre chart. It was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and has sold over one million downloads. In Canada, it charted within the top 50 and was certified gold. The music video for "Picture to Burn" was directed by Trey Fanjoy and features Swift fantasizing about taking revenge on her ex-boyfriend after she discovers him with another woman. The video also has Swift and her band performing with pyrotechnics as a backdrop. Swift promoted "Picture to Burn" via live performances, including numerous while supporting as opening act for various country artists' concert tours. It was also performed on her first headlining tour, the Fearless Tour (2009–10).

Background and release[edit]

"Picture to Burn" was inspired by Swift's high school boyfriend Jordan Alford with whom Swift did not establish a formal romantic relationship. She was his classmate at Hendersonville High School in Tennessee and they went out before he dated classmate Chelsea who would later become his wife. She was frequently frustrated by his narcissistic and cocky nature, and decided to write a song about how she felt at her after school job, writing songs for Sony/ATV Music.[1] It was co-written with Liz Rose on guitar, and given a comedic edge (an idea of Swift's). Swift found herself sitting, playing her guitar, and saying, "I hate his stupid truck that he doesn't let me drive. He's such a redneck! Oh my God!', a line that was ultimately developed into the song's chorus.[1] Swift described it as brutally honest, [2] and cited it as an example of how she expresses herself if someone leaves her heartbroken, offends her, or is hostile towards her.[3] Furthermore, she said "Picture to Burn" became the only song driven by anger on Taylor Swift,[2] a topic she felt most teenage females could identify to. "It's OK to be mad after a breakup or after something goes wrong with a relationship", Swift said.[2] The subject of "Picture to Burn" remains unaware that he is the inspiration behind the song.[1] The song was chosen as a single based on the reactions it garnered at concerts. Swift recalled that, although "Tim McGraw" (2006) was her only single at the time she began opening for Rascal Flatts' Me and My Gang Tour (2006–07), "Picture to Burn" was the performance in which the crowd seemed to be the most enthusiastic with most screaming it "at the top of their lungs".[4]

In retrospect, Swift has stated that the song was something typical of her to say in her teenage years and that it exemplified how she processed emotion at the time, adding "I didn't know anything then."[5] She explained, "I had this song called 'Picture to Burn,' that's talking about how 'I hate your truck,' and 'I hate that you ignored me,' 'I hate you.' Now, the way that I would say that and the way that I would feel that kind of pain is a lot different."[5] Despite her evolving on a personal level and as a songwriter, she claimed not to be regretful of "Picture to Burn", rather happy she was able to demonstrate "those emotions that when you're so angry, you hate everything. It's like recording your diary over the years, and that's a gift", she said.[5] "Picture to Burn" was released as the fourth single from Taylor Swift on February 3, 2008 by Big Machine Records and Republic Records.[6][7]


"Picture to Burn" is a country song with a length of two minutes and 55 seconds.[8] It draws influences from traditional elements of country music, resulting in an uptempo[9] country rock number.[10] Written in the key of G major, the song is set in common time and has a tempo of 106 beats per minute with a strong beat.[11] Swift's boasts with "big vocals"[9] that span two octaves, from the note of G3 to C5.[11] It follows the chord progression G–Am7–C–D.[11] The verses are driven by banjos and drums, meanwhile the refrains' instrumentation is marked by distorted guitars.[9]

Lyrically, "Picture to Burn" is an evisceration of a no-good adolescent male,[12] and is directed towards an ex-boyfriend.[9] About the song's theme, Sean Dooley of About.com commented, "Swift takes no prisoners in her quest to make a former flame feel her wrath for doing her wrong."[9] In the first verse, Swift introduces relationship by stating she acknowledged the fact that her former boyfriend was more in love with himself than with her.[13] The second verse has Swift plotting retaliation: "There's no time for tears / I'm just sitting here planning my revenge / There's nothing stopping me / From goin' out with all of your best friends."[9] For the refrains, she speaks of setting fire to photographs of her ex-boyfriend,[14] concluding them with a musical punch line, "As far as I'm concerned / You're just another picture to burn".[15] About.com found the song's theme to be feminism.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

"Picture to Burn" received critical acclaim. Chris Neal of Country Weekly believed "Picture to Burn", along with "Should've Said No", were the most immediately striking songs on Taylor Swift.[12] Jack Lowe of About.com said the song was fun, and that females would specially enjoy it.[16] Kate Kiefer of Paste magazine selected the track as one of Swift's six best singles, and stated, "She really shows her age in this one".[15] Roger Holland of PopMatters commented that the song was the epitome of how, according to him, Swift was more given in uptempo tempos, and that it served as indication to the nature of Swift's debut album. Holland added, "'Picture to Burn' is two parts Ashlee Simpson to one part Amy Dalley, with an overly familiar guitar melody that could have been lifted directly from the latter."[13] Top music critic Robert Christgau selected "Picture to Burn" as a highlight on Taylor Swift.[17] Josh Love of The Village Voice attributed the song to be one of the reasons how the singer rose to stardom. He called it a "bluntly relatable composition [...] that connected [Swift] with teens from across the spectrum."[18] Patrick McDonald of The Seattle Times called it a "clever, sassy, upbeat song"[14] Alison Bonaguro of the Chicago Tribune said the song was a "clean-but-still-rowdy" number for Swift.[19] Kevin Courtney of The Irish Times mentioned "Picture to Burn" among powerful revenge songs and noted the lyric "Go and tell your friends that I'm obsessive and crazy / That's fine / I'll tell mine you're gay" (a lyric later changed in subsequent releases of the song to the less inflammatory "you won't mind if I say"). He supported the sentiment behind the song and wrote, "You go girl".[20]

Commercial performance[edit]

On the week ending March 1, 2008, "Picture to Burn" debuted at number ninety-one on the Billboard Hot 100.[21] The following week it ascended to number eighty-three,[22] and ten weeks later, on the week ending May 17, 2008, it reached its peak at number twenty-eight.[23] The song's final appearance on the chart was on the week ending July 12, 2008 at number eighty-nine,[24] after spending a total twenty weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.[23] The single has been certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.[25] As of November 2017, "Picture to Burn" has sold 1.7 million copies in the United States.[26]

On the week ending January 26, 2008, the single debuted at number fifty-two on the Billboard Hot Country Songs.[27] On its eleventh week, it entered the top ten at number nine, thus giving Swift her fourth consecutive top ten hit from her debut album.[23] Six weeks later, on the week ending May 17, 2008, it reach its peak at number three on the chart.[23] It spent a total of twenty weeks on Hot Country Songs.[23]

On the week ending March 15, 2008, "Picture to Burn" debuted at number eighty-five on the Canadian Hot 100.[28] It reached its peak at number forty-eight on the chart on the week ending May 3, 2008.[23] "Picture to Burn" spent a total of sixteen weeks on the Canadian Hot 100.[23] The single was certified gold by Music Canada for sales of 40,000 digital downloads.[29]

Music video[edit]

The accompanying music video for "Picture to Burn" was directed by Trey Fanjoy, who directed all three of Swift's prior music videos. Swift decided to collaborate with Fanjoy once again because she felt that since Fanjoy directed her prior videos, she knew how to deviate from it and what new grounds to cover.[4] As opposed to their previous collaborations, the video was conceptualized to be edgy and comical.[2] Swift herself was styled edgier than usual, sporting clothing, hair, and jewelry she was not accustomed to.[2][4] She was intended to wear thigh-length boots, but was not able to find a pair to correspond with her height. Instead, her stylist sewed black fabric to strap onto black high heels to give the illusion of thigh-length boots.[2] The video's plot was conjectured to involve rampaging and seeking revenge on her ex-boyfriend.[4] Swift chose football player Justin Sandy to portray her ex-boyfriend in the video, believing he had a classic and suspiciously perfect demeanor;[30] she described him as "real life Ken".[4] Swift desired to portray her backup band's sense of humor, and thus enlisted them for the video. Swift's real-life best friend Abigail Anderson also made a cameo appearance in the video.[4]

The video was filmed over the course of two days in Nashville, Tennessee. On the first day, performance scenes were filmed inside the Sommet Center (now named the Bridgestone Arena), and involved pyrotechnics.[4] Swift was at first nervous about the shoot, as it was her first experience with pyrotechnics. "There are some things I'm nervous about. My hair could very well catch on fire", she said.[4] She was later assured of its safety and explained to about the discrepancy in the distance of the fire in reality than on camera: on camera, it appears to be quite close to her, whereas, in actuality, it was placed far behind her.[4] On the second day, the remaining scenes were filmed at a suburban house in Nashville. Props were provided by the video personnel.[4] On the set, Fanjoy suggested using binoculars for the primary scenes, but Swift disagreed, believing it could come across as cheesy depending on how it was filmed. She ultimately succumbed to the idea due to Fanjoy explaining how it would translate on camera.[4]

The video premiered on March 14, 2008 on AOL's The Boot.[31] It commences with Swift and her best friend in a grey 2009 Ford Mustang GT 45th Anniversary Edition, parked behind a tree. Swift reminiscences, looking at a photograph of her and her ex-boyfriend together, and states, "Would you look at how happy we were back then? I can't believe he turned out to be such a jerk." Anderson is then seen ogling outside the window with binoculars, and spots Swift's ex-boyfriend and another woman arriving in a black late 90s Ford F-150 pick-up truck. She notes the other woman is driving the truck, and Swift states angrily he never allowed her to drive it. As Swift's ex-boyfriend and the woman start frolicking inside the truck, the music begins and the video transcends to a concrete room where the singer (clothed in a grey, one-shoulder mini-dress and black leather, thigh-length boots) is playing an electric guitar, alongside her backup band. During the song's chorus, fire ignites behind them. Afterwards, the band is depicted entering a house furtively, using flashlights. Swift is sitting on a brown couch, sporting a black tank top, black leather pants and a beehive hairdo, as the band ransacks the house. They throw darts at photographs of Swift's ex, envelop all of his furniture with toilet paper, mess his mirror with the word "loser", lick his utensils and spit into his mouthwash. Suddenly, the ex-boyfriend and the woman are shown approaching the house, and, seeing this, Anderson informs Swift and the band via handheld transceiver. He enters the house and discovers it was ransacked, and repeats the name "Taylor". The video then transitions to Anderson and Swift inside the Ford Mustang, with Anderson also repeating "Taylor". She then suggests leaving, and Swift says, "You know what? I'm over it." The video concludes with the photograph of Swift and her ex-boyfriend in flames, thrown in the sidewalk. Cut-scenes feature Swift and her band performing in the concrete room, Swift singing on the couch, or Swift dancing in front of a backdrop of a shower of sparks. As of May 20, 2021, the video has 109 million views on YouTube.


Year Organization Award Result Ref.
2008 SESAC Nashville Music Awards Country Performance Activity Awards Won
2009 BMI Awards Award-Winning Songs Won [33]
Publisher of the Year Won

Live performances[edit]

Swift performing "Picture to Burn" on the Fearless Tour in 2010.

Swift first performed the track at Billboard headquarters in 2006.[34] She then performed "Picture to Burn" as she opened for Rascal Flatts on several dates, from October 19 to November 3, 2006, included on the Me and My Gang Tour (2006–07).[35] Swift performed the song dressed in a black, knee-length dress and red cowboy boots with a design of a skull and crossbones across it, as she roamed around the stage.[36] She also performed the song when she served as opening act on twenty dates for George Strait's 2007 United States tour,[37] and selected dates for Brad Paisley's Bonfires & Amplifiers Tour in 2007.[38][39] During mid-2007, Swift embarked as the opening act on several dates for Tim McGraw's and Faith Hill's joint tour, Soul2Soul II Tour (2006–07), where she again performed the song.[40] Swift performed "Picture to Burn" to close while she was again opening for Rascal Flatts for their Still Feels Good Tour in 2008.[41] While promoting another single from Taylor Swift, Swift executed her first televised performance of "Picture to Burn" was on October 10, 2007 on Regis & Kelly.[42] She then performed the song at a concert at the Apple Store in SoHo, New York, which was recorded and released as a live extended play (EP), iTunes Live from SoHo, exclusively sold through the iTunes Store.[43] Commencing promotion for it in early and mid-2008, Swift performed "Picture to Burn" on Studio 330 Sessions,[44] Good Morning America,[45] the 2008 CMT Music Awards,[46] and Nashville Star.[47] Since completing promotion for Taylor Swift and its corresponding singles, the singer has performed the song on Clear Channel Communications's Stripped,[48] at the 2009 CMA Music Festival,[49] at the 2009 V Festival,[50] and at the Australian charity concert Sydney Sound Relief.[51]

Swift performed "Picture to Burn" to close the main set, before commencing the encore[52] on all venues of her first headlining concert tour, the Fearless Tour (2009–10). During 2009 performances, Swift donned a black cocktail dress with sparkly ornaments along the stomach,[53] as she roamed throughout the stage, which was projected with images of searing flames, singing the song. In the 2010 extension, Swift bared a spangly, violet mini-dress.[52] Jim Harrington of the San Jose Mercury News believed "Picture to Burn"'s performance on April 11, 2010 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California demonstrated how versatile Swift was as a performer, feeling equally at gusto with tender ballads and uptempo rockers.[10] Of the performance at the tour's final concert on June 5, 2010 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Jay N. Miller of The Patriot Ledger said, "She strutted down the catwalk chastising another hapless ex-boyfriend".[52] Attending the same concert, Molly Trust of Billboard deemed the performance one of the most energized moments of the night,[54] while Susan McDonald of The Sun Chronicle deemed it simple, yet the most powerful.[55]

Official versions[edit]

  • Album Version – 2:55
  • Radio Edit – 2:55 (New Album Version/Beautiful Eyes Version)
  • Rock Version – 2:55
  • Alternate Version – 3:00
  • Karaoke Version – 2:56



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[62] Gold 40,000*
United States (RIAA)[63] 2× Platinum 2,000,000double-dagger

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


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External links[edit]