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Who is Taylor Swift’s London Boy?

Perhaps he’s an account executive at a digital marketing firm who makes her watch rugby in the pub with all his mates he calls by their surnames

Ever since Andie MacDowell asked Hugh Grant, “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed,” in Four Weddings and a Funeral back in 1994, the ‘American Girl meets British Boy’ format has been a surefire hit. The clash of cultures, the unlikely tension between the bumbling, reserved Brit and the forthright, irreverent Yank, has been a winning formula in romantic comedy. Naturally, some of the ‘charm’ lies in two sets of national stereotypes being cross-sold to each other. That said, British people are much more used to American cultural output and vernacular than Americans are to ours, so I’d say at least half of Richard Curtis’s estimated $30 million wealth is directly due to the fact that many Americans are willing to fellate any British person who says “Blimey!” on cue – which is the best explanation for James Corden’s success I have. 

Even I fall for it all: who could fail to be charmed by Hugh Grant (again!) as William Thacker, an independent bookshop owner who falls for Anna Scott, a Hollywood actress who is slumming it in that famous dive, Notting Hill. If younger readers are confused, 20 years ago, when the film first came out, Notting Hill was certainly on its way to gentrification, but was not yet known for being a place where the white kids of double-barrelled millionaires could do balloons and shit themselves openly in the street while their black, working class counterparts get stopped and searched at Carnival every year. Real life celebrity romances between American women and British men are big tabloid sellers, too: think Madonna and Guy Ritchie, or Katy Perry and Russell Brand.

Even the Royals love the drama of a transatlantic tryst. Harry and Meghan are the modern manifestation of this particular cultural fusion, but its power to captivate the global media goes back to the Abdication Crisis of 1938, when Harry’s great great uncle, Edward VIII, gave up his crown for the love of American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Anglo-American romance is such a winning cultural archetype that it’s no surprise that Taylor Swift has decided to have a go at it, given the fact her love life is so central to her public image. Swift is currently dating British actor Joe Alwyn, who lives in London, and now has a track on her new album, Lover, called “London Boy.

“Taylor sings that she met London Boy in Camden and later he ‘took me back to Highgate’ where she ‘met all of his best mates’. I’m sorry, Highgate? In this rental market? I already I smell a posho”

Look, I’m not going to slag Taylor off here. I know she’s divisive, but, as a rule, her music generally slaps. She’s also spent much of the summer trying to show her support for the LGBTQs, with the video for “You Need To Calm Down and a live performance at the historic Stonewall Inn in New York, which I couldn’t face watching, but I’m sure was lovely. As an LGBTQ myself – Taylor, from the bottom of my heart: thank you.

Moving on, it’s worth pointing out that Taylor has dabbled with the intrigue of a British romance before, famously dating Harry Styles in late 2012. If you’re a loser, you’ll remember that at the Grammys in 2013, she performed part of her single “We Are Never Getting Back Together in a British accent in mimicry of Styles. It was basically like watching the emotions that fuelled Beyoncé’s Lemonade album in the clumsy hands of a 14-year-old called Poppy. London Boy has none of this Year 9 melodrama about it – instead, it’s a combined ode to the city itself and the man she loves within it. But just who is Taylor Swift’s “London Boy”? I mean, yes, he is probably inspired by real life BF Joe Alwyn, as discussed, but I like to think that the song’s subject is more of a fictional amalgamation of many different London men rolled into a fictional character. Mostly because thinking that makes this article viable. I’ve decided to take a closer look at the lyrics and my recollections of years of dating men from London to work out just who this guy is.

Taylor sings that she met London Boy in Camden, and later he “took me back to Highgate” where she “met all of his best mates”. I’m sorry, Highgate? In this rental market? I already I smell a posho. This guy lives in the same area of London as Jamie Oliver and a smattering of the better paid Eastenders stars, for fuck’s sake. If, like Taylor Swift’s narrator, you’re walking through Camden Market in the afternoon (arguably one of the best tourist traps to swerve if you’re visiting the capital, after Madame Tussauds) and a man approaches you to say “darling, I fancy you”, he’s most likely drunk, or on spice. If, however, he says he’s from Highgate and so are all of his mates, it’s actually a lot worse than that. I get that the British boys in the ‘British boy-American girl’ setup are almost always upper middle-class fops, but at least they usually have a wacky cavalcade of eccentric mates like Rhys Ifans, you know? This guy’s friends are all from Highgate, i.e. his social circle is entirely composed of rich kids of 90s socialites who still live at their parents’ houses, extremely affluent renters, or dead philosophers in Highgate Cemetery.

London Boy has rocked this girl’s world so fucking hard that now she says she loves “high tea, stories from Uni, and the West End”. Okay, the high tea and West End stuff is classic American tourist fare. I’ll forgive her that. I get it, American girls love it. I took my friend Rose from New York City for tea when she came over a few months ago. It was fun! We took selfies and captioned them “spilling my tea, girl!”. Anyway, the real red flag about Taylor’s London love affair is that she’s been with this guy five minutes and she’s having to listen to his “stories from uni”. Other people’s stories from uni, when you weren’t at that uni, are never good. Never. Especially straight men’s. They’re always about someone called ‘Mouncey’ who got pissed and ‘vommed’ in a girl’s hair when she was sucking him off in 2011. Always. I’m sorry that pop music is trying to delude us into believing that listening to this kind of dreary recollection on repeat now passes for a good time.

“It is entirely feasible to imagine a girl resembling Taylor Swift gauchely holding a beer and attempting to dance in a playsuit and platform heels at a Dave gig while her plummy London Boy starts misusing MLE slang and patois with the staff, apropos of nothing”

Let’s face it, Taylor’s ‘sweet’ song has become a cautionary tale about a carefree American girl who has saddled herself with a privately educated dude who does a job like ‘account executive’ for a marketing and digital strategy firm (a job he acquired through nepotism), who refers to all his friends by their surnames or as ‘mate’, while making her watch rugby in the pub. If she’s really lucky, after the pub, they’ll go back to his ‘mate’s mate’s house’, where four blokes will argue over the music choice for hours and London Boy will “get in” some low quality cocaine. This will continue until 3am, when she and London Boy finally get an Uber home and he’ll narrowly miss penetrating her before passing out. It’s no wonder she’s looking for more, which leads to a series of rather geographically erratic requests to be taken to other places in London (anywhere but Highgate!), including Shoreditch, Soho, Hackney, and Brixton. Yes, Brixton. This song is about two of the most bougie and basic white people alive, but I actually think it is precisely this type who would descend like vultures on Brixton Academy. It is entirely feasible to imagine a girl resembling Taylor Swift gauchely holding a beer and attempting to dance in a playsuit and platform heels at a Dave gig while her plummy London Boy starts misusing MLE slang and patois with the staff, apropos of nothing.

Maybe that’s what’s so cringeworthy about this song and its lyrics. It’s not that Taylor has got it so wrong, but that she’s captured so much that’s right. Tedious pub chat, thoughtless privilege, and a lack of distinctive culture or community is exactly what characterises about half the heterosexual men on Tinder in London in 2019. “London Boy” makes me cringe, not because it’s inaccurate, but because it actually captures the wide-eyed naivety of when I first moved to London in my 20s, believing myself to be at the epicentre of culture and sophistication and having to convince myself I enjoyed the malaise, the disappointing dates, and social scenes – gak, gonorrhoea, and generalised anxiety disorder“London Boy”s sincere ebullience mocks me. Still, as clunky national stereotypes go, it’s a million times better than “Galway Girl”which I think may have actually breached the Good Friday Agreement.