High Infidelity: An Ode to Karma

Taylor Swift is renowned for her clear narrative communication, typically leaning into detailed storytelling rather than the abstract nature of poetry in her songwriting. So, the vague lyrics in her song “High Infidelity” from her 2022 Midnights album mark a notable departure from her usual style. The song explores the complexities of unfaithfulness with verses made up of disjointed word couplets such as “Lock broken, slur spoken / Wound open, game token,” and a chorus that contains hyper-specific details lacking context, like a cryptic reference to April 29th. Though unusual for Swift, this style suits this particular narrator, who struggles to reconcile being both the betrayer and the betrayed; she is riddled with both self-blame and self-pity, oscillating between admissions like “I bent the truth too far tonight” and justifications like, “he brought me back to life,” and even appearing to address a karmic force directly, framing her partner’s betrayal as a direct consequence of her own past infidelity. This chaotic narration emphasizes the moral ambiguity of love, and leads the story towards a conclusion to which Swift often returns: Karma is inevitable. 

The disjointed word couplets that make up the verses in “High Infidelity” mirror the narrator’s confusion and disbelief of her relationship’s fate. The opening phrase, “lock broken,” subtly indicates that the narrator’s partner has cheated on her – someone has broken into their relationship. This metaphor echoes a recurring Swiftian theme where romantic relationships are portrayed as houses. For example, the “Lover House” in her Lover music video symbolizes the emotional landscape of a relationship, and lyrics like “Privacy sign on the door” from her song “Paris” emphasize the sanctity of a romance. In this light, the “broken lock” imagery becomes a symbol of trust violated. Contrasting this in the next line is the mention of a “game token,” which reduces the relationship from a sturdy home to a mere game. The narrator goes on in this way, saying one thing, then contradicting herself. In the next set of word couplets, “rain soaking” – a classic Swiftian motif for heartbreak, as in songs like “Clean” and “Forever and Always”  – clashes with “blind hoping,” suggesting that the narrator is unwilling to accept the breakup. Through these disjointed word couplets, Swift sets the scene to tell the story of a relationship as it is falling apart, and underscores the complexity of the situation. 

The narrator’s inner turmoil that is emphasized in the verses is caused in part by her grief, but also by her conflicted sense of self-pity and guilt. Though her partner violated her trust, she acknowledges having done the same to others in the past. This is evident in the song title, “High Infidelity,” a play on the phrase, “high fidelity,” defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as “the reproduction of an effect (such as sound or an image) that is very faithful to the original” (High). The title’s twist on this, then, suggests that the song deals with multiple infidelities, and not only that, but that each infidelity mimics one before it. Interestingly, the idea that history repeats itself in the way of betrayal is not novel in the Tayorverse; for instance, in the song “Getaway Car” from Swift’s 2017 Reputation album, Swift’s narrator describes the recurring nature of infidelity: “Don’t pretend it’s such a mystery / Think of the place where you first met me.” However, unlike the detached narration of “Getaway Car,” the narrator in “High Infidelity” confronts her Karmic repercussions. Lines like “I didn’t know you were keeping count” and “I was dancing around it” reveal her realization of the consequences of her actions, and a recognition that her karma is overdue.

The narrator’s shifting focus adds another layer to the song’s narrative. At times, she appears to address past lovers, saying “Put on your records and regret meeting me.” Other times, she seems to engage directly with Karma itself, as if in conversation, saying, “You said I was freeloading / I didn’t know you were keeping count,” indicating her surprise by her Karma. She also attempts to plead her case with Karma, saying, ‘Do you really want to know where I was April 29th? / Do I really have to chart the constellations in his eyes?” and “Do I really have to tell you how he brought me back to life?” In these lines, the narrator acknowledges her infidelity but also defends her actions, arguing that her actions were rooted in genuine love. This justification was foreshadowed apathetically in “Getaway Car” as well, when the narrator says, “I wanted to leave him, I needed a reason.” Though at times in the song she expresses guilt for her wrongdoings, she also challenges the fairness of her retribution, saying “I’d pay if you’d just know me,” or, she would accept her fate if she felt that Karma understood her motives. But she immediately follows this with a confession of her own misjudgment, saying, “Seemed like the right thing at the time.”

After much back-and forth, the song ends with the narrator’s submission to her Karma in the line, “Oh, you were keeping count.” Her realization here marks her shift from defending her actions to ultimately accepting their consequences. This theme of Karma’s inevitability is seen across Swift’s discography in a consistent narrative thread. For example, in “Getaway Car,” she says “Us traitors never win,” while “Look What You Made Me Do,” also from her 2017 album Reputation, more explicitly states, “All I think about is Karma… maybe I got mine but you’ll all get yours.” Similarly, “Long Story Short” from her 2021 album Evermore advises, “Your enemies will defeat themselves before you get the chance to swing,” and “Karma” from her 2022 Midnights album warns, “Karma’s on your scent like a bounty hunter / Karma’s gonna track you down / Step by step, from town to town.” The narrative in “High Infidelity,” though confusing and contradictory, follows suit. The narrator grapples with the complexity of her actions and emotions, and ultimately comes to terms with the inevitability of Karma. This song, though stylistically unique compared to Swift’s other work, thus reinforces a prominent theme of her more recent work.