A small sampling of people and organizations that have recently very publicly added actor Jake Gyllenhaal to their shit lists: singer Dionne Warwick, the tabloid press, most of the women I know in real life and follow on Twitter, the app Duolingo, the candy Sour Patch Kids, the New York Mets, and the Empire State Building.
Why does this patchwork coalition of R&B legends and literal buildings suddenly hate Gyllenhaal, previously regarded as a generally likable actor, though one who could stand to bathe a little more often? Well, according to widespread speculation, 11 years ago, he stole the wrong woman’s scarf. And then, on at least one occasion, he didn’t do the dishes. And then he didn’t show up to a birthday party.
This storm of schaden-haal began last week in the lead-up to the much-ballyhooed rerelease of Taylor Swift’s 2012 album, Red. Swift is in the process of rerecording her early albums because of a legal battle over ownership of her music, a project that kicked off with the release of Fearless (Taylor’s Version) in April. But the hype surrounding Red (Taylor’s Version) far eclipsed the first effort. It was teased months ago that this time, among the bonus material on the album would be a long-rumored 10-minute cut of the song “All Too Well,” a longtime fan favorite. Not only that, Swift announced more recently she had also directed a “short film” to accompany it—this song was too big to be contained by a mere music video.
Though Swift herself has never confirmed it (or denied it), that “All Too Well” is about the singer’s relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal has been a cornerstone of Swiftie lore for years. (The pretty well settled fact is that the two dated for a few months—truly, a few months—in late 2010, when she was 20 and he was 29.) The additional materials added to the song is not coy about feeding into and playing up the theory: They are monuments to the myth of Taylor and Jake, validating fans’ years of obsessing over the details in the song’s lyrics that seemed to map perfectly onto the romance, chief among them the infamous scarf. In the song, Swift sings about a scarf she left at her ex’s sister’s house, supposing that he still has it all these years later because it reminds him of her. Fans wondered about the scarf for years, asking Swift about it, even asking Jake’s sister, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, about it, and with these new additions to her canon, Swift seemed to be telling fans that they were right on the money all along—and unofficially declaring it open season on Jake.
For years, the scarf had been a fun idyll in the fandom, one of those pop culture mysteries that would never be solved. Fans were interested, but it had all happened so long ago, and I don’t think anyone but the most militant Swifties held a strong grudge against Gyllenhaal. But the new version of “All Too Well” reopened the wound, and Swift’s additions and flourishes heightened the already potent emotions: She added an almost certainly apocryphal line in the song about how he hypocritically had a “fuck the patriarchy” keychain and one about how he stood her up on her 21st birthday, and in the video, Jake stand-in Dylan O’Brien drops Taylor stand-in Sadie Sink’s hand at a dinner and fights with her about washing the dishes. Some fans cavalierly decided to treat these details like specific allegations against Gyllenhaal. And most prominently, the new material highlighted the age difference between Swift and the man she was singing about: The short film’s O’Brien is 11 years older than his co-star, Sink, and Swift adds pointed lyrics like “And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punchline goes/ ‘I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age.’ ” Gyllenhaal, Swifties were quick to note, is currently dating a woman in her mid-20s. (That’s not even all the Jake-hate grist on this album: There’s a whole new song, “I Bet You Think About Me,” that’s also purportedly about him.)
Swift is most famous for music about young love and breakups, and the rerelease of Red had her fans primed to reconnect with their most primal teenage selves. The impulse to incorporate roasting Jake Gyllenhaal into this emotion-fest is understandable: It feels good to have a person to focus your hate on. And focus their hate fans did, turning the internet into a cavalcade of viral tweets and TikToks at Gyllenhaal’s expense.
Gyllenhaal should enter witness protection, some asserted, or at the very least turn his phone off for the foreseeable future. On TikTok, a club full of people danced to “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”—another song from Red widely believed to be about Gyllenhaal—as clips of him in distress played on large screens. Another fan posted footage of a Kodak printer spitting out glossy headshots of Gyllenhaal covered in X’s or expletives. Yet another TikTok user read Jake Gyllenhaal’s birth chart in an attempt to find an astrological explanation for his cruelty. (His moon is opposed to his Venus, so there you go.)
Why do fans seem so gleeful to annihilate Gyllenhaal specifically, as opposed to all the other bad boyfriends Swift has written songs about? I think it has more to do with how large the song looms among Swift fans than anything about him, though as a target, he does have a certain unlikely appeal: He’s a prestigious actor with a good reputation (as opposed to a known dirtbag like John Mayer), so there’s novelty in exposing that he, too, has been a jerk. (Allegedly.)
Is there any evidence, by the way, that Gyllenhaal has been affected by this? That he’s upset about being an internet persona non grata right now? Nope, and I have to say his ability to stay mum is pretty admirable. The fans, it should be said, do not agree. One odd strain of this whole saga is the idea that Gyllenhaal should give the scarf back to Swift. That’s what Warwick advocated for in her tweet. And when Deux Moi, the anonymously run celebrity gossip Instagram account, claimed to have located the scarf (riiiight), she said she wanted to help get it back to Swift. Do these people think the scarf really exists? I had thought of it as a metaphor, but let’s say it did exist: Why would it coming back to Swift be a victory? In the song, she asserts that her ex’s possession of the scarf is proof that she was right about their love and he still thinks about her. If Gyllenhaal or, worse, someone who wasn’t Gyllenhaal returned the scarf, who’s to say she wouldn’t be a crumpled-up piece of paper lying on the floor all over again?
How serious is all of this, really? Not very, in my estimation. The vast majority of it is and was in good fun. This is not to say there aren’t Swifties out there trollishly spamming Gyllenhaal and his sister’s Instagram accounts with scarf emoji and worse, because I know there are. But the overall vibe here seems more festive, and it’s timeless to side-eye actors for dating younger women. I don’t see a real Gyllenhaal boycott in our future, and some of us will even still quietly crush on him. On the spectrum of “men we suddenly hate,” I would say we hate him more than John Mulaney (whom it’s unclear anyone ever actually hated) but less than Justin Timberlake, whom a lot of people seem pretty ready to write off forever (but who will no doubt continue to be successful regardless). I mean, all these men will continue to be successful, even Mayer when his time comes. Some have suggested it would be nice if we could celebrate Swift’s artistic triumph without having to gang up on anyone. But I don’t see any harm in taking a minute to hate Jake in the irrational way you hate your friends’ exes out of blind loyalty. He’ll probably never admit it, but even he must know in his heart: It’s a really good song.