Cruel Summer Deconstructed
Cruel Summer Deconstructed

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift's "Cruel Summer" stands as a testament to the resilience of great song, proving that even adverse circumstances cannot suppress its eventual success. Originally featured on Swift’s 2019 album, Lover, and slated for single release in 2020, the trajectory of "Cruel Summer" was altered due to the global onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. This unforeseen event coincided with Swift's artistic shift toward a more organic and acoustic folk-leaning direction, as evidenced by her acclaimed albums folklore and evermore.

Since then, Swift began embracing her pop side once again, both with her Taylor’s Version reissues and the 2022 electropop/synthpop heavy, retro 1980s-tinged album, Midnights. These releases collectively paved the way for the resurgence of "Cruel Summer,” which gained further visibility as the sophomore song in her Eras Tour set list, resulting in increased traction on streaming platforms. With fan interest high, the song was finally, and strategically, released as a single in the summer of 2023 (June), subsequently hitting the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 in July.

Written by Swift, Jack Antonoff and St. Vincent, “Cruel Summer” embodies the hallmark qualities of a chart-topping pop hit. Vocally, the song adheres to the K.I.S.S. ME principle (keep it simple, singable and memorable), possesses expert vocal production and features a captivating vocal performance from Swift. Adding to the song’s catchiness are its three distinct vocal hooks: a recurring vocoder-infused "yeah” that is featured at three strategic points in the song, the “down below” song title hook and accompanying nonsense vocal in the chorus, and the shouted vocals in the bridge that struck Olivia Rodrigo to such a degree that she incorporated the bridge’s essence in her 2021 hit, “déjà vu,” resulting in additional writing credits.

Structurally, "Cruel Summer" seamlessly blends contemporary pop trends with discernible deviations that underscore its uniqueness. Notable among these differentiating qualities is the presence of two bridges, a departure from the conventional single bridge format, and its significantly shorter-than-average verses, which helped put the song in line with mainstream music’s gravitation towards shorter runtimes.

The expertly crafted, retro-tinged, synth-heavy instrumental arrangement creates a highly engaging musical backdrop that keeps the listener engaged from start to finish and complements the narrative. Furthermore, the song imparts a sense of familiarity to the listener through its incorporation of electropop/synthpop elements and a nostalgic touch of the retro 1980s within its sonic palette. These musical nuances align with micro trends that played a role in shaping notable Hot 100 Top 10 hits both in 2019 and 2023.

"Cruel Summer" by Taylor Swift stands as a testament to the timeless power of exceptional music. Its journey from initial creation to eventual prominence encapsulates the fusion of strategic timing, musical prowess, and an unswerving connection with a devoted audience.

Since its release, “Cruel Summer” has attained global charting success. In the US, it peaked at #3 in the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Mainstream Top 40 and Adult Top 40 charts. Abroad, it cracked the top 10 on numerous charts, hitting the top spot in Canada, the Philippines and Singapore.

Note that this report is published in segments. Stay tuned for our next segment detailing "Cruel Summer's" vocal melody and production.


Artist: Taylor Swift
Song: "Cruel Summer"
Songwriters: Jack Antonoff, St. Vincent, Taylor Swift
Producers: Jack Antonoff, Taylor Swift
Mastering Engineer: Randy Merrill
Mixer: Serban Ghenea
Record Label: Republic
Primary Genre: Pop
Influences: Retro (1980s), Electropop/Synthpop
Length: 2:55
Form: I-A-PC-B-T-A-PC-B-C-B-C-O
Key: A Major
Tempo: 85 BPM
First Chorus: 0:28 / 16% of the way into the song
Intro Length: 0:05
Electronic vs. Acoustic Instrumentation: Primarily Electronic
Prominent Instruments: Bass (Synth), Drums/Percussion (Primarily Electronic), Synth (Non-Bass)
Primary Lyrical Theme: Love/Relationships
Title Appearances: "Cruel Summer" appears six times in the song

"Cruel Summer" Section Abbreviation Key
I = Intro | A = Verse | PC = Pre-Chorus | B = Chorus | C = Bridge
“D” = Departure | T = Turnaround | O = Outro
Music notation and lyric excerpts are reproduced here under Fair Use terms, for the purposes of commentary and criticism.

Song Structure


"Cruel Summer" possesses structural qualities that are both in line with, and depart from, recent Hot 100 Top 10 non-hip hop trends. Notable commonalities include its easy-to-follow form, the inclusion of two verses and three choruses, beginning with an intro and concluding with an outro, and running on the shorter end of the spectrum, among others.

However, the song also goes against the grain in certain key areas as well. Two of the most notable are the inclusion of two bridge “D” (departure) sections as opposed to one, and its significantly shorter-than-average verses.

Song Sections

"Cruel Summer" contains 12 sections in its framework:

  • One intro section
  • Two verse sections
  • Two pre-chorus sections
  • Three chorus sections
  • One turnaround section
  • Two bridge sections
  • One outro section

Structural Anomalies

Two bridge "D" (Departure) sections

While the inclusion of a “D” (departure) section is highly common in non-hip hop hits, with the bridge being most popular, the inclusion of two bridge “D” sections is not. "Cruel Summer" features two lyrically and melodically similar bridges following choruses 2 and 3. The first provides a departure and development against the two verse – pre-chorus – chorus progressions that precede it, while the second reinforces the catchy section as the song heads into the bookending outro.


Cruel Summer Form

Time and Percent into the Song When Sections Occur

"Cruel Summer"

Cruel Summer Time and Percent

Core A-B-A-B-D-B Form in Hot 100 Top 10 Hits (Q3 2022 – Q2 2023)

"Cruel Summer’s" core sections (verse, chorus and first bridge) occur slightly to moderately earlier than the Hot 100 Top 10 average. This is mainly due to its notably shorter-than-average verse lengths (see below for details).

Song & Section Length

Song Length

"Cruel Summer" clocks in at 2:55, 17 seconds shorter than the mid-year 2023 average of 3:12. Over the past five years, the under three-minute range has generally been rising in popularity, peaking at 37% of non-hip hop Hot 100 Top 10 hits in 2022 before dropping slightly to one-third in the first half of 2023.

Song Length Ranges of Non-Hip Hop Hot 100 Top 10 Hits: 2018 – Q2 2023

Cruel Summer Song Length Range

Section Length

"Cruel Summer’s" sections range from 1 to 9 bars in length. The turnaround and bookending intro and outro are the shortest sections in the song, landing at 1 and 2 bars, respectively. The pre-choruses and verses follow at 4 bars, the choruses and second bridge at 8 bars, and the first bridge clocking in the longest at 9 bars, with the extra bar serving as a “Last Chorus Super S.I.A. (Section Impact Accentuator)” technique.

Note that "Cruel Summer’s" section runtimes are relatively in line with non-hip hop Hot 100 Top 10 averages in the first half of 2023 save for the verses and outro, which clock in at 15 seconds and 16 seconds shorter, respectively. 

Cruel Summer Section Lengths

*Note: Section lengths may be rounded.

Total Section Breakdown

Cruel Summer Section Composition

*Note that numbers may be rounded, resulting in slightly more or less than 100% of the song’s total composition

As is commonly the case with hit songs, the greatest amount of time in "Cruel Summer" is spent in the chorus, comprising 39% of its total composition. Far less common, however, is having the bridges follow as opposed to the verses, comprising 27% and 13%, respectively. Following the pre-choruses, which also comprise 13%, the intro and outro round things out with just 3% of the total song each.

In terms of trends, "Cruel Summer" allocates notably more time to the bridge (mainly due to there being two as opposed to one) and notably less time to the verse and outro. The other sections are relatively in line with Top 10 averages (within 5% or less).

"Cruel Summer" / Q3 2022 – Q2 2023 Non-Hip Hop Hot 100 Top 10 Average Time Allocation

  • Intro: 3% / 7%
  • Verse: 13% / 29%
  • Pre-Chorus: 13% / 14%
  • Chorus: 39% / 34%
  • Bridge: 27% / 9%
  • Outro: 3% / 11%

Tempo and Key


"Cruel Summer" sits at 85 BPM, 17 BPM slower than the mid-year 2023 non-hip hop average of 102 BPM. Other notable, diverse recent hits that fall into 80-89 tempo range include un x100to and the #1s Bad Habit and Kill Bill.

Tempo Range in Non-Hip Hop Hot 100 Top 10 Hits: 2018 – Q2 2023 (Top 5)

Cruel Summer Tempo Range


"Cruel Summer" is in the key of A major. Major tonalities in non-hip hop songs have been in the majority since 2019, accounting for 57% in the first half of 2023.

Major vs. Minor Keys in Non-Hip Hop Hot 100 Top 10 Hits: 2018 – Q2 2023

Cruel Summer Key

Genres & Influences

Genre & Influence Blend


X: The influence appears prominently within the stanza and/or section
x: The influence appears minimally within the stanza and/or section
Cruel Summer Genres and Influences Table

"Cruel Summer" features a combination of pop, electropop/synthpop and retro 1980s influences that are put into effect by the qualities of the vocals, instruments, lyrics, and the overall production.

The song’s main overarching influence, and primary genre, is pop. Notable pop elements include its catchy K.I.S.S. ME (Keep It Simple, Singable and Memorable) melodies and hooks, familiar pop structure, relatable love/relationships-themed subject matter, and polished production, to name a few.

In addition, "Cruel Summer" possesses a strong electropop/synthpop influence, which is put into effect by its heavy use of synths. Some of these synths possess a classic timbre, which along with the mechanical synth bass pattern and use of vocoder provides the song with an underlying early-to-mid retro-1980s vibe. 

Blending In & Standing Out in the Hot 100 Top 10

"Cruel Summer’s" expert balance of pop, electropop/synthpop and retro 1980s influences enabled it to both blend in and stand out in the Hot 100 Top 10. While pop in general has been a constant influence in essentially all non-hip hop Hot 100 Top 10 hits over the years, electropop/synthpop and retro 1980s influences are more micro trends that rise and fall in popularity.

Electropop/synthpop, while present in nearly two-thirds of songs in 2018, plummeted to around one-fifth of songs by the end of 2020, before rising again to just over one-third of songs in 2022 and continuing into the first half of 2023. In addition to "Cruel Summer," recent representatives include the #1s "As It Was" (Harry Styles), "Like Crazy" (Jimin), and Taylor Swift’s other recent megahit, "Anti-Hero."

Retro 1980s is even more niche, generally accounting for one-fifth of songs or less over the past decade save for spikes in 2015 (25% of songs) and 2022 (31% of songs). However, save for 2020, where the 1970s rose in popularity, the 1980s has consistently been the most popular decade among retro-tinged hits. Other recent representatives include the aforementioned "Anti-Hero," "As It Was" and "Like Crazy," and the Justin Bieber and The Kid LAROI’s #1 smash, "Stay."

Cruel Summer was also primed for success in 2020, when it was originally slated for release as a single but was put on the backburner due to the emerging Covid-19 epidemic. In the year prior, electropop/synthpop was peaking at just over two-thirds of songs, and retro 1980s, while far less popular at just 13%, was present in notable hits such as "Bad At Love" (Halsey), "Boo’d Up" (Ella Mai), "Never Be The Same" (Camila Cabello) and "Youngblood" (5 Seconds Of Summer).

Influences in the Hot 100 Top 10: 2018 – Q2 2023 (Outside the Hip Hop/Rap Primary Genre)

Blue: Pop Green: Electropop/Synthpop | Red: Retro (1980s)

Energy & Dynamics

Energy Arrangement

S.I.A. (Section Impact Accentuator) Key

Downward Red S.I.A.: The full accompaniment is removed from the mix, resulting in a brief reduction in energy
Downward Yellow S.I.A.: A part of the accompaniment is removed from the mix, resulting in a brief reduction in energy
Upward Green S.I.A.: The accompaniment creates a brief rise in energy

Cruel Summer Energy Graph


“Cruel Summer’s” loudness levels generally match the song’s three energy “waves,” progressing from low to high across each sectional progression. Levels range from -16.5 in the outro (quietest) to -7.5 in the chorus “hook centers” and climactic second bridge (loudest). Note that the higher loudness levels in these song-defining sections allows them to further stand out, connect and bolster the listener’s emotional connection with the song.

Cruel Summer LUFS Graph
Cruel Summer Full Waveform

Energy: Section-By-Section

Wave 1: Intro (I) – Chorus 1 (B1)

Intro (I)
In the same vein as many hit songs, “Cruel Summer’s” intro features one of the lowest energy levels in the song, which provides room for growth in subsequent sections. This is due to the sparseness of the arrangement, which consists solely of vocoder, low-octave synth bass, kick, and snare.

Note that in lieu of density, these elements establish the groove right from the get-go, providing a rhythmic pulse that carries over into the subsequent verse.

Verse 1 (A1)
Following the sparse intro, the verse kicks energy up a notch with the introduction of Swift’s lead vocal, as well as additional drum layers on the backbeat and a dark synth pad. In bar 3, a pulsing synth and electric guitar are added to the mix, heightening tension leading into the ensuing pre-chorus.

Cruel Summer Verse 1 Waveform

Pre-Chorus 1 (PC1)
The pre-chorus slightly bumps up energy over the verse, most notably in the second half of the section. Providing this rise is the more animated and impassioned quality of Swift’s vocal delivery, the tension-heightening, pulsing synth and electric guitar becoming a bit more prominent in the mix, and the focus on the tense five (V) chord leading into the chorus. 

Cruel Summer Pre Chorus 1 Waveform

S.I.A. #1

The song’s first S.I.A. (section impact accentuator) subtly bolsters the arrival of the first chorus. It’s put into effect through a subtle white noise riser on the last beat of the pre-chorus, followed by a prominent crash and hi hat roll punctuation on the downbeat of the chorus.

Chorus 1 (B1)
Following the tension-heightening pre-chorus, chorus 1 thrusts the song’s energy to its first peak, providing the listener with the first of three energy “payoffs.” This is a result of both instrumental and vocal developments, including the dense “wall” of synth and drum layers, Swift’s highly impassioned vocal delivery, and the additional lead and background vocal layers.

Note that big, high-energy first choruses like this have become somewhat of a rarity in the Hot 100 Top 10 compared to years past, evident in hits such Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” (2011), Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” (2013), and Sia’s “Chandelier” (2014), to name a few. However, here it makes sense as it effectively supports the sentiment of the lyrics to create effective prosody and bolster’s the listener’s emotional connection with the song.  

Cruel Summer Chorus 1 Waveform

Wave 2: Turnaround (T) – Chorus 2 (B2)

Turnaround (T)
Following the high energy first chorus, the turnaround notably brings the song’s energy back down at the beginning of “wave 2.” This is due to a reversion to the sparse intro arrangement, which is now processed with copious reverb, making it sound thinner and more distant in comparison. This dramatic shift serves to engage the listener at a heightened level following four consecutive sections of energy growth, and provide room for the song to build in subsequent sections.

Cruel Summer Turnaround Waveform

Verse 2 (A2)
Following the brief, low energy turnaround, verse 2 kicks the song’s energy back up with a denser, more present arrangement. While the section features highly similar qualities as its verse 1 counterpart, it uniquely adds new elements including prominent brass synth stabs and high, lead-harmonizing background vocals, which provide verse 2 with a slightly higher energy level in comparison. 

Cruel Summer Verse 2 Waveform

Pre-Chorus 2 (PC2)
Similar to the relationship between verses, pre-chorus 2 features a slightly higher energy level compared to its pre-chorus 1 counterpart. This is mainly due to the inclusion of the brass synth stabs, which weren’t featured the first time around. 

Cruel Summer Pre-Chorus 2 Waveform

S.I.A. #2

The last two beats of pre-chorus 2 employ a partial accompaniment pull S.I.A., removing the main drum groove from the mix, along with the addition of a white noise and reverse synth riser. Together, they notably heighten tension and anticipation leading into the second chorus, which is marked by the familiar crash and hi hat roll on the chorus’ downbeat.

Chorus 2 (B2)
Following the pronounced S.I.A. at the end of pre-chorus 2, chorus 2 hits with increased perceived impact and energy compared to the first time around due to the more notable contrast between S.I.A.s. However, as a whole, the second chorus’ energy is largely on par with chorus 1 due to their similar arrangements, save for a subtle bump in stanza 2 due to the additional vocal layers and the addition of the bright synth arpeggio. This takes the song’s energy to its second peak. 

Cruel Summer Chorus 2 Waveform

Wave 3: Bridge 1 (C1) – Outro (O)

Bridge 1 (C1)
Following the energy peak in chorus 2, the bridge 1 “D” section begins “wave 3” with a slight reduction in energy in its first stanza mainly due to the less dense instrumental and vocal arrangements. However, this is offset by a rise in rhythmic energy, put into effect by the driving qualities of the pronounced synth arpeggio, drums and Swift’s lead vocal, along with the iconic shouted/sung hybrid vocal at the end.

Stanza 2 then follows with a slightly higher energy, put into effect by the addition of a background vocal pad along with swelling synths, drum fill and shouted/sung vocals at the end that culminate in the “Last Chorus Super S.I.A.” technique leading into chorus 3 (see below for details).

Cruel Summer Bridge 1 Waveform

S.I.A. #3

Following the engagement-heightening synth swells, drum fill and shouted vocals toward the end of the bridge, an extra bar is uniquely tacked on that removes all the instrumental elements from the mix, leaving only Swift’s shouted/sung hybrid lead vocal. This unexpected moment is what Hit Songs Deconstructed calls the “Last Chorus Super S.I.A.” technique, which serves to notably heighten engagement leading into the final climactic chorus in the song.

Furthermore, note that this brief lull was well warranted and highly important considering that there are no other sectional energy lulls in “wave 3” save for the outro (note that the most common place to bring down a song’s energy is in all, or most of, a “D” section such as a bridge). Albeit brief, without it, the listener would remain in sustained moderate to high energy for numerous sections, reducing the impact of the last chorus and potentially resulting in decreased engagement.

Chorus 3 (B3)
Chorus 3 hits with the greatest impact of all the choruses following the full accompaniment pull “Last Chorus Super S.I.A.” (note that the impact of each subsequent chorus has gotten more pronounced as the song progressed). Stanza 1 reprises the dense chorus 2, stanza 2 instrumental arrangement, while stanza 2 increases energy with additional background vocal layers. 

Cruel Summer Chorus 3 Waveform

S.I.A. #4

In between the third chorus and second bridge, a dark electronic hi hat provides a brief fill that provides separation between sections of similar accompaniment, heightening the listener’s engagement.

Bridge 2 (C2)
Bridge 2 takes the song’s energy to its grand peak. It does so by combining the dense chorus accompaniment with the driving bridge 1 vocals and shouted/sung punctuations, along with the forward motion of additional hi hat layers. The section culminates in a swell similar to that at the end of bridge 1, taking intensity and excitement to a climax before heading into the ensuing outro. 

Cruel Summer Bridge 2 Waveform

S.I.A. #5

In between bridge stanzas, the bright electronic hi hat provides a brief fill that serves to subtly provide separation between stanzas and heighten the listener’s engagement.

Outro (O)
Following the song’s energy peak in the second bridge, the outro winds the song down with a notable drop in energy through a reversion to the thinned-out arrangement that defines the intro and turnaround. 

Cruel Summer Outro Waveform

Instrumental Arrangement

Cruel Summer Logic Arrangement

Primary Instruments


Kick (Electronic)
The electronic kick drum is introduced in the intro and drives the groove forward for the duration of the song. It is processed with notable compression to create a punchy timbre that cuts through the mix.

Bright Snare (Electronic)
The bright electronic snare possesses a thin, dry timbre and provides a cohesive backbeat thread throughout the entire song.

Gritty Snare (Electronic)
The gritty electronic snare is layered in with the bright snare in all sections save for the intro and outro. It possesses a bit-crushed distorted timbre and is treated with reverb.

Snare Rimshot (Electronic)
The electronic snare rimshot is initially heard in verse 1 and is present in every subsequent section save for the turnaround. It punctuates the backbeat with a unique, metallic, pitched timbre that stands out in the mix.

Reverberant Claps (Electronic)
The electronic claps are heard in the choruses and bridge 2. Their reverberant, dark timbre contrasts the otherwise brighter and dryer backbeat and contributes to the sections’ dense, climactic arrangements.

Bright Closed Hi Hat (Electronic)
The bright electronic closed hi hat is heard exclusively in the chorus and bridge sections. In each chorus, it provides a subtle roll punctuation to the beginning of each stanza, while in the bridge sections its role is more notable, contributing to the groove throughout. It features a bright, thin timbre, is panned slightly to the right and is featured at a low level in the mix.

Dark Closed Hi Hat (Electronic)
The dark electronic closed hi hat provides a fill between stanzas 1 and 2 of bridge 2 and features a dark, gritty timbre.

Closed Hi Hat (Acoustic)
The acoustic closed hi hat is featured solely in the bridge sections. It provides further rhythmic motion to the section, blending with the closed electronic hi hat.

Open Hi Hat (Acoustic)
The acoustic open hi hat is featured solely in the bridge sections, possessing a gritty timbre identical to its closed counterpart. It punctuates the “and” of beat 1, subtly heightening interest of each section’s rhythm.

Crash (Acoustic)
The acoustic crash is heard punctuating the downbeat of each stanza in the choruses and second bridge at a relatively low level in the mix. 


Low-Octave Staccato Synth Bass
The low-octave staccato synth bass is initially heard in the intro and appears in every subsequent section save for the choruses and bridges. It possesses a saw-wave timbre that is reminiscent of commonly heard Moog synth basses from the 1980s and plays a steady, mechanical sixteenth-note-driven rhythm, also in line with the 1980s.

High-Octave Staccato Synth Bass
The high-octave staccato synth bass is heard in the chorus and bridge sections. It features a filtered saw-wave timbre that effectively balances a strong articulation with an unobtrusive tone, providing an underlying mid-range synth pulse to the arrangement.

Sub Bass Synth
The sub bass synth is featured in the chorus and bridge sections, providing a sustained, sine wave foundation to the low end of the mix.


Vocoder (Instrumental)
Vocoder serves in more of an instrumental, textural capacity in the choruses and second bridge compared to its vocal hook focus in the intro, turnaround and outro.

Dark Synth Pad
The dark synth pad is initially heard in the first verse, and appears in every subsequent section save for the turnaround, second verse and pre-chorus, and outro. It possesses a filtered, retro-tinged timbre and provides subtle rhythmic and harmonic motion underneath the groove.

Dark Synth Pad (Filtered)
A low-level, heavily-filtered version of the dark synth pad appears in the second verse and pre-chorus.

Pulsing Synth
The pulsing synth is heard in the verses and pre-choruses. It performs a sixteenth-note pattern and possesses a bright timbre that gradually increases in volume leading into first and second choruses.

Bright Synth Pad
The bright synth pad is heard in the choruses and second bridge. It provides further harmonic support with a notably high-end focused, digital, resonant timbre that contrasts from the warm, rich sounds of the brass and dark pads.

Brass Synth Pad
The brass synth pad appears in the chorus and bridge sections. It features a saw wave-timbre reminiscent of a Roland Juno brass patch that further fills out the dense synth-driven arrangement.

Brass Synth Stabs
The brass synth stabs appear solely in the second verse and pre-chorus sections. They are featured prominently in the mix, providing harmonic support while bolstering the retro 1980s influence with a timbre also reminiscent of a Roland Juno.

Bright Synth Arpeggio
The bright synth arpeggio is initially heard in the second stanza of chorus 2 and is featured in every subsequent section save for the outro. It features a bright, percussive timbre and provides further rhythmic motion within the dense arrangement. It is panned across the stereo field and is at a low level in the mix, becoming most audible when reaching higher-register notes in sparser sections.

High Synth Drone
The high synth drone pad provides a sustained, high-pitched note to the bridges. It features a bright timbre that helps balance out the many mid-range synth layers and is relatively low in the mix.


Pulsing Electric Guitar
The sole guitar in the song is heard in the verses and pre-choruses. It features a gritty, mid-range tone that gradually increases in volume over the course of its performance.


White Noise Riser
The white noise riser possesses a bright, noise-based timbre, functioning in an engagement-heightening, transitional role at the end of the pre-choruses and between stanzas 1 and 2 of the second chorus.

Reverse Synth Riser
The reverse synth riser provides an engaging transition between the second pre-chorus and chorus sections. It possesses a reversed saw-wave synth timbre that creates a swelling effect to maximize the chorus’s arrival.

Synth Impact
The synth impact occurs solely in between stanzas 1 and 2 of the bridges, punctuating the second stanza with a downlifting, pitched synth stab.

Instrumental Arrangement: Section By Section

Intro (0:00 – 0:05)

Chord Progression: A (A major: I)

“Cruel Summer’s” intro features the sparsest arrangement in the song, consisting of kick, snare, and synth bass. Note that the sparse intro technique has consistently been one of the two most common techniques used in Hot 100 Top 10 hits over the past decade (along with the backing music technique, which the song also possesses), as it provides a springboard to establish key aspects of the song while providing room for growth in subsequent sections.

Sonically, all the elements have a distinct electronic quality, which along with their timbres and patterns creates an engaging, retro-1980s inspired tapestry that instantly engages the listener.

On the lower end of the frequency spectrum is the kick drum, which plays a vibrant pattern and is processed with a prominent short tail reverb to give it a spacious, big sound. Contrasting it is the tight snare, which covers the mid/high frequency range with its notably brighter, tighter timbre and steady backbeat pulse.

Rounding out the instrumental arrangement is the low-octave staccato synth bass. It establishes the song’s key and provides the mix with a 1980s-inspired texture through its saw-wave timbre, reminiscent of a Moog synthesizer and a mechanical sixteenth-note pattern that possesses a Kraftwork and Devo-esque quality. Also note the brief leap that occurs on the “and” of beats 2 and 4, which subtly heightens interest against its otherwise stagnant pattern.

In addition to the above, the consistency of the arrangement serves as an effective backdrop for the vocoder-processed vocal hook to shine. It serves in both vocal and instrumental capacities, contributing to the section’s texture, rhythm, and catchiness.

At the end of the section, a new snare is heard on the last beat, possessing a grittier timbre that sustains longer than the tight snare. Punctuating the mix, it subtly serves to usher in the ensuing verse without disrupting the groove.

Intro Arrangement: At-A-Glance

Cruel Summer Intro Arrangement

Verse 1 (0:05 – 0:17)

Chord Progression: D – E – C#m – F#m (A major: IV-V-iii-vi)

With the intro arrangement remaining in effect to provide cross-section continuity and allow the listener’s full attention to be on Swift’s first installment of the narrative without distraction, the following instrumental elements are added to the mix to heighten cross-section interest:

  • The gritty snare and new snare rimshot are added to the backbeat. Both provide the verse with an interest-heightening textural development that also punctuates the backbeat against Swift’s lead vocal and the vocoder-processed background vocals.
  • A dark synth pad plays a legato pattern over the continuation of the low-octave staccato synth bass from the intro. Possessing a filtered, retro 1980s-tinged timbre, its addition serves a few key purposes, including providing additional texture, color and density to the mix, adding an additional harmonic layer and motion, and providing a subtle dark and foreboding vibe that creates prosody with the song title, “Cruel Summer.”
  • In bar 3, a pulsing synth and electric guitar enter the mix, playing sixteenth-note patterns at a low level. In addition to contributing to the section’s sonic tapestry, they serve to subtly heighten interest midway through the verse and begin to increase tension in anticipation for the impending chorus by way of the ensuing pre-chorus.

Verse 1 Arrangement: At-A-Glance

Cruel Summer Verse 1 Arrangement

Pre-Chorus 1 (0:17 – 0:28)

Chord Progression: D – E – C#m – F#m – D – E (A major: IV-V-iii-vi-IV-V)

The verse arrangement seamlessly carries over into the pre-chorus and features little development throughout the section. This puts the spotlight on the engaging vocals and lyrics which, along with the continuation of the pulsing synth and guitar, continues to heighten tension and anticipation for the impending chorus.

There are a few subtle developments, however, in the last two bars that serve to further heighten anticipation for the chorus and bolster its impact when it arrives. This culminates into the Hit Songs Deconstructed S.I.A. (section impact accentuator) technique in the last beat of the section, unfolding as follows:

  • The harmonic progression simplifies, sustaining on the V chord at the end of the section, which further heightens tension leading into the chorus.
  • The rimshot is removed from the mix. This results in a slightly smaller, more contained sound on the backbeat that allows the bigger sounding chorus to hit with greater perceived impact.
  • The pulsing synth and guitar increase in volume, which along with the white noise riser, takes tension and anticipation to a climax, resulting in the S.I.A. in the last beat.

Pre-Chorus 1 Arrangement: At-A-Glance

Cruel Summer Pre-Chorus 1 Arrangement

Chorus 1 (0:28 – 0:51)

Chord Progression: A – C#m – F#m – D (A major: I-iii-vi-IV)

Following the tension and anticipation-heightening pre-chorus, the chorus hits with a notably denser, “wall of sound” synth-driven production, punctuated by an acoustic-timbred crash and closed hat roll on beat 1.

With the core drum groove and dark synth pad from the pre-chorus providing cross-section cohesion and continuity, the following elements are added to, or changed up, in the chorus:

  • The snare rimshot is added back in along with the new reverberant claps. Together, they further punctuate the backbeat and contribute to the chorus’ deeper, bigger, and more powerful sound.
  • Two new, similarly functioning synth pads are introduced that contribute to density, provide harmonic support and further fill out the frequency spectrum: A 1980s-sounding brass synth pad, which features a saw wave timbre reminiscent of a Roland Juno brass patch, and a bright synth pad that features a digital, resonant timbre that contrasts from the warmer, richer sounds of the other pads in the mix.
  • The vocoder is added back in for the first time since the intro. However, here it is notably lower in the mix and melding with the other synths to contribute unique texture and color the sonic landscape as opposed to delivering a standout vocal hook.
  • A high-octave staccato synth bass replaces its low-octave counterpart heard across the first three sections of the song. While it’s relatively low in the mix, its addition contributes mid-range texture along with subtle forward motion.

Like the verse, and most of the pre-chorus before it, the chorus arrangement remains essentially static from start to finish, save for the familiar crash and hi hat roll that punctuates the arrival of stanza 2. Again, this allows the listener’s full focus to be on the catchy, evocative, hook-based vocals while elevating the section’s emotional connection with the listener.

Chorus 1 Arrangement: At-A-Glance

Cruel Summer Chorus 1 Arrangement

Turnaround (0:51 – 0:53)

Chord Progression: A (A major: I)

Following the dense, high-energy chorus, the brief one-bar turnaround breaks down to the sparser, lower energy intro arrangement, minus the gritty snare. This, along with the notable reverb processing and mid-range focus, creates engaging contrast that both spotlights the return of the “yeah” vocoder hook and provides room for the song to build once again in the ensuing sections.

Turnaround Arrangement: At-A-Glance

Cruel Summer Turnaround Arrangement

Verse 2 (0:53 – 1:05)

Chord Progression: D – E – C#m – F#m (A major: IV-V-iii-vi)

Following the brief, transitional turnaround, verse 2 engages the listener at a heightened level through a return to the core verse 1 arrangement along with new and changed up elements. Together, they serve to heighten both familiarity and interest as the song progresses.

Notable verse 2 developments:

  • Brass-timbred synth stabs are uniquely added to the mix, providing engaging like-section contrast. Featured prominently in the mix, they further heighten the song’s retro 1980s vibe and create a subtly more positive mood compared to the darker-timbered verse 1.
  • The dark synth pad, which was featured prominently in verse 1, is now filtered and positioned further back in the mix. This effectively makes way for the brass synth stabs and the comparative shift in mood between verses. 

In the last two bars of the section, the pulsing synth and guitar return, once again heightening tension and anticipation as the verse seamlessly transitions into the pre-chorus.

Verse 2 Arrangement: At-A-Glance

Cruel Summer Verse 2 Arrangement

Pre-Chorus 2 (1:05 – 1:16)

Chord Progression: D – E – C#m – F#m – D – E (A major: IV-V-iii-vi-IV-V)

The verse 2 – pre-chorus 2 relationship is highly similar as the first time around, which creates structural familiarity in the scope of the song. Pre-chorus 2 initially maintains the verse 2 arrangement, creating cross-section cohesion, followed by the tension-heightening pulsing synth and guitar increasing in volume and the S.I.A. (section impact accentuator) technique being employed in the last two beats.

Here, the arrangement unfolds into the S.I.A. as follows:

  • The rimshot is removed, creating a timbral shift on the backbeat.
  • The remaining backbeat elements, brass synth stabs and low-octave staccato synth bass are then removed for the last two beats, further stripping back the arrangement.
  • Lastly, the kick is omitted from the final beat of the section, leaving the sustained dark synth, pulsing synth and guitar, and white noise and reverse synth risers to usher in the chorus in an engaging manner.

Pre-Chorus 2 Arrangement: At-A-Glance

Cruel Summer Pre-Chorus 2 Arrangement

Chorus 2 (1:16 – 1:39)

Chord Progression: A – C#m – F#m – D (A major: I-iii-vi-IV)

The chorus 2 arrangement is highly similar to its chorus 1 counterpart, which bolsters the familiarity factor of the song’s primary “hook center.” However, in addition to the added vocal layers, there are two instrumental differences in the second stanza that, while subtle, contribute to density, texture, color and prevent instrumental redundancy:

  • A low-level bright synth arpeggio is added to the mix. In addition to the above, it also subtly contributes to the section’s rhythmic motion.
  • The synth pads swell to a more prominent level compared to the first time around. This also serves to subtly heighten the section’s excitement factor as it comes to a close. 

Chorus 2 Arrangement: At-A-Glance

Cruel Summer Chorus 2 Arrangement

Bridge 1 (1:39 – 2:04)

Chord Progression: A – C#m7 – F#m7 – D – A – C#m7 – F#m7 – D – N.C. (A major: I-iii7-vi7-IV-I-iii7-vi7-IV-N.C.)

Bridge 1, which serves as the song’s main “D” (departure) section, provides a notable, engaging shift in the instrumental arrangement compared to the other song sections, along with changeups in vocals and lyrics.

With the core kick and snare groove from the chorus providing cross-section continuity, the mix shifts to a highly rhythmic and notably brighter (higher frequency) instrumental arrangement compared to the preceding sections that works in tandem with Swift’s more excited vocals to bolster the impact of the lyrics.

  • The sub bass and synth pads are removed from the mix, leaving the high-octave staccato synth bass and bright arpeggio synth driving the section forward along with the drums.
  • A high synth drone is introduced, sustaining a high note that further contributes to the section’s higher frequency focus.
  • Bright closed electronic hi hat, closed acoustic hi hat, and open hi hat shift to a steady, thirty-second-note rhythm, driving the song forward with a heightened degree of momentum

In the last three bars of the section, the dark synth pad and brass synth pads are reintroduced. Together, they fill out the mid to low-end of the mix while their gradually increasing volume and cutoff frequency serve to heighten tension, anticipation and engagement leading into the final chorus of the song.

However, instead of leading directly into the chorus, the buildup is subverted by what Hit Songs Deconstructed calls the “Last Chorus Super S.I.A.” technique. Here, an extra bar is tacked onto the end of the bridge, where all the elements are removed from the mix save for Swift’s lead vocal until the last beat when a reverse synth riser ushers in the ensuing chorus. This jarring, unexpected moment notably heightens the listener’s engagement bolsters the impact of the chorus in the process.

Bridge 1 Arrangement: At-A-Glance

Cruel Summer Bridge 1 Arrangement

Chorus 3 (2:04 – 2:27)

Chord Progression: A – C#m – F#m – D (A major: I-iii-vi-IV)

Following the pronounced, engagement-heightening “Super S.I.A.” technique at the end of the bridge, the third and final chorus hits hard with a return to the familiar, dense arrangement that defines the second stanza of chorus 2. However, to prevent “cookie-cutter” redundancy, the synth layers feature more active rhythmic motion and have brighter timbres, which results in a subtly more excited and energetic vibe. At the end of the section, a dark closed hi hat enters to usher in the second bridge. 

Chorus 3 Arrangement: At-A-Glance

Cruel Summer Chorus 3 Arrangement

Bridge 2 (2:27 – 2:49)

Chord Progression: A – C#m7 – F#m7 – D (A major: I-iii7-vi7-IV)

The atypical second bridge uniquely fuses the bridge 1 and chorus 3 instrumental arrangements to take the song’s intensity to a grand peak. With the chorus 3 instrumental arrangement remaining in effect to provide cross-section continuity, the high frequency hi hats and high synth drone from bridge 1 are added in, which together, along with a reprise of Swift’s excited bridge 1 vocals, takes the song to an emotional climax.

At the end of the section, the last bar omits the sub bass and high-octave bass from the mix, allowing the low-octave bass to set the stage for the ensuing outro. 

Bridge 2 Arrangement: At-A-Glance

Cruel Summer Bridge 2 Arrangement

Outro (2:49 – 2:55)

Chord Progression: A (A major: I)

Following the climactic second bridge, the outro notably breaks down to just kick, tight snare, gritty snare and low-octave synth bass. This bookends the song on a familiar note while showcasing the vocoder vocal hook as the song winds down. Note, however, that compared to the similarly arranged intro and turnaround sections, the low-octave synth bass opens the cutoff filter in the last bar. This creates a sense that the outro is building toward something, but instead ends abruptly with a “pulling of the plug” quality at the tail end.

Outro Arrangement: At-A-Glance

Cruel Summer Outro Arrangement

Harmonic Progressions

“Cruel Summer” features three core progressions, each with subtle variations.

Progression 1

Progression 1: Variation 1 (Intro, Turnaround, Outro)


The first of “Cruel Summer’s” three chord progressions is composed solely of the tonic chord, A major. Delivered through the low-octave staccato synth bass and vocoder, it is featured at three strategic points throughout the song:

  • The intro, where its simplicity locks the listener into the mechanical 1980s-influenced staccato groove and provides room for harmonic growth in subsequent sections.
  • The turnaround, where it harmonically “resets” the song following the first I-A-PC-B sectional progression.
  • The outro, where it resolves the song on a familiar note as it draws to a close. 

Progression 2

Progression 2: Variation 1 (Verses)

D – E – C#m – F#m

Progression 2: Variation 2 (Pre-Choruses)

D – E – C#m – F#m – D – E

The second progression is heard in the verses and pre-choruses, following a core D – E – C#m – F#m (IV – V – iii – vi) pattern with a slight variation in the pre-choruses. The use of subdominant, dominant and tonic tonalities create a cyclical motion that contributes to the forward motion of these sections. Also worth noting is the atypical use of the three-minor chord (C# minor), the darkest chord within the major mode; this provides these sections with an underlying dark quality, which is most notable in the first verse along with the dark-timbred synth pad.

The pre-choruses change things up the last two bars by elongating each chord across a full bar to heighten tension leading into the ensuing chorus. This tension is further bolstered by the use of the dominant V chord (E major), leaving the listener in suspense before the cadential resolution to the I chord (A major) in the subsequent chorus. 

Progression 3

Progression 3: Variation 1 (Choruses)

A – C#m – F#m – D

Progression 3: Variation 2 (Bridges)

A – C#m7 – F#m7 – D – A – C#m7 – F#m7 – D – N.C.

The third progression in “Cruel Summer” is heard in the choruses and bridges, following a core A – C#m – F#m – D (I – iii – vi – IV) progression with subtle variation in the bridges. Following the sustained V chord in the preceding pre-chorus, the chorus progression begins on the resolved root, helping to punctuate the climactic section’s arrival. It then moves to the three-minor chord (C# minor), maintaining the tonic tonality in a dark, engaging manner before brightening slightly on the more typical six-minor chord (F# minor). The chorus progression then concludes on the four-major chord (D major), ending with a subdominant tonality that subtly heightens tension before the subsequent resolution to the root (A major) in the repeated progression or turnaround, bridge and outro sections. This IV-I resolution to the tonic chord is known as a plagal or “Amen” cadence, commonly found in gospel and jazz music as well as contemporary hits (Toosii’s “Favorite Song,” Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha’s “Meant To Be” and Olivia Rodrigo’s “Vampire” are prime examples).

The bridge features a subtle variation from this core progression, employing sevenths on the C# minor (iii) and F# minor (vi) chords to heighten tension. 

Note that this report is published in segments. Stay tuned for our next segment detailing "Cruel Summer's" vocal melody and production.

Logic Project

This file includes the correct meter, tempo and song arrangement displayed as empty MIDI regions for each instrument. Load your copy of the song to see when each instrument enters and leaves the mix, how the arrangement of like and cross-sections compare, how energy and dynamics are working from an arrangement point of view, and more.

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