The musicians dated from October 2012 to January 2013, and until recently, neither has said much about their time together. Gracing the cover of Rolling Stone's May 4 issue, Styles looks back at his relationship with the pop princess and reveals why dating in the public eye is tricky.
For example, Styles can easily look up photos from his second date with Swift in New York City's Central Park—something most people can't do. "When I see photos from that day, I think: Relationships are hard, at any age. And adding in that you don't really understand exactly how it works when you're 18, trying to navigate all that stuff didn't make it easier," the "Sign of the Times" singer recalls. "I mean, you're a little bit awkward to begin with. You're on a date with someone you really like." It should be that simple, right? It was a learning experience for sure."
"But at the heart of it," Styles says, "I just wanted it to be a normal date."
After Swift released her first pop album, 1989, in October 2014, many people assumed she'd written "Out of the Woods" and "Style" about Styles. The singer doesn't take the bait from Rolling Stone, but adds that he doesn't fault Swift for using her experiences as musical material.
"I mean, I don't know if they're about me or not…but the issue is, she's so good, they're bloody everywhere," he says, adding, "I write from my experiences; everyone does that. I'm lucky if everything [we went through together] helped create those songs. That's what hits your heart."
"That's the stuff that's hardest to say, and it's the stuff I talk least about," Styles tells Rolling Stone. "That's the part that's about the two people. I'm never going to tell anybody everything."
Theo Wenner/Rolling Stone
Did Styles ever tell Swift he admired the songs? "Yes and no. She doesn't need me to tell her they're great," he admits. "They're great songs...It's the most amazing unspoken dialogue ever."
Styles is nervous to talk about Swift. "I gotta pee first. This might be a long one," he tells jokes with writer Cameron Crowe. "Actually, you can say, 'He went for a pee and never came back.'"
Is there anything he wants to tell Swift today? "Maybe this is where you write down that I left!"
Jokes aside, Styles doesn't harbor any ill will towards Swift. "Certain things don't work out. There's a lot of things that can be right, and it's still wrong. In writing songs about stuff like that, I like tipping a hat to the time together. You're celebrating the fact it was powerful and made you feel something, rather than 'this didn't work out, and that's bad.' And if you run into that person, maybe it's awkward, maybe you have to get drunk...but you shared something," he says. "Meeting someone new, sharing those experiences, it's the best s--t ever. So thank you."
Styles used one of his past relationships as fodder for his album. Like Swift, he's not naming names. "She's a huge part of the album," he says. "Sometimes you want to tip the hat, and sometimes you just want to give them the whole cap...and hope they know it's just for them."