The Heartbreaking True Story Behind Taylor Swift’s “Ronan”

Getty / Terence Rushin/TAS23

Taylor Swift‘s fans know that her song “Ronan” is one of the most heartbreaking in her discography. The song first appeared on her 2012 album “Red” and she recorded a new version in 2021 for “Red (Taylor’s Version).” The emotional track is about a real boy, Ronan Thompson, who died in 2011 just days before his fourth birthday. Many fans are speculating that Swift will add the song to her Eras Tour set list on May 12, since that date would have been Ronan’s 16th birthday, and his mom, Maya, will be in attendance at the show.

If you’re not as familiar with “Ronan” and the true story that inspired the song, here’s what to know about one of Swift’s most emotional tracks.

Who Is “Ronan” by Taylor Swift About?

Back in 2011, Maya kept a blog throughout Ronan’s cancer treatment, sharing her, Ronan, and her family’s struggles and how she was processing the situation. Ronan had stage-four neuroblastoma. He died on May 9, 2011. Swift was a devoted reader of the blog and invited Maya to a concert in 2011 and talked to her about Ronan. Maya also started the Ronan Thompson Foundation in her son’s memory.

In a 2012 post on her blog, Rockstar Ronan, Maya documented when Swift reached out to her out of the blue about the song. Swift left her a voicemail and when Maya called her back, the singer told her, “I wrote a song for Ronan.” Swift wanted to perform the song during the 2012 “Stand Up 2 Cancer” TV benefit, release the track as a charity single, and credit Maya as a cowriter on the song. “She talked about how from reading this blog and following our story, has inspired her and how amazing she thinks I am and all I am doing, to bring awareness to childhood cancer,” she wrote.

“I couldn’t focus on a thing besides the fact that she wrote a song, for you,” she wrote to Ronan in the post. “That she hadn’t forgotten about your beautiful blue eyes and our love story. One so powerful that Taylor Swift decided to write a song about it. This cannot be real.”

Swift performed the song at the benefit and later performed it again during her “1989” tour in 2015, which Maya attended. “I wouldn’t know half as much as I know about childhood cancer and childhood cancer research if she hadn’t shared her story about her son Ronan,” Swift said at the time, per Us Weekly. Swift said that she would read Maya’s blog “every night” and that it meant even more after cancer had since hit close to her family (Swift’s mom Andrea was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and Swift wrote her 2019 song “Soon You’ll Get Better” about the experience).

Maya opened up about “Ronan” the song again when “Red (Taylor’s Version)” was released in 2021. She told Vulture that she was a “hysterical mess” when she heard the new version for the first time. Swift also released a lyric video at the time with photos and videos of Ronan. “Ronan has become this huge, constant, bigger force in my life that, even though he’s not here, he’s still everywhere,” Maya told Vulture. She noted that Swift moved the release of “Red (Taylor’s Version)” back one week, which meant it was released the weekend of her best friend’s wedding. “This is so serendipitous. Somebody wanted us to be together during the release of the song. That’s where I go in my darkest of times. He’s always watching out for me,” she said.

Maya also added that her relationship with Swift means “everything” to her and that she keeps it private because she “would never want to exploit it.” But Maya explained that Swift had “anchored” Ronan to this world, and she hopes fans who hear his song look into how childhood cancers are underfunded and need more attention and research. Per the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, just four percent of the government’s annual spending on cancer research goes to childhood cancer.

Maya confirmed on Twitter on May 5 that she will be in attendance at the May 12 Eras Tour show in Philadelphia on Ronan’s birthday and that Swift gifted her tickets. She added that there will be a donation made to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Maya asked fans to treat each other with kindness and let their “inner rebel” out on Friday to honor #ronansdayoflove. She also shared photos of people who made Ronan friendship bracelets to pass out at the concert.

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