- Taylor Swift released her eighth studio album “Folklore” on Friday.
- The album is rich with beautiful lyrics and subtle details that tie different songs and stories together.
- “One thing I did purposely on this album was put the Easter eggs in the lyrics,” Swift wrote in a comment on YouTube. “I created character arcs and recurring themes that map out who is singing about who.”
- For example, “Betty” has lyrical callbacks to “Cardigan” and “August,” creating a narrative that Swift refers to as “the Teenage Love Triangle.”
- Below you’ll find a track-by-track breakdown of “Folklore,” including the callbacks and Easter eggs you may have missed.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Taylor Swift’s newest album “Folklore,” which dropped on Friday after just one day’s notice, may contain the most beautifully written and lyrically dense music of her career.
Swift herself described the album as “a photo album full of imagery, and all the stories behind that imagery.”
“One thing I did purposely on this album was put the Easter eggs in the lyrics,” Swift wrote in a comment on YouTube. “I created character arcs and recurring themes that map out who is singing about who.”
Any Swift fan knows that she loves to hide winks, callbacks, and thematic parallels in her songs and videos. Swift hones this tradition with “Folklore,” weaving narratives and writing from different perspectives to create a multi-faceted listening experience.
Many of the lyrical details on “Folklore” also refer back to Swift’s previous albums, as well as real-life facts about her life.
Insider created a guide to the callbacks and Easter eggs you may have missed.
Keep reading to see our track-by-track breakdown.
“The 1” is written from a friend’s perspective.
The album opener is one of 11 songs co-written and produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner.
“It’s clear that ‘The 1’ is not written from her perspective. It’s written from another friend’s perspective,” Dessner told Vulture. “There’s an emotional wryness and rawness,while also tothis kind of wink in her eyes. There’s a little bit of her sense of humour in there, in addition to this kind of sadness that exists both underneath and on the surface.”
Dessner’s interpretation seems to confirm that – despite fans’ initial fears about the status of Swift’s relationship with Joe Alwyn – “Folklore” is not an autobiographical breakup album.
Although “Folklore” does contain many breakup songs, the album’s wistful tone and tragic themes seem largely derived from fictional characters and storytelling techniques, with Swift perhaps drawing inspiration from past relationships.
The chorus of “The 1” appears to reference two different songs from Swift’s discography.
“Roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool” feels like a callback to “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” the 13th track on her 2017 album “Reputation.”
“It was so nice throwing big parties / Jump into the pool from the balcony / Everyone swimming in a champagne sea,” Swift sings. “And there are no rules when you show up here / Bass beat rattling the chandelier / Feeling so Gatsby for that whole year.”
This verse references “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, which condemns the wealth and excess of the 1920s (also known as “the roaring 20s”). The titular character, who spends most of his time throwing extravagant parties at his New York mansion, eventually dies in his own pool.
The chorus of “The 1” also contains the lyric “In my defence, I have none / For never leaving well enough alone.”
This reimagines a line from “Me!” – the lead single from Swift’s 2019 album “Lover” – in which she sings, “I know that I went psycho on the phone / I never leave well enough alone.”
The second verse of “The 1” (“You know the greatest loves of all time are over now”) also appears to reference “Death By A Thousand Cuts,” the 10th track on “Lover” and another exploration of lost love (“You said it was a great love, one for the ages / But if the story’s over, why am I still writing pages?”).
“Cardigan” foreshadows the fraught love story of James and Betty.
“Cardigan,” the album’s only song with a music video so far, appears to be the first in a three-song narrative on “Folklore.”
“There’s a collection of 3 songs I refer to as the Teenage Love Triangle,” Swift teased before the album’s release. “These 3 signs explore a love triangle from all 3 people’s perspectives at different times in their lives.”
On its own, “Cardigan” simply describes a star-crossed relationship that saw some hard times, but ultimately resulted in hope and comfort for the speaker.
In the first verse, Swift references her own past eras with the line, “Sequined smile, black lipstick.” Early in her career, Swift was known for wearing sequins; on her “Reputation” album cover, she wore black lipstick.
She also buries subtle references to past love songs in the chorus. “Dancin’ in your Levi’s / Drunk under a streetlight” contain similar details to 2017’s “Delicate”(“Dark jeans and your Nikes, look at you)” and 2019’s “Cornelia Street” (“The streetlights pointed in an arrowhead leading us home”).
Later, she sings “Marked me like a bloodstain” and “I knew you’d linger like a tattoo kiss.” These recall images of “a wine-stained dress” and “a golden tattoo” in 2014’s “Clean” and 2017’s “Dress,” respectively.
So, one could assume that Swift is writing from her own perspective – but when paired with “August” and “Betty,” the eighth and 14th tracks on “Folklore,” it becomes clear that Swift is writing from the perspective of a character named Betty.
Swift hints at the love triangle narrative with the line, “Chase two girls, lose the one,” (which also references the first track on the album) as well as the third verse, when the speaker recounts her partner’s return and their reconciliation.
This story of two lovers who are broken by an affair, but who eventually find their way back to each other, will later be retold from different perspectives on “August” and “Betty.”
“The Last Great American Dynasty” tells the story of Rebekah Harkness, who once lived in Swift’s Rhode Island mansion.
“Rebekah rode up on the afternoon train, it was sunny / Her saltbox house on the coast took her mind off St. Louis,” Swift sings in the opening lines of “The Last Great American Dynasty,” one of the album’s most uptempo songs.
Right off the bat, Swift signals that she’s not telling her own story here.
Rebekah Harkness was born in 1915 “to a rich, emotionally frigid St. Louis family,” according to a 1988 article in the New York Times by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison.
“After her divorce from W. Dickson Pierce, an upper-class advertising photographer, she chose for her second husband the Standard Oil heir William Hale Harkness, who enjoyed a lofty social status, as her own family did not,” Harrison wrote.
Swift incorporates these biographical points right into the first verse. She mentions Bill, “the heir to the Standard Oil name,” and says the townspeople referred to Rebekah as a “middle-class divorcée.”
The song subtly notes the sexist implications of that label, as well as the town’s general reactions to Harkness, who apparently liked to throw parties at the couple’s “Holiday House” in Rhode Island. They were married for seven years before William died.
In the second verse, Swift nods to Rebekah’s founding of the Harkness Ballet, which folded in 1975, and her friendship with Salvador Dalí. In fact, according to the Times, the two were so close that he designed a $US250,000 jeweled urn for her ashes.
Swift also sings that Rebekah “Filled the pool with champagne and swam with the big names,” another callback to her Gatsby-indebted song “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.”
The “big names” detail likely refers to Rebekah’s habit of purchasing time and services from artists like Alvin Ailey and Andy Warhol.
Swift does, however, alter one detail about Rebekah’s life: “And in a feud with her neighbour / She stole his dog and dyed it key lime green,” she sings in the bridge. According to the Times, it was actually a cat.
As it turns out, the Harkness’ “Holiday House” was the same mansion in Watch Hill, Rhode Island that Swift purchased in 2013 – the site of her much-scrutinised Fourth of July party in 2016, made famous by her model squad and, of course, Tom Hiddleston’s “I Heart T.S.” tank top.
“Fifty years is a long time / Holiday House sat quietly on that beach / Free of women with madness, their men and bad habits / And then it was bought by me,” Swift sings, calling herself “the loudest woman this town has ever seen.”
As Rolling Stone notes, Swift’s presence in Rhode Island has caused a stir similar in much the same way as Rebekah, described in the song’s chorus.
“Beachgoers and residents were worried she would be encroaching on the public beach near her home and locals bristled when Swift’s home became host to all manner of celebrities (much like in Harkness’ days),” writes Rolling Stone’s Brenna Ehrlich.
“The ‘No Trespassing’ signs erected in her yard kind of put a damper on the beachy fun of the community. The governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, even proposed a tax on second-homes worth more than a million dollars – a.k.a. ‘the Taylor Swift tax.’ (Raimondo ended up withdrawing the proposal.)”
“Exile,” featuring Bon Iver, is designed to feel like a conversation between ill-fated lovers.
According to Dessner, the lyrics of “Exile” were written by Swift and someone named William Bowery before it was given music.
“It’s supposed to be a dialogue between two lovers,” Dessner told Vulture. “We talked a lot about who she thought would be perfect to sing, and we kept coming back to Justin [Vernon, aka Bon Iver].”
“I sent it to him and said, ‘No pressure at all, literally no pressure, but how do you feel about this?’ He said, ‘Wow.’ He wrote some parts into it also, and we went back and forth a little bit, but it felt like an incredibly natural and safe collaboration between friends.”
There has been much speculation about Bowery, which is almost certainly a pseudonym.
Dessner told Vulture that Swift wouldn’t tell him Bowery’s identity, but that he believes that Bowery is “a friend” – not her boyfriend, which is a persistent theory.
Because of their history, the theory claims, crediting Styles’ real name on this album would have stolen attention and caused unnecessary rumours about their relationship.
“Exile” could certainly be interpreted as a conversation between Swift and an ex, rehashing the dissolution of their romance.
“I can see you starin’, honey / Like he’s just your understudy / Like you’d get your knuckles bloody for me,” Swift sings, which is reminiscent of a line from “Only Angel” on Styles’ 2017 debut album: “I got splinters in my knuckles crawling across the floor.”
Swift also sings, “We always walked a very thin line,” which could be a nod to Styles’ 2019 album “Fine Line.”
“My Tears Ricochet” is the only song on the album that Swift wrote by herself.
Swift is the only songwriter credited on the fifth track, which was co-produced by Swift and Jack Antonoff.
Antonoff, Swift’s most frequent collaborator, described “My Tears Ricochet” and the eighth track “August” as “my favourite things we’ve done together.”
Based on Swift’s own words, we can assume that “My Tears Ricochet” was inspired by the image of an “embittered tormentor showing up at the funeral of his fallen object of obsession.”
Though the song sounds like a breakup ballad, some have speculated that it’s actually about Swift’s rift with her former label, Big Machine Records, where she signed when she was 15 years old. The funeral motif could mean Swift is mourning that era in her career, which ended when she left the label behind.
Swift famously left Big Machine to sign with Republic Records in 2018. When her contract ended, she says the Nashville-based indie label and its CEO, Scott Borchetta, did not give her the opportunity to buy back the six albums she released in those 13 years – only the opportunity to “earn” them back with each new release.
In this context, lyrics like “Cursing my name, wishing I stayed” and “And when you can’t sleep at night (You hear my stolen lullabies)” are given new meaning.
“You wear the same jewels that I gave you / As you bury me,” as well as the line about “stolen lullabies,” could refer to to Swift’s high-selling albums that are still owned by Big Machine, which account for the majority of the label’s profits.
Swift also revealed that “My Tears Ricochet” was the first song she wrote for “Folklore.”
On “Mirrorball,” Swift compares herself to a reflective disco ball.
“Mirrorball” explores Swift’s abilities for writing, entertaining, and reinventing, which allow her to connect to other people – but it also explores her vulnerability and sensitivity, particularly as someone who mines her own pain for lyrics.
“Shimmering beautiful / And when I break, it’s in a million pieces,” Swift sings, recalling similar images of fragility on songs like 2019’s “The Archer”(“All the king’s horses, all the king’s men / Couldn’t put me together again”) and 2012’s “All Too Well”(“I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here / ‘Cause I remember it all, all, all”).
The latter example also echoes a lyrical structure in the bridge of “Mirrorball,” when Swift sings, “I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try.”
The bridge also appears to pay homage to different eras in Swift’s career, underscoring the song’s motif of pleasing people and shape-shifting to fit the moment: “And they called off the circus, burned the disco down / When they sent home the horses and the rodeo clowns / I’m still on that tightrope / I’m still trying everything to get you laughing at me.”
The “circus” could refer to Swift’s “Red” era, when she performed “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” on tour in a ringmaster costume. The “disco” likely refers to her popular album “1989,” which drew heavily from ’70s and ’80s musical influences.
Sending home “the horses and the rodeo clowns” calls back to Swift’s early years playing country music, which she largely left behind to pursue pop stardom.
Interestingly, Swift paints a carefree image of herself in the “Mirrorball” chorus: “You’ll find me on my tallest tiptoes / Spinning in my highest heels, love / Shining just for you.”
Swift has previously used high heels to evoke rejection or alienation: as something to be judged for wearing in 2008’s “You Belong With Me” (“She wears high heels, I wear sneakers”) or something she herself was judged for wearing in 2012’s “Begin Again”(“He didn’t like it when I wore high heels, but I do”).
Here, wearing high heels is used as a symbol of proud femininity and happiness.
“Seven” is a reflection on childhood, innocence, and how we process our memories.
“Seven” was the second song that Swift wrote with Dessner for the album.
“It’s kind of looking back at childhood and those childhood feelings, recounting memories and memorializing them,” he told Vulture.
“It has one of the most important lines on the record: ‘And just like a folk song, our love will be passed on.’ That’s what this album is doing. It’s passing down. It’s memorializing love, childhood, and memories. It’s a folkloric way of processing.”
Swift opens the song by painting a picture of her childhood in Pennsylvania, where she was born and lived until age 13, when her family moved to Tennessee.
The song appears to address a young friend with a more challenging childhood: “And I’ve been meaning to tell you / I think your house is haunted / Your dad is always mad and that must be why,” Swift sings in the second verse.
Later, she hints that her friend is coming to terms with their sexuality by using the famous closet metaphor, and suggests that her friend’s family isn’t accepting: “And I think you should come live with me / And we can be pirates / Then you won’t have to cry / Or hide in the closet.”
Paired with sweet lyrics like “Cross my heart, won’t tell no other” and “Our love lasts so long,” some fans have suggested that “Seven” has queer undertones.
“August” is the second song in the “Teenage Love Triangle.”
Thanks to corresponding images and themes on “August” and “Betty,” we can deduce that “August” is the story of James and Betty as told from a third perspective: a sort of “other woman” character who had a summer fling with James.
Swift indicates that she’s creating a character by using subtle references to age: “Will you call when you’re back at school? / I remember thinkin’ I had you,” she sings. “Cancelled plans just in case you’d call / And say, ‘Meet me behind the mall.'”
These details point to a younger character, likely someone in high school or college – and likely someone markedly more normal and less famous than Swift. (When’s the last time Swift met someone behind a mall?)
Of course, Swift could simply be telling an old story from memory, like with “Seven.” But the narrative becomes clear when the outro of “August” (“Remember when I pulled up and said ‘Get in the car'”) is echoed later on “Betty” (“When she pulled up like / A figment of my worst intentions / She said ‘James, get in, let’s drive'”).
This imagery also recalls the central metaphor of Swift’s 2017 song “Getaway Car,” which too tells the story of a love triangle.
“This Is Me Trying” is a cinematic study of regret and accountability.
Swift revealed that one song on “Folklore” is told from the perspective of “a 17-year-old standing on a porch, learning to apologise.”
“This Is Me Trying” is almost certainly that song. The speaker admits to feeling inadequate after “[falling] behind all my classmates,” yet concludes the verse with wistful pride, claiming, “But I didn’t pour the whiskey.”
These details scream “teenager shame” – but the song is coloured by feelings of hope and growth. The central lyric, “I just wanted you to know that this is me trying,” always concludes with the shorter refrain, “At least I’m trying.”
Although Swift said she sees the James and Betty love story as a package of three songs, “This Is Me Trying” could also be interpreted as a dramatic retelling of James’ apology.
“Betty” hinges on the image of James going to Betty’s party, standing on her porch, swallowing his pride, and asking for forgiveness. This is echoed on “This Is Me Trying,” particularly in the first verse (“And maybe I don’t quite know what to say / But I’m here in your doorway”) as well as the bridge (“And it’s hard to be at a party when I feel like an open wound / It’s hard to be anywhere these days when all I want is you”).
Conversely, “This Is Me Trying” could be an allegory for Swift learning to accept and apologise for her public mistakes. “My words shoot to kill when I’m mad” recalls the imagery of “The Archer,” in which Swift admits to being both the hunter and the hunted.
The song is also reminiscent of Swift’s other famous mea culpa, 2011’s “Back to December,” in which she sings, “So this is me swallowing my pride / Standing in front of you, saying I’m sorry for that night.”
“Illicit Affairs” dives deeper into the emotional repercussions of infidelity.
It’s unclear whether the speaker on “Illicit Affairs” is the person who’s been wronged by a cheating partner, or whether it’s the “mistress” figure who got her hopes up. It could be another song told from the perspective of the “other woman” from “August.”
Swift sings that an affair is “born from just one single glance / But it dies and it dies and it dies / A million little times.” This recalls her description of a breakup on “Lover” (“saying goodbye is death by a thousand cuts”), only one thousand times more painful.
Later, Swift sings, “Take the words for what they are / A dwindling, mercurial high / A drug that only worked / The first few hundred times.” On “Death By a Thousand Cuts,” she claims her lover “gave up on me like I was a bad drug.”
She also compares falling in love to getting high on 2017’s “Don’t Blame Me,” singing, “Lord, save me, my drug is my baby / I’ll be usin’ for the rest of my life.”
Finally, in the third verse, Swift appears to reference her 2014 single“Out of the Woods.”
She sings “You showed me colours you know I can’t see with anyone else,” echoing the old line, “The rest of the world was black and white / But we were in screaming colour.”
“Invisible String” is the album’s only traditional love song, and it seems directly inspired by Alwyn.
The central metaphor of “Invisible String” appears to reference an East Asian folk myth known as “the red thread of fate,” visualized as a red string tied around the fingers of soulmates, connecting them by either end.
“Invisible String” is also rich with real-life Easter eggs and callbacks to Swift’s own lyricism.
She opens the song by referencing Centennial Park in Nashville, Tennessee, known as her adopted hometown. Then, she sings, “Teal was the colour of your shirt / When you were sixteen at the yogurt shop / You used to work at to make a little money.”
This is almost certainly a reference to Alwyn, who told Red Magazine in January that he worked at a frozen yogurt shop as a teenager.
“I did have this one job in London. Do you know that frozen yogurt place, Snog?” he said. “I did what I could to make some extra cash.”
In verse two, Swift references her 2014 single “Bad Blood,” which was inspired her then-feud with Katy Perry: “Bad was the blood of the song in the cab / On your first trip to LA / You ate at my favourite spot for dinner.” Swift appears to underscore the idea that she and Alwyn have been unconsciously connected throughout their lives.
Next, she references the 17th track on “Folklore,” “The Lakes,” which only appears on the deluxe edition: “Bold was the waitress on our three-year trip / Getting lunch down by the Lakes.” The reference to a “three-year trip” could be a nod to Swift and Alwyn’s longterm relationship; most people agree they have been dating for at least three years, if not four.
In the bridge, Swift clearly references “Delicate,” which is widely assumed to be written about Alwyn. She sings, “A string that pulled me / Out of all the wrong arms, right into that dive bar,” recalling the lyric, “Dive bar on the East Side, where you at?”
Swift also seems to reference the “Lover” album closer “Daylight” with the lyric, “One single thread of gold / Tied me to you.”
Changing “the red thread of fate” to “one single thread of gold” directly parallels the bridge on “Daylight,” in which Swift sings, “I once believed love would be burning red / But it’s golden.”
The third verse could contain a nod to Swift’s ex-boyfriend, Joe Jonas, who infamously dumped Swift over the phone and recently welcomed his first child with wife Sophie Turner: “Cold was the steel of my axe to grind / For the boys who broke my heart / Now I send their babies presents.”
Finally, Swift uses some interesting colour imagery in the last chorus: “Time, wondrous time / Gave me the blues and then purple-pink skies / And it’s cool / Baby, with me.”
She also used the colour on “Delicate,” singing, “Oh damn, never seen that colour blue,” possibly describing Alwyn’s eyes. The word “cool” also reappears here, as Swift sings in the chorus, “Is it cool that I said all that? / Is it chill that you’re in my head?” Now, she says calmly, that it most certainly is.
Some fans believe that Swift’s decision to use blue, purple, and pink in a row is a reference to the bisexual pride flag, but that could just as easily be a reach; the image of “purple-pink skies” could simply pay homage to the “Lover” cover art.
“Mad Woman” is like the smouldering grown-up version of “The Man.”
“Mad Woman” tackles the taboo associated with female rage – but also the danger of becoming the monster people say you are.
“And there’s nothing like a mad woman / What a shame she went mad,” Swift sings in the chorus. “No one likes a mad woman / You made her like that.”
She took on similar themes with the 2019 song “The Man,” which calls out sexist double standards when expressing emotions, but packaged in a much catchier and radio-friendly way.
“Mad Woman,” on the other hand, is scathing and gothic. As Dessner told Vulture, “it has a darkness that I think is cathartic, sort of witch-hunting and gaslighting and maybe bullying.”
It’s highly possible that “Mad Woman” was inspired by Swift’s ongoing issues with Kanye West, who has attempted to tarnish her reputation on multiple occasions.
Swift seems to implicate Kim Kardashian West in her anger with the rapper, probably because West’s wife recorded and released a private phone conversation that caused the public to turn on Swift back in 2016: “And women like hunting witches too / Doing your dirtiest work for you / It’s obvious that wanting me dead / Has really brought you two together.”
This verse also references “I Did Something Bad,” the third track on “Reputation,” which many believe was inspired by the Wests (“They’re burning all the witches even if you aren’t one / So light me up”).
Swift’s feud with the couple was reignited in March, when a newly leaked video from 2016 appeared to prove that Swift had told the truth about Kardashian West’s manipulations.
“Mad Woman” also hearkens back to “The Last Great American Dynasty,” in which Swift describes Rebekah Harkness as “the maddest woman this town has ever seen.”
“Epiphany” was partially inspired by Swift’s soldier grandfather, and partially inspired by modern healthcare workers.
Swift has revealed that one song on “Folklore” was inspired by her “grandfather, Dean, landing at Guadalcanal in 1942.”
The Battle of Guadalcanal was an important victory for the Allies in World War II. Swift references war and evokes the sacrifices made by soldiers throughout the first verse of “Epiphany.”
Later, Swift connects these heroic sacrifices to those made by modern healthcare workers. The second verse seems directly inspired by the coronavirus, and how hospital staff have been overwhelmed by the crisis: “Something med school did not cover / Someone’s daughter, someone’s mother / Holds your hand through plastic now.”
In the chorus, Swift makes the connection between a war and a pandemic more explicit, evoking a sense of unity and support: “With you I serve, with you I fall down, down / Watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out, out.”
Because the coronavirus attacks the lungs and can cause respiratory failure, Swift’s lyrics about watching someone breathe could mean she’s hoping for that person to stay alive.
“In the past, heroes were just soldiers. Now they’re also medical professionals,” Dessner told Vulture. “To me, that’s the underlying mission of the song. There are some things that you see that are hard to talk about. You can’t talk about it. You just bear witness to them.”
“Betty” is told from the perspective of James, who asks for forgiveness.
“Betty” finally completes the “Teenage Love Triangle” by using clear callbacks to “Cardigan” and “August.”
Swift sets the scene by addressing Betty, making it clear that Betty is not the speaker. She also makes it clear that Betty and the speaker are in high school, since she sings about homeroom.
The speaker admits they did something horrible to Betty (“The worst thing that I ever did / Was what I did to you”) and that Betty found out from another classmate named Inez. The speaker also explains that it “all went wrong” during a school dance in the gym, when Betty danced with a boy.
In the bridge, it’s made clear that the speaker is named James.
James recounts the events of “August” from their own perspective, when the summertime affair began: “I was walking home on broken cobblestones / Just thinking of you when she pulled up like / A figment of my worst intentions / She said ‘James, get in, let’s drive.'”
The line about “broken cobblestones” is a callback to “Cardigan,” when Betty sings about “high heels on cobblestones.”
There’s also a cheeky flip-flop in the chorus, when James sings, “I’m only seventeen, I don’t know anything / But I know I miss you.” On “Cardigan,” Betty laments not being taken seriously as a teenager, but also insists: “I knew everything when I was young.” This could be a nod to Betty discovering James’ infidelity.
Despite the affair described on “August,” James sings to Betty, “I dreamt of you all summer long.”
The third verse and final chorus illustrate James’ decision to show up at Betty’s party and apologise on her porch, which we heard from a more dramatic angle on “This Is Me Trying.”
The outro ties it all together, showing that James and Betty have reconciled. The lyrics explicitly refer to “Cardigan,” which was Betty’s own perspective of their reunion: “Standing in your cardigan / Kissin’ in my car again / Stopped at a streetlight / You know I miss you.”
You’ll remember that on “Cardigan,” Swift sang, “To kiss in cars and downtown bars / Was all we needed.” She also mentioned dancing with someone while “drunk under a streetlight.”
Many fans have speculated that James is a female character, making the “Teenage Love Triangle” a sapphic love story.
One clue that seems to support this theory is that Swift herself was named after James Taylor.
Another is that Inez and James are the names of Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively’s two daughters, so using the name “Inez” for a classmate in this story hardly feels like a coincidence. Reports even indicate that Reynolds and Lively have named their third daughter Betty.
Because gender-specific pronouns are never used to refer to any of these characters – except the boy that Betty danced with – it’s reasonable to argue that James and Betty could both be girls, and the speaker from “August” could be a girl, too.
“Peace” seems to be one of the most autobiographical songs on this album.
On the album’s penultimate track, Swift promises to give her partner passion and warmth and undying loyalty (“All these people think love’s for show / But I would die for you in secret”), yet she wrestles with her inability to promise “peace.”
As Chris Richards wrote for the Washington Post, “Swift finally appears to be wrestling with the riddle of her existence: being the most ‘normal’ superstar alive. For someone like her, a quiet, peaceful, ordinary happily-ever-after kind of life is clearly impossible.”
Many of the song’s details seemingly point to her relationship with Alwyn, which has been kept extremely private.
The first line in the chorus, “But I’m a fire and I’ll keep your brittle heart warm,” recalls Swift’s 2017 single, “Call It What You Want” (“He built a fire just to keep me warm”) – a song that she serenades Alwyn with in a scene of her Netflix documentary, “Miss Americana.”
The next line, “If your cascade, ocean wave blues come,” recalls another 2017 single, “Gorgeous”(“Ocean blue eyes looking in mine”).
Put together, this couplet corresponds to the couple’s astrological signs: Swift is a Sagittarius, which is a fire sign, while Alwyn is a Pisces, which is a water sign.
Swift doubles down on her commitment to Alwyn in the second verse, when she says she would “Sit with you in the trenches” – recalling the sacrifices detailed on “Epiphany” – and “Give you my wild, give you a child.”
She sings, “Family that I chose, now that I see your brother as my brother,” again calling back to “Call It What You Want,” in which Swift sings of Alwyn, “trust him like a brother.”
This is also a reference to the final chorus of “The 1,” when Swift swaps the “roaring twenties” line with “Rosé flowing with your chosen family.”
Swift also nods to her two most infamous feuds, singing, “But there’s robbers to the east, clowns to the west.” The “robbers” are most likely Borchetta and Braun, who own the rights to her first six albums, while the “clowns” seem to refer to West and Kardashian West.
This line underscores the spectacle of Swift’s everyday and her inability to escape the trappings of public life.
“Hoax” was the last song Swift wrote for the album.
Dessner told Vulture that album closer “Hoax” was a recent addition to the tracklist, written on the same night as album opener “The 1.”
“The album was sort of finished before that. We thought it was complete, but Taylor then went back into the folder of ideas,” he said. “She wrote ‘The 1,’ and then she wrote ‘Hoax’ a couple of hours later and sent them in the middle of the night.”
“When I woke up in the morning, I wrote her before she woke up in LA and said, ‘These have to be on the record.’ She woke up and said, ‘I agree.’ These are the bookends, you know?”
In the first verse of “Hoax,” Swift runs through a short list of images with many hidden references. “My smoking gun” and “my twisted knife” recall recurring “Reputation” imagery: “Look What You Made Me Do”(“You said the gun was mine”), “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” (“You stabbed me in the back while shaking my hand”), and “Call It What You Want” (“I brought a knife to a gunfight”).
Images from “Red” also reappear: “My sleepless night” is a phrase taken directly from “Treacherous”(“Two headlights shine through the sleepless night”), while “This has frozen my ground” seems like a tragic reimagining of “Holy Ground.”
In the chorus, Swift evokes the motif of 2019’s “False God” with the twisted phrase “faithless love.”
She also returns to the colour that, as previously discussed, typically points to Alwyn: “Don’t want no other shade of blue but you / No other sadness in the world would do.”
In verse two, Swift reverses the roles of fire and ash that previously appeared on “Mad Woman.” “If I’m on fire, you’ll be made of ashes, too” here becomes “I am ash from your fire.”
Finally, the bridge refers to real details from Swift’s life. Throughout “Lover,” she revels in the changes she’s made since meeting Alwyn – particularly on “London Boy,” which illustrates her decision to move overseas and adopt London as her home.
On “Hoax,” however, she sings, “You know I left a part of me back in New York.” Swift’s love for New York is well-documented (“Welcome to New York,”“Cornelia Street”), so this could indicate a sense of regret since her move.
Next, Swift revisits the cinema motif she previously used on “Exile” and “This Is Me Trying,” painting her life as a film: “You knew the hero died so what’s the movie for?”
Swift also appears to reference her “cancellation” in 2016, when she was labelled a “snake” and largely retreated from the public eye. She seems to compare this trauma to the pain caused by her relationship: “You knew it still hurts underneath my scars / From when they pulled me apart / But what you did was just as dark.”
Finally, in the outro, Swift references 2017’s “King of My Heart,” but reverses the song’s central imagery: “My kingdom come undone.”
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