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  • Jordan Anna Torres

Jordan's Version on Taylor Swift's Folklore

When consuming media, I’ve personally noticed that the folklore of the past has laid the foundation for its manifestation into multiple forms, transitioning from an oral framework into written embodiment—which is comparable to the majority of modern music. The culmination of both aspects came together in folklore by Taylor Swift, released in 2020 (with help from the producer Jack Antonoff and musician Aaron Dessner).

Throughout many replays of the album, there were four songs that I interpreted as establishing either history or lore behind characters and their respective conclusions (in order as they appear on the album): “cardigan,” “the last great american dynasty,” “august,” and “betty.” But for separate narratives, I would separate “the last great american dynasty,” as the narrative clearly is more of a historical folklore. However, this doesn’t mean that the songs aren’t connected. What stands out to me as the listener was not only the story of Rebekah and Bill, but Swift’s own self insert to further connect the two livelihoods, “Fifty years is a long time/Holiday House sat quietly on that beach/Free of women with madness/Their men and bad habits, and it was bought by me.” Having the plot relate back to the storyteller makes the experiences of Rebekah  and Bill serve as an example for future generations of their lives, which, in a way, repeats itself when Swift buys the property.

The songs “cardigan,” “august,” and “betty,” have been confirmed by Swift as connected, telling the tale of three lovers – all from their point-of-view in the past and present, ardently expressing how each one feels about this triangle of memories. “cardigan” establishes the narrative with the introduction of a character who feels as though they were once loved: “And when I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone’s bed/You put me on and said I was your favorite.” 

More of the tale is revealed in “august” as the narrator recalls what occurred in between two of the lovers: “August slipped away into a moment in time/‘Cause it was never mine…Remember when I pulled up/And said ‘Get in the car’/Just in case you’d call.”

The saga wraps up in “betty” when more is unveiled about one of the lovers, James, and his regrets about the relationship they once had: “Betty, one time I was riding on my skateboard when I passed your house/It’s like I couldn’t breathe…The worst thing that I ever did was what I did to you.” More is told as it’s revealed that it was James who majorly ruined the relationship. But he still holds onto the memories: “I know I miss you/Standing in your cardigan…you know I miss you.”

Throughout Swift’s lyrics of stories, there are continuous themes that repeat through the four songs of relationships and what happens in them—which affects not only the people directly involved, but others within the narrator’s circle. Within each narrative, the narrator learns an important lesson that’s pertinent to them and whoever else was affected. Accompanied by the music, the lyrics and stories are meant to be listened to and repeated, again and again, similar to oral history. 


Art by Jordan Anna Torres


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