Taylor Swift is one of the most influential musical artists of the 21st century, and probably of all time. She is, without a doubt, one of my favorite artists. With that in mind, her creativity has birthed some of the most iconic and beautifully written songs of our time. In 2020, amidst the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, Swift released arguably her best albums to date: sister albums called “Folklore” in July 2020 and “Evermore” in December. These albums have become fan favorites, with “Folklore” even winning Album of the Year at the Grammys.
1) Cardigan (Folklore)
“Cardigan” was the lead single for Swift’s first surprise 2020 release, “Folklore,” and for good reason. Although a rather slow song for a single, especially one released in the summer, it works in a unique way. This song is the first part of a three-song story, each from a different perspective, about a teenage love triangle told throughout the album, the other songs being “August” and “Betty.” This song, specifically, is from Betty’s perspective, as a grown woman looking back at a teenage love.
Some of the best lyrics, in my opinion, from this song, include “When you are young they assume you know nothing,” which is repeated throughout the song. I like this lyric because it alludes to the theme of the song triad, being young, dumb and in love. It also alludes to a lyric in “Betty” that states, from the boy’s perspective: “I’m only 17, I don’t know anything.” I just absolutely adore how Swift can connect these songs and create an entire story within her album.
Another example of lyrics that connect, but this time within the song itself are: “I knew you, tried to change the ending, Peter losing Wendy,” and “I knew I’d curse you for the longest time, chasing shadows in the grocery line,” alluding to the popular children’s story “Peter Pan,” where Peter, who can never grow up, loses his friend Wendy, because she leaves Neverland and decides she wants to grow up. Another trope in that story is that Peter and Wendy often chased Peter’s shadow.
2) My Tears Ricochet (Folklore)
The first song Swift wrote for “Folklore” was “My Tears Ricochet,” inspired by the ongoing situation with Scooter Braun and specifically Scott Borchetta, where, to explain it briefly, Borchetta sold her previous album masters to Braun. This meant that Swift essentially had no rights to her older music, from “Taylor Swift” (2006) to “Reputation” (2017).
The song is mainly aimed at Borchetta, who was her mentor and a very influential figure in her early career. However, all of this was thrown away with his betrayal. This relationship is shown with the line in the second chorus, “‘Cause when I’d fight, you used to tell me I was brave,” meaning that Borchetta had been her support system throughout her years growing up.
This song is track 5 of the album, and Swift has been known to pour her heart out in track 5’s on previous albums, and she does just that in this song. Her not being able to own her music would probably be her greatest heartbreak of all, more than any break-up or anything else. As of writing this, she is working on re-releasing her first six albums, her way, and currently has just released the first re-record, “Fearless (Taylor’s Version).”
3) “Champagne Problems” (Evermore)
The second track of Swift’s second album of 2020, “Champagne Problems,” was written by Swift, and her long-time boyfriend, actor Joe Alwyn, under the alias “William Bowery.” This song tells a story, like many of the tracks on her 2020 albums. “Champagne Problems” is a common phrase, which can be compared to “first world problems.” These are problems that, in comparison to other countries and people’s problems around the world, are not seen as that big of a deal. Swift’s use of this is most likely to show the listener how the world thinks of mental illness as a champagne problem. The main character of this song suffers from mental illness and that has affected her relationship, and especially her communication with her partner.
“Champagne Problems” brings you through a whirlwind of emotions as it tells the story of a man about to propose to his girlfriend and instead gets rejected while proposing. Possibly the worst nightmare for many people wanting to propose. Swift describes it in a tweet as “longtime college sweethearts who [had] very different plans for the same night, one to end it and one who bought a ring.” Some lyrics that describe this are: “Your mom’s ring in your pocket, my picture in your wallet, your heart was glass I dropped it, champagne problems,” “You had a speech, you’re speechless. Love slipped beyond your reaches, and I couldn’t give a reason, champagne problems.” And the entire bridge, which tells the story in itself. A highlight of the bridge is “One for the money, two for the show, I never was ready so I watch you go. Sometimes you just don’t know the answer, till someone’s on their knees and asks you. ‘She would’ve made such a lovely bride, what a shame she’s f*cked in the head,’ they said, but you’ll find the real thing instead, she’ll patch up your tapestry that I shred.”
4) “Tolerate It” (Evermore)
Another track 5, “Tolerate It” was inspired by a book Swift was reading during quarantine, “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier, about a woman who is putting all of her efforts into a relationship trying to impress her husband, and her partner is just tolerating her. Swift said in her 2020 Apple Music Awards interview that she had felt like this before, too.
Some of my favorite lyrics from this song include “I wait by the door like I’m just a kid, use my best colors for your portrait,” “I know my love should be celebrated, but you tolerate it,” “I made you my temple, my mural, my sky, now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life.” and “You assume I’m fine but what would you do if I break free and leave us in ruins, took this dagger in me and removed it. Gain the weight of you then lose it, believe me I could do it.”
Throughout the song, you can hear Swift explaining the immense amount of love that the character is giving. The most painful part of not getting that same effort is not just the reciprocation, but the fact that the husband is just tolerating it and her. Having to live your whole life just being tolerated would be, in my opinion, worse than just being straight up disliked. The narrator realizes this throughout the song, with the track opening and closing with “I sit and watch you.” The first, to me, is her sitting and watching in admiration, watching her partner’s every move out of love, but in the end, she is watching out of spite, now with this realization of her lover’s fake love.
Overall, Taylor Swift had a massive year and is still going up from here, with her re-recordings planning to release soon as well. I believe these past two albums are her best yet, lyrically and consistently. You can really see how Swift has matured and is no longer writing so much about only her own experiences but is instead bringing in outside and make-believe scenarios to tell a beautiful story in an album.