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Lyrical Love Triangle

  With Taylor Swift kicking off her much-anticipated tour a month ago, let's commence by explaining one of Taylor’s most sophisticated stories that she delves into in her album Folklore.

  As is well-known, Taylor Swift is renowned for writing songs about former partners of hers. Even though that is true, people tend to overlook her astute work and brilliant lyrics.

Back in 2020 and during the pandemic, Taylor released an album that takes one along a mythical ride into a world of fantasy, with entangled love stories that are so deliberately written that an English Literature major like me cannot but recognize the artistry of. I can draft outright essays about each track on the album, but for now, we will only address the love triangle of three fictional characters on the record.

What is especially unique about this album is the love trilogy woven into it, with insights into the lives of three teenagers named Betty, Augustine, and James.

We are first presented with a song named Cardigan, in which a long-lost love story unfolds. The song opens with an intricate depiction of the scenery of someone walking down the sidewalk with a forceful air to them, with the phrase: “When you are young, they assume you know nothing,” is repeated. It should also be noted that Swift’s musical eras and referenced in chronological order in those first two verses. As the song precedes, you can notice another character being mentioned as the love affair of the narrator. However, in the second verse, we get to know that this love affair is over because the narrator was abandoned. This is highlighted in the line: “Chase two girls, lose the one.”

In the bridge, we get to know that the narrator, Betty, had lived a most endearing love story when she was younger with a boy that left her out of immaturity, and how sure she has been that he would come back, hinting that he did come back. This song is about first loves and how special the narrator had felt throughout it all, prior to the ache that was experienced. The song takes its name from the following chorus: "When I felt like I was an old cardigan, you put me on and said I was your favorite.”

  Assuredly, additional bits and pieces of the story unravel in August. The title of the track has a dual meaning in this case. It references the month of August, as well as the third party in this teenage love triangle trilogy; who Taylor Swift identified as Augustine. The listener gets to witness Augustine’s perspective, noting that she is part of the infidelity that took place, as highlighted previously in Cardigan. Augustine reminisces that whole summer month she spent with James, Betty’s lover. Augustine confesses her innocent feelings towards James and her awareness of his shortcomings and unrequited love. Simply enough, Augustine loved James even though she knew she was not the only flower in his garden. A very distinct line stands out from the whole song, in which she refers to James as her “summer love” who she would cancel plans to have secret rendezvous with.

  Following this, Betty-the song, serves its purpose by providing us with the most direct information and details about the affair, laying out the whole story and filling in the loopholes. Betty is set out from James’ perspective, referencing his love story with Betty and his summer affair with Augustine. The song is an apology addressed to Betty herself on the whole aftermath of his illicit affair. James uses a straightforward, discernible choice of words, contrasting the complexity of phrases and metaphors used in Cardigan. This perpetuates the incompatibility between James and Betty, especially on an intellectual level. James begins by contemplating the idea of showing up at Betty’s party and rectifying the situation by confessing his yearning for her in the line: “I’m only seventeen, I don’t know anything, but I know I miss you.” What does not go unnoticed are the parallels between this song and August, with James mentioning how Augustine initiated their affair by pulling up in her car and asking him to join her, the same as is mentioned in August. My favorite analogous is James referring to his time spent with Augustine as “just a summer thing” while Augustine strictly defines it as “summer love.” Finally, the song ends with James waiting at Betty’s porch to declare his apology, exactly as Betty had predicted in the last lines of Cardigan, where she says, “I knew you’d miss me once the thrill expired, and you’d be standing in my front porch light. I knew you’d come back to me,” touching on how she knew everything, even at such a youthful age, contrary to widespread belief and James’ juvenile nature.

Overall, the story ending remains disclosed, leaving it to one’s imagination to ponder whether Betty did forgive James after all or was just looking in retrospect and whether Augustine ever got closure after being misled, and if James moved past his unsophisticated immature ways and realized the pain he had inflicted on others.

I would strongly advise you to listen to the tracks now that you are familiar with their character arcs, and momentarily wander into a world of fantasy, where heartbreak evolves into sophistication and a refined understanding of the world; something that we all can surely relate to.

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