If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ll know that last week Taylor Swift dropped her brand new, surprise album folklore. What’s more, folklore is the Swift album no one saw coming. Stripped back, heartfelt, and lyrically stunning, it’s the album of old Taylor’s dreams.
So far, it’s received stellar reviews and has broken multiple records, including the 24-hour streaming record on Spotify, was the biggest debut of 2020, and exceeded 1.3 million sales in its first day of release. Many have dubbed it her next Grammy-winning album, some even calling it her best album of all time.
Taylor Swift’s track betty on her surprise album folklore is the queer anthem no one knew they needed until they had it.
As per usual, Swifties have spent the last week dissecting every song on the album, from who the mysterious songwriter William Bowery is (supposedly long-term boyfriend Joe Alwyn) and whether the lakes (which is yet to be released) will finally confirm that she and Alwyn are engaged. However, the most interesting theories have been coming out of fan favourite song betty.
Taylor Swift is a loud and proud LGBTQI+ ally, made ostentatiously known in her bombastic single You Need To Calm Down. Well, it seems that folklore is the queer album of our dreams. Using no gender pronouns, folklore has left its audience the perfect present; the ability to truly weave yourself into its lyrics, no matter who you or the object of your affections are.
betty is a beautifully produced, heavily harmonica featured, queer song. It may seem jarring that Swift, who has capitalised on the heteronormative narrative for over a decade, has produced a song where it’s impossible to discern the gender of its characters. But that’s exactly what she has done in this faithful retelling of the classic ‘beg-for-second-chances-after-childish-infidelity’ story.
The track tenderly tells of a character named James begging for forgiveness after a “summer fling” with another girl. The narrator acknowledges that “you heard the rumours from Inez/You can’t believe a word she says/but this time it was true” and “the worst thing that I ever did/was what I did to you.”
Now, your immediate thoughts may be that James is a masculine name, but here’s the thing; Taylor Swift was named after James Taylor. There’s also another hint that James isn’t exactly male in that Swift’s close friend Blake Lively and her husband Ryan Reynolds have three daughters: James, Inez and Betty, which are all the names featured in betty.
Of course, you can let the curse of heteronormativity grasp you in its clutches, but the lack of gender pronouns, ambiguity of the name James, and the fact that Swift is singing about another girl, Betty, all point in another direction.
The track itself is an understated country masterpiece that follows its protagonist through streams of consciousness. From “If I just showed up at your party/would you have me? Would you want me?/would you tell me to go fuck myself/or lead me to the garden?/In the garden, would you trust me?” to the final verse where they appear on Betty’s front porch and declare “yeah, I showed up at your party/will you have me? will you love me?/will you kiss me on the porch/In front of all your stupid friends?”
Those fretful lines of impatience, anxiousness, and desperation are known all too well by anyone who experienced that fateful first love in their youth. No matter which way you read betty, its intricate exploration of early love, loss, and desire makes it one of Swift’s best on the album.