Connect the Dots: Storytelling Through Taylor Swift's Discography
By Ella DePaolo
Today’s blog is a connect the dots and will explore the theme of storytelling through Taylor Swift’s discography.
Taylor Swift has been in the spotlight since she released her first album at age 16 and has been writing music since she got her first guitar at age 12. She has been known for writing about her personal life, however her subject matter is much broader than her own experiences. One of the most essential parts of Taylor Swift’s success is the fact that she writes all her own music. The ability to write her own music comes from her incredible storytelling and imagination. Storytelling has always been a common theme in Swift's work since the very beginning. The examples I will be elaborating on in this blog are Love Story, The Lucky One, Death by a Thousand Cuts, The Last Great American Dynasty, and Tolerate It.
For the first example, we will be looking back to Swift’s early career beginning with the song Love Story from her second studio album Fearless. This is one of Taylor's most popular songs, originally debuting at #4 on the Billboard hot 100. When she released her re-recording of the song in an effort to reclaim her masters, Love Story once again charted and hit #11 on the Billboard hot 100. This song tells the story of two familiar characters almost anyone would recognize. Swift re-tells the story of Romeo and Juliet with a slightly different ending. You can hear that in these lyrics:
He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring
And said, "Marry me, Juliet
You'll never have to be alone
I love you and that's all I really know
I talked to your dad, go pick out a white dress
It's a love story, baby, just say, "Yes"
This song was not only inspired by this popular piece of literature, but also inspired by Taylor’s life. She wrote Love Story when she found herself loving somebody she couldn't have, exactly like these characters. She took an experience of her own and projected it onto the story of these star crossed lovers painting a beautiful new narrative. Listen Here!
The Lucky One
The Lucky One is the 13th track off of Taylor’s 4th studio album, Red. The Lucky One tells the story of a young ingenue new to fame, told from the perspective of an outsider. This song highlights the good and the bad of the life this mystery woman lives. We can see this with lyrics like, “New to town with a made-up name, In the angel's city chasing fortune and fame, and the camera flashes make it look like a dream” and, “Your secrets end up splashed on the news front page. And they tell you that you're lucky but you're so confused, 'cause you don't feel pretty, you just feel used”. In the third verse of this song, we learn that it's being told from Taylor’s perspective.
It was a few years later, I showed up here
And they still tell the legend of how you disappeared
How you took the money and your dignity and got the hell out
They say you bought a bunch of land somewhere
Chose the Rose Garden over Madison Square
And it took some time, but I understand it now
'Cause now my name is up in lights
But I think you got it right
In these lyrics, we learn that this mystery girl’s story is one that gets told a lot throughout the music industry. We also learn how Taylor sympathizes with this girl and understands her motives. Now to the instrumentals of the song. The chords in this song are D Bm G and A. Most of these chords are major but the B minor chord makes the song feel eerie. I think this works really well with the theme of the lyrics. Listen Here!
Death by a Thousand Cuts
Death by a Thousand Cuts is the 10th track off of Swift’s 7th studio album, Lover. She claims the song was inspired by a 2019 Netflix rom-com called “Someone Great”. This song is proof that even when her heart’s not broken, Taylor can still write a heartbreaking song. I think writing a song filled with so much emotion when it wasn't even your experience is impressive and shows her incredible skill. Although this song is a relatively upbeat fast paced song at 94 bpm, Swift’s lyrics and vocals are moody. Listen Here!
You said it was a great love
One for the ages
If the story's over
Why am I still writing pages?
Saying goodbye is death by a thousand cuts
Flashbacks waking me up
I get drunk, but it's not enough
'Cause the morning comes and you're not my baby
The Last Great American Dynasty
On July 24th 2020, Taylor Swift surprise dropped her 8th studio album Folklore. This album is filled with stories she created alongside Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff, Joe Alwyn, and Bon Iver. One of these stories is found in the song The Last Great American Dynasty. This is one of the few songs on the album that is a completely true story. It tells the story of a middle class divorcée named Rebekah who married a rich heir to an oil company. Together they bought a house in Rhode Island and threw lavish parties there. One day her husband's heart gave out and he passed away. In her mourning, she refused to return to Rhode Island so the house sat there on the beach for 50 years, vacant. At this point in the song it's revealed that Taylor bought the beach house and she still lives there even now. Listen Here!
50 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
Tolerate it is the 5th track off of Taylor’s 9th studio album Evermore. This is significant because on all of her albums, she always picks the saddest song to be the 5th track. Tolerate it is no exception to this rule. It tells the story of unrequited love, possibly from a lover or a family member. The person telling the story always feels like everything they do and the love they give is not enough. We can see that in these lyrics.
I wait by the door like I'm just a kid
Use my best colors for your portrait
Lay the table with the fancy s***
And watch you tolerate it
If it's all in my head tell me now
Tell me I've got it wrong somehow
I know my love should be celebrated
But you tolerate it
When we get to the last chorus of this song we can see that they are so fed up that they’re threatening to leave this person. By the end of the song they never quite leave. The song ends the way it started, with the line “I sit and watch you”. This full circle ending has shown that although this person has aired their grievances, nothing has changed. The really interesting thing about this song is the 5/4 time signature. This means there are 5 beats per measure and the beats are quarter notes. This unusual rhythm keeps you on your toes because 5/4 isn't a typical time signature. Listen Here!
Taylor Swift is one of the most relevant musicians of our time. This is due to none other than her skillful writing. These songs show how just listening to her music can take you into a whole new world. They all come from very different times in her life, the first from 2008 and the most recent from 2020. This just shows that no matter what genre her music is or what she's going through, storytelling remains prevalent in her music.
Taylor Swift, Link
Taylor Swift, Link
Taylor Swift, Link
Taylor Swift, Link
Taylor Swift, Link
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