Try to close your eyes and pretend your bedroom is really a cabin surrounded by some fake moss – you’d probably be quick to believe you were really in the folklorian Woods that Taylor Swift explored throughout her folklore album rather than sitting at home daydreaming about it, no?
Of course, we didn’t dream up that imagery by ourselves. We were describing the set of Taylor’s 2021 GRAMMY Awards performance, where she performed three fan-favorite folklore and evermore tracks: ‘cardigan,’ ‘august,’ and ‘willow.’ If you love the sister albums as much as we do, you’re probably well aware of the connection between ‘cardigan’ and ‘august,’ but we can run a little refresher for you if not.
The Teenage Love Triangle: “Chase Two Girls, Lose the One”
If you weren’t already moved by the fact that folklore has sold 2.3 million units, you’ll be moved by the one and only Jack Antonoff’s energetic head bobbing during that iconic performance. It’s in his excitement that the true appeal of ‘august’ takes center stage and even non-Swifties can fall in love with the track! Even the folklore family’s resident introvert, Aaron Dessner, breaks out of his shell for this song:
We’ll never forget the thrill that went through our veins when Taylor began singing the song that’ll forever circulate every August, crooning, “Salt air, and the rust on your door, I never needed anything more.” It comes from the perspective of a fictional character named Augustine or Augusta – Taylor gave us two options, so it’s your call, really. ‘august’ offers her side of the highly discussed love triangle that plays throughout the album’s narrative arc, interlacing itself into two other tracks, ‘betty’ and ‘cardigan.’
Basically, James is all over the place and has decided to showcase his foolishness by leaving his girlfriend for a summer fling. From One Tree Hill’s Brooke, Lucas, and Peyton to Barney, Robin, and Ted in How I Met Your Mother, the love triangle trope has been around for a while, nor is this trilogy the first time Taylor’s wrestled with it. However, it does have somewhat of a toxic structure, one could say: the girl-next-door vs. the wild child.
Taylor’s Role: “Is It Romantic How All My Elegies Eulogize Me?”
So, in the girl-next-door vs. wild child scenario, which one does Taylor herself fit into? In order to understand her songwriting process, it’s our numero uno fact to know. “The main thing that I always tried to be was a good girl,” Taylor declares in her Netflix documentary, Miss Americana. Oop, guess that solves the stereotype sorting quickly!
That “good girl” manifestation is not all that surprising though, if you’ve followed along through her career and life! In high school, Tay had a 4.0 average! Her adorable cats Meredith, Olivia, and Benjamin make up her fur family and they inspired the name for her home studio setup, Kitty Committee Studios. Tay is also absolutely terrified of someone framing her and thereby ending up in jail. See, it’s giving “good girl” energy all around. Funnily though… she wound up twisting the narrative and framing someone else for murder on evermore‘s ‘no body, no crime.’ More on that idea later!
Most importantly, though, she once counted herself as a wallflower romantic. She told Rolling Stone back in 2009:
I love love. I love studying it and watching it. I love thinking about how we treat each other, and the crazy way that one person can feel one thing and another can feel totally different. It just doesn’t take much for me to be inspired to write a song about a person, but I’m much more likely to write that song than do anything about it. You know, self-preservation.
Taylor Swift Rolling Stone
Part of why we love Taylor so much is that she’s unapologetically herself, and she’s not afraid to just act like one of us! It’s never been uncommon of her to slide into a fan’s DMs with a breakup playlist, reply to someone needing advice in her comments section, or just be an all-around big sis. At the end of the day, she’s just a big ol’ dork like we are!
So now that we know where Taylor usually casts herself in her love triangles, let’s see how that’s played out through her career…
The Good Girl Option: “I Had the Shiniest Wheels”
Were you really a 2000s kid if you didn’t have Taylor’s 2008 hit ‘You Belong With Me’ on all your favorite playlists? We think not! This song is pretty much what introduced us to the modern love triangle, with Taylor playing the girl-next-door character trying to convince her crush that the girl he’s with is bad news – in the music video, that’s quite literal and she lives next door to him.
Not only are her good intentions what make her seem like the right choice here, but also the down-to-earth vibes she gives off. With oversized glasses, a Junior Jewels band camp shirt signed by her peers, plaid pajama bottoms, and a notepad page with “I love you” scribbled on it to admit her feelings, anyone can see themself in her shoes, and that’s part of what had us copying her southern twang while screaming along to “she’s cheer captain, and I’m on the bleachers.”
And who was the “bad girl” in the scenario? Taylor herself, donning a brunette wig and shaking some pom-poms in the air. You could see it as just a fun acting moment or a metaphor for Taylor seeing herself as a better, more authentic version of this boy’s girlfriend.
Add In Some Angst: “Please Picture Me in the Weeds Before I Learned Civility”
From that perspective, it does make sense for Taylor to write herself in as the heroic, overlooked girl who gets her moment. But after ‘You Belong With Me,’ she started taking more initiative in her lyrics and specifically trying to step in to prove she’s a better option.
You could argue that this shift came up with the actual ‘You Belong With Me’ music video, which sees Taylor getting her dream dance with the boy she likes at prom even though the song’s lyrics don’t mention her winding up with him. By the time her next album era came about with Speak Now, she was daydreaming about breaking up a crush’s wedding on the title track. But she sweetly prefaced it with a little self-aware moment: “I am not the kind of girl who should be rudely barging in on a white veil occasion, but you are not the kind of boy who should be marrying the wrong girl.”
Then later on Speak Now, there’s the pop-rock burn book anthem that is ‘Better Than Revenge,’ seeing an 18-year-old Taylor warning her ex about the girl he seemingly left her for. “She’s not a saint, and she’s not what you think,” she bites out. If maybe he sees his new lover the way Taylor sees her, then they’ll break up and he’ll revive things with her. Petty, maybe, but who wouldn’t feel at least a little ticked off if something like that happened to them?
Though, it’s how it’s supposed to go in that moment in time to show her maturity growth on 2012’s ‘Girl At Home.’ This country-pop track that got a club-ready facelift for Red (Taylor’s Version) sees Taylor in an almost identical situation to the ones that the mean girls of relationships past found themselves in, tackling the dilemma of whether to help cheat or to walk away.
Taylor’s Version of this tune brings out the electro-pop, a perfect revamp meant to be sung in a stadium full of her adoring fans, all learning about Girl Code. “Call a cab, lose my number,” she warns the unnamed boy. “Let’s consider this lesson learned.”
The Plot Thickens: “A Dwindling, Mercurial High”
Our twist in the narrative comes in the form of ‘Gorgeous,’ a bubbly standout from Taylor’s reputation album that sees her switching roles in her traditional love triangle journey. As her emotionally distant boyfriend is “in a club doing I-don’t-know-what,” a mystery boy sweeps Taylor off her feet and she fights off temptation while also wondering what it’d be like if she gave in.
“I’m so furious,” she muses, “at you for making me feel this way.” Although there’s no indication of her acting on those feelings, she has, in a way, put herself into the high heels of those she rolled her eyes at. Therefore, she stunningly became the mean girl in a love triangle of a new era. Perhaps it’s a culmination of needing to write this track and other life experiences that birthed ‘august.’
Enter The folklorian Woods: “You Know the Greatest Loves of All Time Are Over Now”
Now, we return to folklore and the grand teenage love triangle that has kept the world on its toes! Before we dive into the main story, we think it’s important to take note of how much Taylor’s perspective of love triangles and “the other girl” has changed over the years. That growth takes center stage in Taylor’s folklore: the long pond studio sessions documentary, where she explains why Augustine/Augusta isn’t a villain:
The idea that there’s some bad villain girl in any type of situation that, like, takes your man is really a total myth because that’s not usually the case at all.
Folklore: the long pond studio sessions
Let’s do a little love triangle recap, shall we? James cheats on Betty with Augustine. Augustine and James spend the summer together. But, surprise, James was daydreaming about Betty the entire time! However, it’s the little song writing details that Taylor has put into each of the tracks (‘cardigan’ narrated by Betty, ‘betty’ narrated by James, and ‘august’ narrated by Augustine) that illustrate her own evolution of the love triangle trope.
For example, Betty says, “chasing shadows in the grocery line.” James retorts, “I was nowhere to be found, I hate the crowds, you know that.” Notably, unlike songs like ‘You Belong With Me’ and ‘Better Than Revenge,’ Taylor fleshes out both girls in the triangle to paint a fuller picture of how James wound up hurting both of them, no matter who he thinks he truly loves.
“So much for summer love, and saying ‘us’ ’cause you weren’t mine to lose,” Augustine expresses. James takes the word “summer” and uses it as an excuse to Betty like the immature boy he is: “In the garden, would you trust me if I told you it was just a summer thing?” Even, “Those days turned into nights slept next to her, but I dreamt of you all summer long.” James insists “I’m only 17, I don’t know anything,” while Betty counters, “I knew everything when I was young.”
The Evolution Of Swiftian Love Triangles: “Holdin’ All This Love Out Here in the Hall”
Remember the ‘no body, no crime’ reference we made earlier and said we’d come back to? The time has come! Now that we’ve looked at how Taylor’s narratives have changed over time, we’re gonna look at why. Everyone seems to have done quite a bit of reflective thinking during the pandemic, and it seems like Taylor is no different. With ‘no body, no crime’ seeing her spin one of her biggest fears on someone else and ‘august’ reevaluating her perspective of “the other girl,” folklore and evermore let her explore her deepest thoughts and past woes with a fictional lens that makes it less intimidating to share with the world.
Something else that her Swiftian love triangles and ‘no body, no crime’ have in common is that Taylor weaves driving references into both storylines. On ‘no body, no crime,’ she uses a widower’s new tires as evidence that he killed his ex, while Augustine and Betty use it as a device to describe who’s in a relationship with James.
James only uses car imagery in relation to Betty and not Augustine, while both girls use it for him. The car is essentially a device for who’s in the relationship, ending up with Betty kissing James under a streetlight. Simply, Taylor notes it best, in the Long Pond Studios documentary: “Everybody has feelings and wants to be seen and loved—and just, like, Augustine, that’s all she really wanted, too.”