Swifties are panicked on Twitter. They may not have a reason to be.
Taylor Swift’s folklore album came out at midnight tonight. And unlike Lover, the album contains several breakup songs, including the song’s first track “The 1” and its fourth track “Exile,” which William Bowery, who fans theorized may actually be Swift’s boyfriend Joe Alwyn’s pseudonym, helped write. Many Swifties on Twitter immediately worried that the tracks may be Swift’s subtle way of revealing she and Alwyn privately broke up.
The two have kept their relationship—its ups and downs—largely out of the spotlight. Swift wrote a large number of love songs seemingly about Alwyn on her last two albums Reputation and Lover.
But Swift posted an important footnote on her Instagram just as the album was released, revealing to fans that the music on folklore is a blend of her real life and characters and stories she made up. The breakup songs aren’t necessarily about her actual relationship. This isn’t the first time either that Swift has written fictional breakup songs: “Death by a Thousand Cuts” on her last album Lover was based off the movie Someone Great, she revealed.
She wrote in her note about folklore tonight:
It started with imagery. Visuals that popped into my mind and piqued my curiosity.
Stars drawn around scars. A cardigan that still bears the scent of loss twenty years later. Battleships sinking into the ocean, down, down, down. The tree swing in the woods of my childhood. Hushed tones of “let’s run away” and never doing it. The sun drenched month of August, sipped away like a bottle of wine. A mirrored disco ball hovering above a dance floor. A whiskey bottle beckoning. Hands held through plastic. A single thread that, for better or worse, ties you to your fate.
Pretty soon these images in my head grew faces or names and became characters. I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing about or from the perspective of people I’ve never met, people I’ve known, or those I wish I hadn’t. An exiled man walking the bluffs of a land that isn’t his own, wondering how it all went so terribly, terribly wrong. An seventeen-year-old standing on a porch, learning how to apologize. Lovestruck kids wandering up and down the evergreen High Line. My grandfather, Dean, landing at Guadalcanal in 1942. A misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out.
A tale that becomes folklore is one that is passed down and whispered around. Sometimes even sung about. The lines between fantasy and reality blur and the boundaries between truth and fiction become almost indiscernible. Speculation, over time, becomes fact. Myths, ghost stories, and fables. Fairytales and parables. Gossip and legend. Someone’s secrets written in the sky for all to behold.
In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness. Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory. I’ve told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder, and whimsy they deserve.
Now it’s up to you to pass them down.
Still, Swift didn’t explicitly spell out which songs are fact and fiction (or a blend of the two), leaving interpretation up to fans for now.
Standout breakup lyrics that prompted Alwyn fears from fans include lines from “the 1” like “if you wanted me, you really should’ve showed / And if you never bleed, you’re never gonna grow” and its chorus “But we were something, don’t you think so? / Roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool / And if my wishes came true / It would’ve been you / In my defense, I have none / For never leaving well enough alone / But it would’ve been fun / If you would’ve been the one / (Ooh)”
The lyrics of “exile” also cut deep, including the line “I think I’ve seen this film before / And I didn’t like the ending / I’m not your problem anymore / So who am I offending now? / You were my crown, now I’m in exile, seein’ you out / I think I’ve seen this film before / So I’m leaving out the side door” and the song’s bridge, “So step right out, there is no amount / Of crying I can do for you / All this time / We always walked a very thin line / You didn’t even hear me out (You didn’t even hear me out) / You never gave a warning sign (I gave so many signs) / All this time / I never learned to read your mind (Never learned to read my mind) / I couldn’t turn things around (You never turned things around) / ‘Cause you never gave a warning sign (I gave so many signs) / So many signs, so many signs / You didn’t even see the signs.”
For what it’s worth, Alwyn posted photos of himself with her cats in April 30, confirming to the internet that they’ve been quarantining together during the COVID-19 pandemic. His rumored involvement with the album (writing two songs potentially under William Bowery) suggest privately, they’re just fine and as protective of their romance as ever. (In fact, other songs on the album like “invisible string” suggest they’re as close and in love as ever with its chorus, “isn’t it just so pretty to think / All along there was some / Invisible string / Tying you to me?”)
As Swift told The Guardian in August 2019 with a laugh when asked why she won’t talk about their relationship in interviews, “I’ve learned that if I do, people think it’s up for discussion, and our relationship isn’t up for discussion. If you and I were having a glass of wine right now, we’d be talking about it—but it’s just that it goes out into the world. That’s where the boundary is, and that’s where my life has become manageable. I really want to keep it feeling manageable.”
Source: ELLE US