A Story Told from Three Perspectives: The Meaning Behind “betty” by Taylor Swift

When a songwriter tells a story, perspective is vital. Is the story happening now, or is it being remembered and recounted at a later time? Is the story being told by the person who experienced it, or does an onlooker narrate it? Does the story represent more than one perspective? These are all important elements in songwriting. The idea that there are only a certain amount of basic storylines but endless ways to tell them is something songwriters have explored since the beginning. Since Taylor Swift’s first album, her songwriting has grown, and she has experimented with different perspectives. Let’s look at the meaning behind “betty” from the folklore album.

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Betty, I won’t make assumptions

About why you switched your homeroom, but

I think it’s ’cause of me

Betty, one time, I was riding on my skateboard

When I passed your house

It’s like I couldn’t breathe

You heard the rumors from Inez

You can’t believe a word she says

Most times, but this time, it was true

The worst thing that I ever did

Was what I did to you

But if I just showed up at your party

Would you have me?

Would you want me?

Would you tell me to go f–k myself?

Or lead me to the garden?

In the garden, would you trust me

If I told you it was just a summer thing?

I’m only 17. I don’t know anything

But I know I miss you

Three Sides of the Same Story

The song “betty” is sung from the perspective of James, a 17-year-old boy, who realizes he has messed up his relationship. He is apologizing to Betty after being untrue. The lead single off of folklore was “cardigan,” which tells the story from Betty’s perspective. And finally, “august” addresses the story from the “other woman’s” perspective. This songwriting technique opens up the overall story. The idea of telling the story from three different perspectives makes the listener empathetic to “the other woman,” who Swift insists is not the villain. 

Betty, I know where it all went wrong

Your favorite song was playing

From the far side of the gym

I was nowhere to be found

I hate the crowds, you know that

Plus, I saw you dance with him

You heard the rumors from Inez

You can’t believe a word she says

Most times, but this time, it was true

The worst thing that I ever did

Was what I did to you

But 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

If I told you it was just a summer thing?

I’m only seventeen. I don’t know anything

But I know I miss you

Co-Written by William Bowery

In the 2020 Disney+ documentary/musical folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions, Swift revealed the co-writer of “betty” was her then-boyfriend Joe Alwyn, the British actor, who used William Bowery as a pseudonym.

“Joe plays piano beautifully, and he’s always just playing and making things up and kind of creating things,” Swift says in the film.

“I just heard Joe singing the entire fully formed chorus of ‘betty’ from another room. And, I just was like, ‘Hello,'” she continued. “He was singing the chorus of it, and I thought it sounded really good from a man’s voice, from a masculine perspective, and I really liked that it seemed to be an apology. And I’ve written so many songs from a female’s perspective of wanting a male apology that we decided to make it from a teenage boy’s perspective, apologizing after he loses the love of his life because he’s been foolish.”

I was walking home on broken cobblestones

Just thinking of you when she pulled up, like

A figment of my worst intentions

She said, “James, get in, let’s drive”

Those days turned into nights

Slept next to her, but

I dreamt of you all summer long

Swift has rerecorded her first six albums, leading to her readdressing some of the perspectives of her songs. For the most part, she has kept the content the same, but her perspective could have changed as she has grown as a songwriter and an artist.

Betty, I’m here on your doorstep

And I planned it out for weeks now

But it’s finally sinkin’ in

Betty, right now is the last time

I can dream about what happens when

You see my face again

The only thing I wanna do

Is make it up to you

So I showed up at your party

Yeah, I showed up at your party

A Freewheelin’ Direction

Producer Aaron Dessner told Vulture about the musical style Swift was aiming for. “She wanted it to have an early Bob Dylan, sort of a Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan feel,” he said. “We pushed it a little more towards John Wesley Harding since it has some drums. It’s this epic narrative folk song where it tells us a long story and connects back to ‘cardigan.’ It starts to connect dots, and I think it’s a beautifully written song.”

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?

If you kiss me, will it be just like I dreamed it?

Will it patch your broken wings?

I’m only 17, I don’t know anything

But I know I miss you

Standing in your cardigan

Kissin’ in my car again

Stopped at a streetlight

You know I miss you

In the 2020 documentary Miss Americana, Swift talked about her creative process. “I think as a songwriter, there is that urge to connect. There is that urge to say, like, ‘This is how I feel sometimes,’ and then have fans say, ‘Oh, my God, like I feel that way sometimes, too.”

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Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

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