Music

Music

An Analysis of Taylor Swift’s “Cardigan” with P. A. Wilson

Cardigan is one of three Taylor Swift songs in a series that she calls the “Teenage Love Triangle.” This story is about three teens, Betty, James, and an unnamed character who James cheats on Betty with. Each song takes place from the perspective from a different teen, and Betty is the first one to share her perspective in her song, “Cardigan.”

P. A. Wilson and I decided to analyze each song in the series and offer our thoughts and opinions. We love a good song analysis, and this was a lot of fun.

Vintage tee, brand new phone

High heels on cobblestones

When you are young, they assume you know nothing

P. A. Wilson: I automatically get modern vibes or 2010s vibes at least. It seems recent mostly because of the new phone, but vintage tees have been popular for a few years now I believe. I am not great at keeping up with what’s in style, but I see teenagers still wearing vintage tees. High heels and vintage tees are a weird combination. I kind of wonder if there are two people in this scene due to the mismatch. High heels on cobblestones mostly makes me think of how I never wear them because I am so clumsy. On cobblestones, I would probably end up tripping and falling. I wonder if high heels on cobblestones is a metaphor for the relationship between these two people. Like if they are going through a rough patch or are uncertain in their footing. The last sentence is super relatable because adults always assume that teenagers, or even younger adults, are simply too inexperienced to know anything about the world or themselves. When I came out as asexual and biromantic, and even before that when I implied I was sex-repulsed, I was told that I was too young to understand how I felt. So yeah, this hit home.

Ashley: I’m curious about the vintage tee and high heels. It is an odd combination of clothes to wear, and I’m guessing there are two people there. The brand new phone also sounds like one of the people is able to afford a new phone, maybe they’re more wealthy, but they prefer to dress in vintage tees for comfort. High heels on cobblestones sounds slippery. I would probably fall over, myself. Cobblestones maybe indicate that they’re in someone’s driveway or maybe they’re walking through town. I like that last sentence. I feel like we don’t take young people very seriously, and it’s quite annoying.

Sequin smile, black lipstick

Sensual politics

When you are young, they assume you know nothing

P. A. Wilson: “Sequin smile” is a wonderful usage of descriptive imagery. Sequins look like they are diamonds or some other gem, but they are fake in reality, mere plastic. A sequin smile is shiny and looks genuine but masks a different feeling inside. Black lipstick also suggests a somber mood. Sensual politics seems to refer to the subtle manipulation and deliberate impression made by this behavior and clothing choice–like the intentional maneuvers and diction of a politician. The final line about adults assuming young people know nothing takes on a different vibe in this section, because it seems like the adults came to this conclusion because of the smiles and makeup/clothing choices of young people. Like it is a judgement based on appearance.

Ashley: “Sequin smile” is an interesting phrase. It feels plastered on or fake, almost ornamental. This person is dressing up, maybe in sequins. I have personally never worn black lipstick, and from what I’ve heard, it sounds like it is hard to pull it off. I kind of want to try black lipstick now. But, I get the vibe here that she’s (or the person wearing lipstick) is dressing up for the other. The phrase “sensual politics” sounds like it is a younger person trying to be more mature. Politics reminds me of politicians having secret affairs with each other. Sensual makes me think that this is a liaison between two people, if not a cheating situation. I can see where the second phrase comes in. Maybe older people observing their relationship saw it as them pretending to be adults, and her dressing up for the person she’s with is seen as exaggerated and overdone. She says the phrase dismissively like they assume, but she knows the truth.

But I knew you

Dancin’ in your Levi’s

Drunk under a streetlight, I

P. A. Wilson: Knowing someone when they are in a different state from one in which they would normally like others to see them suggests a kind of intimacy. It’s a personal moment that the narrator has shared with one they love. Being drunk and dancing also suggests a kind of vulnerability and implied trust.

Ashley: They’re definitely out at night. The image here also just feels intimate. It is one of those moments that not everyone knows about a person. Although this person is drunk, they seem vulnerable. They’re carefree, dancing around. I also find it interesting that the two of them are not dancing together. One is watching while the other dances, at least that’s how I interpret it.

I knew you

Hand under my sweatshirt

Baby, kiss it better, I

And when I felt like I was an old cardigan

Under someone’s bed

You put me on and said I was your favorite

P. A. Wilson: She sounds like she feels left behind often, abandoned as unwanted, but that the lover made her feel like she was special. The old cardigan was an interesting choice, as a piece of clothes, something that you put on sometimes for comfort but that you might not wear around others as often since it is old. Almost suggesting that her lover “puts her on” when it is convenient or just as a means of comfort. “Baby, kiss it better” is kind of childish, suggesting that the singer is vulnerable and believes the lover’s affection would have a healing effect.

Ashley: She is definitely confident, telling him to kiss her, and we definitely know this is some sort of relationship now. I like the cardigan image. I don’t have any clothes under my bed myself. If anything, it would be a cardigan on the floor of my closet or hung up somewhere. It sounds like she feels like she is forgotten. Maybe she feels like no one sees her as a romantic prospect, and then he chooses her and she feels good and warm. I’m not sure if this extends into other categories of life too. Does she feel like family and her peers don’t notice her much, or does she just feel like this in a romantic context?

A friend to all is a friend to none

Chase two girls, lose the one

When you are young, they assume you know nothin’

P. A. Wilson: I understand very well that “a friend to all is a friend to none.” I try to be on good terms and build relationships with many people, including people who don’t get along with each other. Because I do not choose sides, I am often resented by everyone involved. James chased another girl, and now has lost the Betty. Losing the one could also be interpreted as losing “the one.” Like the one person who is a perfect match. I never believed in “the one,” instead believing there are many potential partners who would be great, even if you only choose one in the end. The repetition of “they assume you know nothin'” now seems like it means they assume one cannot be held responsible for such actions if one is young, due to ignorance.

Ashley: I feel like she’s pretty right here. You can’t please everyone and be everyone’s friend, but I’m not sure if you’d be a friend to no one. You’d have to have someone, right? The next phrase totally contradicts the first one. If only one girl is lost, they still get the other girl. I’m guessing Betty is the girl that was lost, because she says she knew them in past tense. Again, the refrain maybe reinstates that her lover didn’t know how to keep her, so maybe in this case, at least James really did know nothing.

But I knew you

Playing hide-and-seek and

Giving me your weekends, I

P. A. Wilson: Playing hide and seek sounds cute and sweet like the children’s game, but it could mean James is hiding something more serious, like his affair with another girl. Giving weekends makes it sound like it is a gift that James is giving her. Oddly, she does not consider that she is also giving him her weekends. The gift is mutual. It becomes increasingly clear that Betty has low self-esteem.

Ashley: I feel like this relationship is starting to show its disfunction some more. Playing hide and seek first sounds fun and a bit childish, but it maybe carries another meaning. James might not be as consistent with meeting up and hanging out with Betty. We know from Swift that James is cheating on Betty, and it sounds like he might be hiding when they are in public or isn’t very consistent with making plans. Giving me your weekends also shows how Betty sees James’ weekends as a gift. She doesn’t see herself as giving her weekends, and it sounds like she felt special to get weekends together. Their relationship could only exist on weekends, and James spends the other time with this other girl. But Betty didn’t seem to care. She just liked feeling special.

I can understand that, enjoying whenever you’re around someone. You soak up all your time together like a sponge because he makes you feel special, and it feels like you don’t get that feeling anywhere else. And that’s all you can think about. Your head is so filled with love that you forget all their flaws and the circumstances you’re in.

I knew you

Your heartbeat on the High Line

Once in 20 lifetimes, I

And when I felt like I was an old cardigan

Under someone’s bed

You put me on and said I was your favorite

P. A. Wilson: Not really sure what heartbeat on the High Line means, other than it is a straight street in New York. Maybe it refers to how Betty thought James’ heart would not deviate from her. She felt like this love was so special it would only be found once in 20 lifetimes. The repetition of the cardigan line emphasizes her low self-esteem and how he made her seem special.

Ashley: I looked up High Line. It is a straight street in New York City. I’m not exactly sure what she means with this image. I’m imagining that if she feels like his heartbeat is on a straight road, then maybe she doesn’t see him as pursuing another girl. She is the road to happiness and their love is a straight line. It feels extra special, once in 20 lifetimes. So, it doesn’t matter if she is young. She feels like with this person she has lived and has now finally experienced true love. I also feel like she’s justifying her love for him. She felt so special and she had no idea they’d break her heart.

To kiss in cars and downtown bars

Was all we needed

You drew stars around my scars

But now I’m bleedin”

P. A. Wilson: Cars and bars both seem connected to the fast life. Interesting they are kissing in places where the instinct to kiss or the alcohol could impair judgement. Is that really all she needed? What about kissing in the intimacy of a home? She is apparently emotionally or psychologically scarred, and being around him distracted her from that. Drawing stars around them does not heal her, but it does distract her from her pain and make the world seem brighter. That’s why when James leaves it is especially devastating.

Ashley: Ouch. Cars and bars are pretty secretive. They aren’t together in public but somehow it is enough for both of them. But is it? It might be all they wanted in the moment, but look at the next lines. I’m imagining James is drawing stars with a pen on Betty’s arm. I’m not sure how metaphorical and literal they are. Also, stars seem like they’re nearby forever, but then the night ends and we can no longer see them.

Scars indicate she’s been hurt in the past, either emotionally or physically or both. She seems like she’s healed, but she’s still fragile. If we’re thinking of physical scars, drawing around the scars seems like they’re creating a distraction. She isn’t being healed, but she feels better with this person who seems like a ray of light. The only problem is that she’s rested her happiness on this person and once they leave her, the pain is worse and she is alone.

Cause I knew you

Steppin’ on the last train

Marked me like a bloodstain, I

P. A. Wilson: Stepping on the last train suggests he wanted to be with her for a long time, but ultimately left her. A bloodstain leaves no positive memories and has no good associations, just the notion of pain. In addition to her scars and bleeding, she feels stained.

Ashley: He is leaving her. The last train might indicate he cares for her too, he is spending every moment that he can with her. But marking her like a bloodstain, that hurts. He still causes a harmful wound whether he means to or not. She is too in love with him.

I knew you

Tried to change the ending

Peter losing Wendy, I

I knew you

P. A. Wilson: I understood the Peter Pan and Wendy reference, because they were really close, even though I do not recall the ending. It seems like James is trying to backpedal and change this ending where he loses the girl of his dream, but he fails.

Ashley: I haven’t seen Peter Pan since I was a kid, and I can’t remember the ending. I think Wendy leaves Neverland. I picture Neverland a place where nothing ever changes–where they can stay young and carry out their romance forever. He seems like he’s trying to get back together with her after leaving. He wants to keep their romance, but he has already hurt her and they can’t go back.

Leavin’ like a father

Running like water, I

And when you are young, they assume you know nothing

P. A. Wilson: “Leavin’ like a father” is a painful line. It seems like Betty’s own father might have left her, but also like this is a commentary about how fathers sometimes leave their children. Running like water makes it sound like she thinks it was natural that he left her, if unexpected. She shows that she has experience and doesn’t really know nothing.

Ashley: The speaker seems like she’s pretty vague about her own past. I can’t tell if her father or another family member left her in the past and that is why she has these scars. I don’t get the sense that James caused her initial scars. The metaphor of running like water. Well, water runs, but it leaves an impact on the ground that it runs under. It also keeps moving forward, regardless of the feelings of the people around it.

But I knew you’d linger like a tattoo kiss

I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs

The smell of smoke would hang around this long

P. A. Wilson: A tattoo is long-lasting and often permanent, so his love has marked her permanently, whether that is desired or not. She is haunted by what could have been. Smoke comes after a fire and is a sign of destruction. Usually, it fades away, but this smoke is lingering, suffocating Betty.

Ashley: She says they’re lingering, and lingering means someone stays longer than intended or wanted. It seems like she doesn’t necessarily want to keep him on her mind, but she can’t let it go. A tattoo feels more permanent than a lingering stranger. A tattoo is meant to be permanent, and it is pretty painful to remove. Haunting what-ifs shows that she made decisions too. Maybe she could have gotten with James when he fought for her, but she gave up. The smell of smoke reminds me of a fire burning or a cigarette. Also, fire is quick and passionate in the moment, and you don’t expect smoke to hang around after.

‘Cause I knew everything when I was young

I knew I’d curse you for the longest time

P. A. Wilson: Young people know more than they are usually given credit for, even if they are inexperienced. They learn about life, and their experience should not be disregarded. She knows even now that she is going to hold a grudge and not be able to move on for a long time.

Ashley: She knows that she won’t forget him. She knows her feelings and that she’s in pain, and she won’t get over how he hurt her for a while. Just because she’s young doesn’t mean she doesn’t know herself or hasn’t learned from her experiences.

Chasin’ shadows in the grocery line

I knew you’d miss me once the thrill expired

And you’d be standin’ in my front porch light

P. A. Wilson: Even though Betty knows James is gone, she looks for signs of his presence in public places. She knew he would come back to her. He is no longer the person drawing stars–now he relies on the porch light instead of being a source of light himself.

Ashley: I like the image of chasing shadows. I wonder if she sees him at the store and watches as he walks away from the store. I like how she continues the metaphor of light. But instead of a shadow, he is now present in the light.

And I knew you’d come back to me

You’d come back to me

And you’d come back to me

And you’d come back

P. A. Wilson: I didn’t expect this confidence that he would return. I had hoped the end of the song would show her moving on and happy on her own or finding someone new. The repetition makes it seem more likely.

Ashley: She’s pretty confident. This ending surprises me a little. But he did care about her, so it makes sense. It sounds like maybe they’ll get a happy ending.

And when I felt like I was an old cardigan

Under someone’s bed

You put me on and said I was your favorite

P. A. Wilson: This song was a good one. I appreciated the imagery, especially the cardigan and the sequin smile. I personally hope they both move on. It’s hard to trust again after being cheated on, and I am not sure that Betty will be able to heal if she re-opens old wounds by being with James again. The positive ending makes me think that they may have a chance, though.

Ashley: I liked this song. It tells a story in the details. I feel like if these two get together, they have a bit to learn, even if she does know herself pretty well. James has to make it up to her for leaving, but I feel like coming to her doorstep is a start at least.

I feel like she’s captured the experience of being young and in love. Betty both knows herself and James more than people think she does, but she still makes mistakes and learns from them. She feels so happy about being someone’s favorite. It feels special and exciting, but she also feels comfortable with him. That isn’t something you want to let go. Cardigans are something that you keep for a long time in her case.

In real life though, I had a cardigan that, like this one, I left in my closet for years. It was grey and thin. It was comfortable enough, but it didn’t match many of my clothes. I enjoyed wearing it at the time though, but I ended up donating it. I don’t really miss it. I got a white cardigan this Christmas, partially out of my love of Taylor Swift. It is shorter and has two buttons. I hope to wear it again in the fall when it gets cooler outside.

So, that’s our analysis of “Cardigan.” Next, we’re going to analyze “Betty” next. What did you think of the song? Do you think Betty should have taken James back? Let us know in the comments below!

Music

LoFi is Superior to Focus Music: 5 Playlists to Study, Chill, Write and, Relax To When You Can’t Focus

LoFi is Superior to Focus Music: 5 Playlists to Study, Chill, Write and, Relax To When You Can’t Focus

So, I have a confession. My Spotify Wrapped may be a tad inaccurate. Truth is, I listen to a lot of music on YouTube. For some reason, it is satisfying to switch Google Chrome from music to my writing within seconds. I also don’t have premium, so that makes it a bit challenging. It messes with my ability to focus. Nevertheless, I love listening to music while I study, and YouTube has a bunch of playlists that people make. So, here we are. Here is a list of my top 5 categories of playlists to study, write, and relax to.

  1. Dark Academia

I like dark academic music for studying because it feels classical, studious, and adventurous. Dark academia is basically classical music with dark undertones. When I listen to dark academia music, the world around me falls away and I am transported to a new place. Imagine walking down the dark towers, a deep forest, or studying at the library at night. I like to imagine that I go to college at Hogwarts and there are ghosts hidden everywhere. I’ve listened to this one several times and it just works when I want to feel serious about academics.

2. Light Academia

Light academia is an alteration from Dark Academia. Light academia is an outstretched hand for a dance in a golden ballroom, a gentle smile, a sweet symphony. Calm, regal, castle. Your Jane Austens, fairy tale, kingdoms. It is associated with royal core, and sometimes books like The Selection are included in this aesthetic. I never finished The Selection, but the light classical music is beautiful. You are transformed into another time. You are learning dance steps with royalty in the back room. You’re elegant. Light academia tiptoes in, light on her feet, she sweeps you into a beautiful dance. You’re captivated by the scene, the delicacy, the large room.

3. LoFi

If Light Academia is classical, Lofi is modern. With a pair of headphones and a laptop, skyscrapers all around, winter, summer, spring, or autumn, she’s vibing. She’s cool and you want to be like her. She’s always there, which is kind of weird, but she’s also there for you. Lofi is the offbeat of a song, so the beats do not necessarily feel normal. Somehow, it works. When my motivation to study is a little off, the Lofi helps set me back in place. LoFi isn’t my absolute favorite though. I usually enjoy the themed LoFi videos over the live ones. I like LoFi but sometimes the offbeat isn’t the vibe I want, so I switch to light academia. I chose one of my favorites, this one is for ghosts only. It has some of the dark academic vibes that I love.

4. Electric Swing

I love swing dancing, but I hadn’t ever checked electric swing music out until a friend mentioned that she studied with an electric swing playlist in the background. Swing is fast and fun, and I don’t generally listen to the ones with words while I read. It is a lot of fun to listen to while you work on work like design or writing. Out of all the music, this one puts me in the best mood. The song’s beat hit and I am energized and focused. I feel more upbeat at 3 in the afternoon than I normally would after a day of work. I chose this playlist because it is for a character from a show I like, Hazbin Hotel. The songs on here are fun and upbeat and Alastor is a bit of a trickster figure. There are plenty of electric swing playlists out there so I’d recommend checking them out. Some are older and others are more modern, but all of them are pretty good if you’re in the mood for some sweet jazz.

5. Deep Focus Music

This my dudes, is for when you’re feeling so, so serious. When you need to STUDY and it is IMPORTANT, you slap one of these things in and prepare for hours of a test. You put on the music and you’ll have the focus skills and brainpower to move mountains. I listen to these when I want to focus on studying rather than enjoy the music. It isn’t bad music, it’s just a little boring sometimes. I don’t listen to these for a long time, but they are cool when you want to hyper-focus on an assignment. It makes you feel like you’re using your brain and are great at not procrastinating for a while, so that’s a plus.

So, if you’re relaxing, these songs can be nice to chill to. If you’re studying something challenging, especially for midterms finals, remember, take breaks, get some sleep, eat regularly, stay hydrated, take a walk or exercise a little to give your mind a break, and do your best when the time comes. I was intimidated by finals my first year, but after the last test, it’s a great relief. You’re awesome. You made it through another semester, half a year, I’m proud of you all. Remember your worth isn’t in your grades, whatever it ends up, it is a test, and there is much, much more to life. And afterward, you can take relaxing seriously, take a nap, chill out. You deserve it.