Single Review: Taylor Swift, “Betty”

Taylor Swift Folklore

“Betty”

Taylor Swift

Written by Taylor Swift and William Browery

Let’s answer the burning question you already likely know the answer to: Folklore is not Taylor Swift’s return to country, though it is a pivot toward lush indie-folk, where rich acoustics and tinges of atmosphere define the tentative soundscape. It’s a bit less distinctive as a whole for Swift, truthfully, but the restrained approach means the songwriting stands at the forefront, which is the intention anyway.

So perhaps it’s fitting, then, that most of the songs on Folklore sound like they’d naturally fit in better on country radio playlists than … well, a majority of what gets played. “Betty” is Swift’s first single aimed at country radio since 2013’s “Red,” and as a standalone single, I’m of two minds on it.

On one hand, it’s widely believed this song is part of a love triangle trilogy that includes this song, told from the perspective of a presumed character named James who cheats on the titular character; “Cardigan,” told from Betty’s perspective; and “August,” told from the “other woman’s” perspective. Swift recorded Folklore with the intention of crafting it through fictional stories rather than an autobiographical arc, which works, given how Swift has always had a sharp eye for subtle, relatable detail.

It’s all, again, purely up to speculation – some have even suggested the aforementioned storyline is actually a queer one, which would really show Swift’s widening perspective as a songwriter. Either way, “James” is the villain in this plot – Betty rightfully isn’t going to give them a second chance, and it’s clear, in “August,” that a summer fling meant more to the “other woman” than it ever will to “James.”

Basically, the “James” character on “Betty” is just made to be unlikable, showing real regret for the actions taken, for sure, but also hoping they can smooth things out through their supposed mind-melting charisma and charm, which makes “Cardigan” an even more biting retort.

So on the other hand, when you take away the album context and view “Betty” as a standalone song … well, I don’t know what to think. On a technical level, the brushes of harmonica add a nice, understated touch to the song, even if it’s a bit low-key and sleepy overall, and of course the writing is superb, even if, again, the character is completely insufferable and can’t take a hint. Because of that, “Betty” is a better album cut than it is a single, if that makes sense. And there has to be some sort of meta subtext in the supposed male-dominated storyline being the one sent to country radio. Let’s hope we see justice for “The Last Great American Dynasty” somewhere someday.

At any rate, it’s also a fitting return for Swift, especially when “Betty” is told from a younger perspective; a full-circle moment, really.

Grade: As an album cut, B+; as a single, B

7 Comments

  1. I won’t say that I have been converted into a fan of T-Swift’s (I think that ship has sailed); but it is, to my mind, more of what one might have wanted from Taylor if, instead of trying to stay fifteen when she’s twice that age now, she had gone in the folk/country direction of early 1970s-era Linda Ronstadt or Joni Mitchell. The teen nature of some of the lyrics are still a turn-off, but her voice has markedly improved (maybe she took a hint that she had to improve in that area if she wanted more people to take her seriously).

    I think the B/B+ rating is the right one for “Betty”, and it’s up there with “Begin Again” and “Back To September”. If she ever figures out how to act and sing her actual age on a consistent basis, we probably can then talk about her in the way we do about Linda and Joni (IMHO).

  2. I think The Last Great American Dynasty or Invisible String should have been sent to country radio. The former is a lyrical masterpiece *without the length of Betty* and the latter sounds sweet enough for a typical Swift song.

    Betty is nice, an album cut type of song but it is way too long for a country song to play well on the radio. I agree with the grade though.

  3. I’ve written as negatively about her output as most and have happily embraced her artistic growth. There was a time when, yes, she only wrote about being a teenage girl because that was really all she knew. But that hasn’t been true of her output for at least five albums running. Now, when she chooses to write from the POV of a teenage girl, it’s because she’s a songwriter in full command of her use of narrative voice, and it is one perspective among many that she writes authoritatively.

  4. The writing credit for this is Taylor Swift & William Bowery — you have it reversed here. (For writing credits, the order matters and it should not be alphabetical.) I’m curious if they have a radio version of this song, as the original includes an expletive.

    I’m curious what Kevin’s POV on this song/album is.

  5. Michelle,

    The order has been fixed. There is a radio version – one that’s shorter and replaces the F-bomb line.

  6. I wasn’t too crazy about Taylor when she first started, but ever since the Speak Now album, I’ve really become more and more of a fan of her’s. It’s now gotten to where I’d much rather hear most of her songs, including her pop material, over what’s mostly been on country radio for the last 10-15 years. I just find her lyrics more interesting, overall, and I like a lot of the melodies in her songs. This song sounds a lot more like the “old” Taylor, and to me, it would definitely sound refreshing on country radio compared to what else is mostly on there. I really like the acoustic arrangement and the harmonica throughout.

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