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