The real meaning behind Betty’s lyrics
It only took a few hours after Taylor Swift’s surprise release of her new album Folklore for the internet to engage in its new favorite pastime: immediately decoding every one of Swift’s lyrics. One of the songs driving listeners into a frenzy is “Betty,” Folklore’s 14th track, which has everyone from music critics to Twitter stans poring over its meaning. Depending on who you ask, the song might even be a gay anthem and an autobiographical confession of Swift’s past love for another woman.
“Betty” does indeed narrate a story of unrequited love — but is it really about Taylor Swift herself? What is the real meaning behind the lyrics of Taylor’s new track? And will the fervor over “Betty” end up being as controversial as Taylor’s last LGBTQ-related song “You Need to Calm Down”? Let’s take a closer look at the lyrics of “Betty” to find out.
The name 'James' could be a hint
As Vulture‘s Madison Malone Kircher pointed out, “Betty” is ostensibly a first-person narrative from the perspective of a teenage boy named James, who is in love with a girl from his high school named — you guessed it — Betty. On the surface level, the story is pretty standard fare in pop culture (“boy longs for girl”). But on another level, the love song could potentially be about a girl singing about her unrequited love for another girl.
In her Vulture analysis, Kircher argued that the name “James” was a very deliberate decision by Swift. “The first thing you need to know is that Taylor Alison Swift is named after one James Taylor,” Kircher explained. “So when she’s singing as James, telling a story about James, she’s telling a story about herself.” Kircher also pointed out that Swift has set a precedent for this in the past, having written songs under the pseudonym Nils Sjoberg for the likes of Calvin Harris and Rihanna.
While it’s definitely possible that “Betty” is actually a song about queer love, fans of Taylor Swift on social media have taken it a step further. They’re speculating that the name “Betty” is a nod not only to a real person, but to a bonafide celebrity.
Fans think 'Betty' is about a female celebrity
All of Taylor Swift’s many high-profile paramours have been cis men, but nonetheless, questions about the singer-songwriter’s sexuality have swirled for years. The most prominent theory is that Taylor Swift’s longtime close pal, model Karlie Kloss, was actually her girlfriend. T.Swift fans were abuzz with interpretations of how certain lyrics from Swift’s 2019 album Lover were in fact allusions to this supposed secret relationship, and with the release of Folklore, this yet again seems to be the case. But now, the subtext seems to have become a bit more main-text, and it’s mostly concentrated in one song: “Betty.”
After Folklore dropped at midnight on July 24, 2020, “Kaylor” truthers (fans who believe in the Swift/Kloss secret romance) took to Twitter to speculate about how “Betty” is secretly a song about Swift’s love for the supermodel, who has been married to Jared Kushner’s brother Joshua since 2018. The main evidence? The name of the song itself. As one Twitter user pointed out, Kloss’s middle name is Elizabeth — which, when shortened to a nickname, is “Betty.”
Taylor Swift has a dicey history with LGBTQ songs
So, could “Betty” really be Taylor Swift’s declaration of queer love at last? Is it a wink to the Karlie Kloss rumors? Or is it an instance of queerbaiting, in which artists pander to LGBTQ audiences for attention? Swift previously faced accusations of cultural appropriation, performative allyship, and queerbaiting after the release of the music video for 2019’s “You Need to Calm Down,” per The Daily Beast. Hopefully, Swift learned a thing or two from that experience. On the other hand, the chances of Kloss and Swift confirming that they once had a romantic relationship seem awfully slim.
Not everyone thinks “Betty” has anything to do with Kloss. One Twitter user pointed out that, per Swift’s own comments about the album, it could be about a teenage love triangle instead.
But maybe, for fans of “Betty” and Taylor Swift — especially ones who are members of the LGBTQ community — the real story doesn’t matter. Or better yet, as summed up by the words of Vulture‘s Madison Malone Kircher: whether Swift actually intended “Betty” to be a queer anthem or not, “we’ll take it.”
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