Literary References in Taylor Swift Songs

Taylor Swift is undoubtedly a spectacular songwriter and an outstanding singer, but what if she wasn’t? In Vogue’s 73 question interview, Taylor states that if she were a teacher, she would teach English. It’s no surprise that this is the subject Swift would choose, because she’s referenced many literary classics in her songs. Here are some of them:

Romeo & Juliet: It would be hard not to know this one, unless you’re living under a rock of course! in Swift’s song “Love Story” from her sophomore Grammy winning album Fearless, the song follows a romance similarly to that of Romeo and Juliet’s. However, Swift ends the song with a happy ending, allowing the two lovers to get married. The song, Swift said to the Los Angeles Times, was inspired by Romeo & Juliet, and Swift states that “I was going through a situation like that where I could relate.” Though her inspiration from Shakespeare, Swift was able to release a chart topping and timeless hit which peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Scarlet Letter: Swift references this novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne in two of her songs, one of them being “Love Story” once again and the other being “New Romantics”, a track on the deluxe version of Swift’s fifth and Grammy winning album 1989. In “Love Story”, Swift describes her romance as a scarlet letter because of the fact that it is kept secret in shame with the lyric “Cause you were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter.” In “New Romantics”, which peaked on Billboard”s Alternative Streaming Songs at #5, Swift sings “We show off our different scarlet letters, Trust me, mine is better.” Using the scarlet letter as a symbol of one’s problems, Swift explores the mindset that many people have where they believe that their issues are worse than everyone else’s. So the use of this novel in Swift’s two songs interestingly contrasts one another, as in one, the scarlet letter is a symbol of shame, and the other a symbol of resilience and proud struggles. This interestingly fits the novel’s depiction of the letter “A”, which is at first a shameful symbol which represented adultery, but then was later a symbol of the protagonist’s, Hester’s, strength and ability to endure all the pain she went through. Hawthorne’s novel provided a framework for Swift’s ideas, as she states in an interview, “I was a big fan of a fairy tales growing up, and you’ll see a lot of references to like Romeo and Juliet and The Scarlet Letter, and that’s from my reading.”

The Great Gatsby: Swift makes references to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel in two of her songs, one being from “happiness” , Swift’s 7th track in her 9th album Evermore, and the other being “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”, Swift’s 13th track on her 6th album, Reputation. In “happiness”, Swift references The Great Gatsby in a lyric saying “I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool.” This parallels Daisy Buchanan’s line in the Great Gatsby where Daisy acknowledges that there is no hope for her daughter because of the fact that she is a girl and not a boy. Swift uses the line a little differently, telling her past lover that whoever loves him next is “a beautiful fool.” Swift knows that this next lover will have no luck with this man, and she uses the reference from the Great Gatsby to introduce more context into the song. As for “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”, the ode to Fitzgerald’s novel comes in the first verse, as Swift says “Feeling so Gatsby for that whole year,” while describing an extravagant party scene which she hosts just as Gatsby did. This song explores a very similar theme to the Great Gatsby, both being about how being kind to others makes them skeptical about you. In the novel, when Jay Gatsby throws parties for his guests, generously gifts them expensive things, and is willingly kind to them, they do not seem to appreciate him but rather just speculate about his past and make offensive assumptions about him. Swift, who tried her best to be generous with others, let her friends come on stage with her on tour as a nice gesture, threw parties for them, and got them gifts. However, many of her friends turned their backs on her, and when discussing the song, Swift states “It’s about when people take nice things for granted. Like friendship, or trusting people, or being open or whatever. Letting people in on your life, trusting people, respect – those are all really nice things.”

Taylor Swift is clearly a well read singer and songwriter, as these are just three of many literary references in her 100+ songs. Some more of these include:

Rebecca: “tolerate it” “no body, no crime”

A Tale of Two Cities: “Getaway Car”

Alice in Wonderland: “Wonderland”

The Road Not Taken: “illicit affairs”

Jane Eyre: “invisible string” “mad woman”

All’s Well That Ends Well: “Lover”

-Chan T.

1 thought on “Literary References in Taylor Swift Songs

  1. It’s so interesting how literature and literary references are all around us if we just listen carefully – even in Taylor Swift songs! Thanks for posting!

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