betty sees a young man frozen in time.
It captures the moment between the ringing of a former flame’s doorbell and the meeting of two individuals who were once one. Thumping heartbeats overpower the muffled party music. The pacing and shuffling of sneakers on the porch overpower the chaos of the crowd inside. Interspersed between heavy breaths, he whispers a few regrets, rehearses a few apologies, and recollects a summer that should never have been. It’s a testament to the two defining features of mankind, love and regret.
betty takes place in a high school, a scene that’s home to multitudes of Swift’s allegories. It’s a place where stumbling in life is not only accepted, but expected. A time in one’s journey where regrets don’t ripple through eternity, quite unlike adulthood.
Throughout the song, the listener is made privy to the inner thoughts of the protagonist, James. We feel his guilt-ridden hunches in the absence of Betty in homeroom. We discern his disgust for the undignified manner in which his crimes were made public. The simple instrumentation serves to reflect the undecorated realities of his mind. “The worst thing that I ever did // Was what I did to you” he plainly admits, hoping that his frankness might somehow repair a summer left in shambles.
We also catch a glimpse of what preceded this story. A misunderstood dance between Betty and an unknown boy is revealed as the trigger for this misadventure. A seed of doubt that, having not been nipped in the bud, spiralled into an unsightly mosaic of hasty decisions, regrettable realities, and broken emotions. It’s a tragedy that had red flags throughout its making, and one that succeeded solely due to the wilful ignorance of these flags.
That is what betty’s about. It’s a sticky note on our dashboard reminding us that the allure of love stands prey to man’s inadequacies.
However, rest assured that this wouldn’t be Taylor Swift without some undeserved idealism. For Swift, love’s vulnerability to mankind’s shortcomings goes hand-in-hand with its ability to heal. No tragedy is insurmountable, and it’s riding on this absence of impossibility that James finds himself on Betty’s doorstep, on the porch of a house where he is no longer welcome.
At that moment, however, in the last chorus, something changes. Cautious optimism seemingly shifts into unbridled daydreaming. Visions of kisses in front of oblivious partygoers and unconditional forgiveness fill the screen. The song begins hoping that Betty won’t cuss him off and slam the door on him. It ends, however, on a fairytale comeback tinged with the kind of aspiration you only see in the young — in those who have yet to be serially disappointed by the failures of modern adulthood. That’s the other thing about betty. It’s a subtle reminder that, just maybe, we can fix it. Against all the odds, maybe we can fix it all.
Betty is a very Taylor Swift song.
The casual plucking of the guitar, the obsession with young love, the weaving of a folk tale. It’s classic Taylor, in an album that’s anything but that. A sliver of the old Swift in an album that challenges that very notion (for real this time).
More broadly, however, it’s an iota of cultural familiarity in a year that’s been defined by its absence of normalcy. It’s a story that might just have a happy ending in a world that’s hell bent on disproving fairy tales. It’s a shame, really, because we could use a few more bettys around here.
“If you kiss me, will it be just like I dreamed it? // Will it patch your broken wings? // I’m only seventeen, I don’t know anything // But I know I miss you” (source: Genius)