Taylor Swift in 2020

Two extraordinary records from a year that was anything but ordinary: Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’. In a year that forced all of us to do things differently, here is some of what Taylor did.

I don’t feel like going into the meanings that these songs may have. You’ve got the internet for that. And better still, you have your own individual thought. Here are a few songs from these records and a few things about English you might learn along the way.

«Your sister splashed out on the bottle
Now no one’s celebrating.

Dom Pérignon, you brought it
No crowd of friends applauded
Your hometown skeptics called it
Champagne problems»

If you splash out on something, you spend a lot of money buying it and it might actually be something you really don’t need – champagne problems, yeah.

The pronunciation of words beginning with ‘ch’ can be a problem. So many of them have the /ʧ/ sound of chicken, cheese, chocolate and so many other words (not all food) that the other pronunciations are often missed. There’s the hard /k/ sound of chemist, character and the chaos that is generally characterised by English pronunciation. And then there’s the /ʃ/ sound of the words we use that come from French: chef, parachute, chalet and champagne, for example.

If you’ve turned up at the party with a bottle of Dom Pérignon in your hand – and possibly a rose between your teeth to be extra classy – then you’ll want to get the pronunciation right. So make sure it begins with a ‘shh’. Shhampagne problem solved.

The admiration I have for multi-million dollar artists who put out minimalist videos like this knows no words. I could try to explain, but I’d fail.

Not even the internet can tell us for sure what words Taylor would’ve uttered after ‘this is me trying..’ ..»to change things»?.. «to make you understand»?…who knows? What we can be sure of is that it’d be an infinitive. If you try to do something, you’re making an effort. If you try doing something it’s different, you’re experimenting.

Personally, I try to buy music on vinyl if possible. It sounds, feels and looks better. If you’re having trouble getting your hands on the record you want, try visiting Discos Alta Fidelidad, here in Oviedo. You won’t be disappointed and may well find what you’re after.

«They told me all of my cages were mental
So I got wasted like all my potential

‘Getting wasted’ is getting drunk (or otherwise intoxicated). Like most languages, English has a myriad of ways to express this. And ‘wasting potential’ is just throwing it all away for nothing. Such great songwriting!

..And my words shoot to kill when I’m mad
I have a lot of regrets about that»

The verb ‘regret’ is another that can be followed by a gerund or infinitive with a consequent change in meaning, with a gerund you’re sorry about something in the past, with an infinitive you’re sorry about something you’re doing or saying now.

I regret not listening to these records when they came out in 2020. They were part of the zeitgeist.

In 1962 the record company Decca turned down* four lads from Liverpool with these words: «We regret to tell you that guitar groups are on the way out and the Beatles have no future in show business» One of the worst decisions ever made in the history of popular music. Enough said.

This is a really dark song. There is part of Taylor’s past in the lyrics, but, again, we’ll leave that aside. The double standards that exist in society are always well worth calling out in song and that’s something done brilliantly here with the words ‘mad’ and ‘crazy’.

The thing is that ‘mad’ in British English means crazy while ‘mad’ in American English means angry. What this song does so well is nail the fact that frequently when women get angry (AmE mad) they’re thought to be overemotional, hysterical and maybe crazy (BrE mad) but men can get equally angry (AmE mad) and just be angry.

«Did I close my fist around something delicate?
Did I shatter you?»

Such is the fragile beauty of this song that I feel that if I go and talk about it, I might break it. But..

The verb ‘shatter’ means that something breaks suddenly and violently into pieces, like a champagne glass dropped onto a marble staircase. We can use ‘shattered’ to talk about ourselves, when we’re feeling either exhausted or very upset about something.

(feat. The National) I love The National. It’s half of why these records came to mean so much to me. The verb ‘feature’ means including something special or particularly interesting. Both of these two fantastic records feature indie folk artist Bon Iver. Elsewhere, in the world of movies, you might come across** the term ‘feature film’, which has its origins in the fact that it was the longest, or most important movie being shown at a cinema on a particular day.

«But if I just showed up at your party
Would you have me?
Would you want me?
Would you tell me to go fuck myself?
Or lead me to the garden?
In the garden would you trust me
If I told you it was just a summer thing?
I’m only 17, I don’t know anything
But I know I miss you»

The good news here is that by showing up at Betty’s party things seem to work out well for the protagonist. Again, there’s a great story in song here, but you can (and maybe already) see that for yourself.

The phrasal verb show up means arrive or appear. There’s the tale of fave band of mine Miracle Legion and how one time they played a gig that nobody showed up at. Except a dog. So they played for the dog that showed up. Excellent. There’s another phrasal verb – turn up – that means the same.

«Would you tell me to go straight to hell?» is the slightly watered down version of the original line that Taylor sang at the 2020 Country Music Awards. It resonates with the song ‘Straight to Hell’ by The Clash and so is a good plan-b if you’re in a situation where politeness dictates that you can’t use what’s sometimes referred to as ‘the f-word’.

The last song on the second of these two records is called ‘It’s Time to Go’.

«Sometimes walking out is the one thing
That will find you the right thing

In ‘walk out’ we have an example of a verb that could simply be a statement of fact – ‘He walked out of the room.’ But it’s frequent used as the phrasal verb meaning leave suddenly and angrily because you’ve had enough or want to show your disapproval.

And it is.

Thanks for reading.

* turn down is a phrasal verb meaning ‘reject or refuse’

* come across is the phrasal verb you can use to say that you found something that you weren’t actually looking for

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