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august

folklore (2020)

“august” is the eighth track on Taylor’s eighth studio album, folklore (2020), which was released on July 24, 2020. The song is the second part of the “Teenage Love Triangle” on the record and is told from the point of view of Augustine, the girl James cheated on Betty with.
Alongside fellow tracks “cardigan” and “betty“, “august” constitutes a fictitious love triangle involving three characters: Betty, James, and an unnamed female. The song is written from the latter’s perspective, depicting her sorrow over her derailed summer romance with James, who abandoned her and reconciled with Betty. Taylor, in her 2020 concert documentary folklore: the long pond studio sessions, said that she personally calls the unnamed narrator “Augustine” or “Augusta”.

Background and Release

Taylor and producer Jack Antonoff had written and produced songs for her previous studio albums 1989 (2014), reputation (2017), and Lover (2019). They collaborated again on folklore, which Taylor surprise-released amid the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. She wrote or co-wrote all songs on the album, and Antonoff produced six, including “august,” which is one of his “favorite things [they’ve] done together.” For the song, Antonoff produced the instrumental first, and sent it to Taylor who wrote the lyrics “on the spot; it just was an intuitive thing”. As with other tracks of the album, Taylor created “august” based on a fictional narrative with imagined story arcs and characters.

Lyrics and Composition

Taylor wrote “august” as part of three folklore songs (together with “cardigan” and “betty”) that explore a love triangle between James, Betty, and an unnamed teenager. It was the first song of the three that she wrote. She previously had written down the phrase ‘Meet me behind the mall’ in her phone years ago, wanting to write it into a song. The song was inspired by what Taylor described as the image of “the sun drenched month of August, sipped away like a bottle of wine”. Throughout the song, imagery of late summer is prevalent. Set in a suburban area with “salt air”, “august” captures feelings of a teenage girl who goes through an unrequited love during summer break. In the documentary folklore: the long pond studio sessions, Taylor explained the story that eventually formed around that part:

«In my head, I’ve been calling the girl from ‘august’ either Augusta or Augustine. What happened in my head was: ‘cardigan’ is Betty’s perspective from 20 or 30 years later, looking back on this love that was this tumultuous thing. I think Betty and James ended up together. So in my head, she ends up with him but he really put her through it. ‘august’ was obviously about the girl that James had this summer with. She seems like she’s a bad girl, but really she’s not. She’s a really sensitive person who fell for him and she was trying to seem cool and like she didn’t care because that’s what girls have to do. And she was trying to let him think that she didn’t care, but she did and she thought they had something very real. And then he goes back to Betty. So the idea that there is some bad, villain girl in any type of situation who ‘takes your man’ is a total myth because that’s not usually the case at all. Everybody has feelings and wants to be seen and loved. And Augustine…that’s all she wanted.»

Taylor Swift
As the summer romance progresses, the narrator is portrayed as unassertive and inexperienced, recalling the times when she “canceled my plans just in case you’d call”. Though she knows she and James will never become a couple, she tells herself that it was enough “to live for the hope of it all”. Finally, when the summer ends, so does the romance. Taylor explained that James and Betty later return to each other, while the “august” protagonist mourns the summer fling which she considered love.

Compared to the overarching folk sound of folklore, “august” displays a more pop-oriented production. Aaron Dessner, a producer on the album, said: “This is maybe the closest thing to a pop song. It gets loud. It has this shimmering summer haze to it. It’s kind of like coming out of ‘seven‘ where you have this image of her in the swing and she’s seven years old, and then in ‘august’ I think it feels like fast-forwarding to now. That’s an interesting contrast. I think it’s just a breezy, sort of intoxicating feeling.”

Live Performances

Taylor first performed “august” as part of the concert film and documentary folklore: the long pond studio sessions (2020), together with Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff. At the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards on March 14, 2021, Taylor again performed “august,” this time as part of a medley with “cardigan” and “willow“, the latter being the lead single from her ninth studio album, evermore (2020). The performance was once more accompanied by Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, marking the first time the three performed on television together.

Critical Reception

Critics praised the song’s production and Taylor’s songwriting, and opined that the third-person perspective of its lyrics—a departure from her trademark confessional narratives inspired by her personal life—showcased her maturity as a songwriter. Rolling Stone critic Rob Sheffield picked “august” as one of the album’s highlights, calling the song “the album’s most plainly beautiful ballad”. The A.V. Club‘s Annie Zaleski and Under the Radar‘s Caleb Campbell both selected the song as one of folklore‘s best and compared the production to the music by Scottish dream pop band Cocteau Twins.  “august” featured on lists of the best songs of 2020 by publications including Rolling Stone (No. 5), the Chicago Tribune (unranked), and Yahoo! (unranked). Complex‘s Edwin Ortiz ranked it second on his year-end list. In Vulture‘s list ranking all songs in Taylor’s discography, Jones wrote about “august”: “Even in fiction, Swift’s ability to capture the wistful ache of nostalgia remains unmatched.” Sheffield picked it among the best five songs of Taylor’s discography: ” ‘august’ feels like such a simple tune, yet it’s one of the craftiest creations in the Swiftian Multiverse.”

Commercial Performance

In the United States, upon the release of folklore, “august” debuted at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated August 8, 2020. It stayed on the chart for two weeks. The song simultaneously debuted and peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs, where it stayed for 20 weeks. “august” peaked within the top 20 on singles charts of Malaysia (11), Singapore (12), Australia (13), and Canada (16).

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
Salt air, and the rust on your door
I never needed anything more
Whispers of “Are you sure?”
“Never have I ever before”

[Chorus]
But I can see us lost in the memory
August slipped away into a moment in time
‘Cause it was never mine
And I can see us twisted in bedsheets
August sipped away like a bottle of wine
‘Cause you were never mine

[Verse 2]
Your back beneath the sun
Wishin’ I could write my name on it
Will you call when you’re back at school?
I remember thinkin’ I had you

[Chorus]
But I can see us lost in the memory
August slipped away into a moment in time
‘Cause it was never mine
And I can see us twisted in bedsheets
August sipped away like a bottle of wine
‘Cause you were never mine

[Bridge]
Back when we were still changing for the better
Wanting was enough
For me, it was enough
To live for the hope of it all
Canceled plans just in case you’d call
And say, “Meet me behind the mall”
So much for summer love and saying “us”
‘Cause you weren’t mine to lose
You weren’t mine to lose, oh

[Chorus]
But I can see us lost in the memory
August slipped away into a moment in time
‘Cause it was never mine
And I can see us twisted in bedsheets
August sipped away like a bottle of wine
‘Cause you were never mine

[Outro]
‘Cause you were never mine
Never mine
But do you remember?
Remember when I pulled up and said “Get in the car”
And then canceled my plans just in case you’d call?
Back when I was livin’ for the hope of it all, for the hope of it all
“Meet me behind the mall”

(Remember when I pulled up and said “Get in the car”
And then canceled my plans just in case you’d call?
Back when I was livin’ for the hope of it all, for the hope of it all
“Meet me behind the mall”)

Remember when I pulled up and said “Get in the car”
And then canceled my plans just in case you’d call?
Back when I was livin’ for the hope of it all (For the hope of it all)

For the hope of it all, for the hope of it all
(For the hope of it all, for the hope of it all)

General Information
ArtistTaylor Swift
Albumfolklore
ReleasedJuly 24, 2020
RecordedMay–July, 2020
StudioKitty Committee (Los Angeles, CA)
Rough Customer (Brooklyn, NY)
GenreFolk Pop
Length4:22
LabelRepublic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Jack Antonoff
ProducersJack Antonoff
Taylor Swift
Joe Alwyn
FOLKLORE CHRONOLOGY
sevenaugustthis is me trying
Song Certification
Song Artwork
Spotify Wrapped Ad
Live Performance
Lyric Video
Official Audio
Official Live Audio