betty

Single | folklore (2020)

“betty” touches on the aftermath of “august,” which describes a summer love that was doomed from the start. Listeners learn that while the summer affair was going on, the speaker, James, was still dating his classmate, Betty. The song is part of the “Teenage Love Triangle” Taylor created on her eighth studio album, folklore (2020).
“betty” is the only song on folklore that involves both the producers Taylor picked for the album — Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner — every other track was either produced by Antonoff or Dessner. For the song’s sound, Taylor used Bob Dylan’s albums The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963) and John Wesley Harding (1967) as reference points. On July 23, 2020, Taylor revealed the track listing of folklore, where “betty” placed fourteenth, and released the album on July 24, 2020. In the primer that preceded the release, Taylor teased imageries of various tracks, with “betty” being about “a seventeen-year-old standing on a porch, learning to apologize.”

Lyrics and Composition

The storyline is preceded by “cardigan” and “august.” The song takes a more feminist approach, portraying the narrator as a teenage boy named James who can’t own up to his mistakes, all while Betty flourishes on her own and recognizes her worth. Taylor went in depth into the inspiration behind James’ character, and the story as a whole, as well as revealing the inspiration behind the names in the song:

«[James] has lost the love of his life basically and doesn’t understand how to get it back. I think we all have these situations in our lives where we learn to really, really give a heartfelt apology for the first time. Everybody makes mistakes, everybody really messes up sometimes and this is a song that I wrote from the perspective of a 17-year-old boy. I’ve always loved that in music you can kinda slip into different identities and you can sing from other people’s perspectives. So that’s what I did on this one. I named all the characters in this story after my friends' kids… and I hope you like it!»

Taylor Swift
In December 2020, she told Entertainment Weekly that she very much enjoys the different theories around the album: “[With] ‘betty,’ Jack Antonoff would text me these articles and think pieces and in-depth Tumblr posts on what this love triangle meant to the person who had listened to it. And that’s exactly what I was hoping would happen with this album. I wrote these stories for a specific reason and from a specific place about specific people that I imagined, but I wanted that to all change given who was listening to it. And I wanted it to start out as mine and become other people’s. It’s been really fun to watch.”

The Teenage Love Triangle Storyline

Interestingly, James’ gender is never explicitly stated in the song — James and Inez (mentioned in the pre-chorus) are, in fact, the names of Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds’ eldest daughters, leading some to believe that James could in fact be a girl. However, in folklore: the long pond studio sessions Taylor revealed that her boyfriend Joe Alwyn wrote the chorus from a boy’s perspective under the pseudonym William Bowery. She shared:

«I just heard Joe singing the entire fully formed chorus of ‘betty’ from another room. And I was just like, ‘Hello.’ It was a step that we would never have taken, because why would we have ever written a song together? So this was the first time we had a conversation where I came in and I was like, 'Hey, this could be really weird, and we could hate this, so because we’re in quarantine and there’s nothing else going on, could we just try to see what it’s like if we write this song together?' So he was singing the chorus of it, and I thought it sounded really good from a man’s voice, from a masculine perspective. And I really liked that it seemed to be an apology. I’ve written so many songs from a female’s perspective of wanting a male apology that we decided to make it from a teenage boy’s perspective apologizing after he loses the love of his life because he’s been foolish.»

Taylor Swift
Joe told Vulture in 2022 that he started writing the chorus for “betty” pretty casually, after having had a drink: “I’d probably had a drink and was just stumbling around the house. We couldn’t decide on a film to watch that night, and she was like, ‘Do you want to try and finish writing that song you were singing earlier?’ And so we got a guitar and did that.”

A Return to Taylor's Country Roots

Sonically, the song exudes a strong sense of nostalgia, delivering production and instrumentals reminiscent to Taylor’s earlier projects like Taylor Swift (2006) and Fearless (2008), both of which were records written by Taylor in her similarly naïve adolescence. Producer Aaron Dessner told Vulture, “This one Taylor and William wrote, and then both Jack and I worked on it. We all kind of passed it around. This is the one where Taylor wanted a reference. She wanted it to have an early Bob Dylan, sort of a Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan feel. We pushed it a little more towards John Wesley Harding, since it has some drums. It’s this epic narrative folk song where it tells us a long story and connects back to ‘cardigan.’ It starts to connect dots and I think it’s a beautifully written folk song.”

Live Performance

“betty” received its debut performance at the Grand Ole Opry House as part of the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards on September 16, 2020; this live version was released to all music platforms the next day. It was Taylor’s last televised performance of 2020. She also performed the song for folklore: the long pond studio sessions (2020).

Critical Reception

Upon release, “betty” received widespread acclaim from music critics, who welcomed Taylor’s return to her country roots and praised the song’s storytelling and key change. The song debuted at No. 6 on Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and No. 42 on the Billboard Hot 100, scoring Taylor her twenty-second top-10 hit on the former. Elsewhere, the song reached the top-40 in Australia, Canada and Singapore.

“betty” received its debut performance at the Grand Ole Opry House as part of the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards on September 16, 2020; this live version was released to all music platforms the next day. It was Taylor’s last televised performance of 2020.

Commercial Performance

Upon release of folklore, “betty” debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and No. 42 on the Billboard Hot 100, both dated August 8, 2020. It is Taylor’s 22nd top-ten hit on the former — her first since “Soon You’ll Get Better” (2019) and her highest debut since the Tim McGraw duet “Highway Don’t Care” (2013). “betty” also arrived at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Streaming Songs chart with 14.5 million streams collected.

When it was released as a single to US country radio on August 17, 2020, “betty” debuted at No. 1 on the format’s add-board of the week, gaining support from 58 Mediabase-monitored country radio stations. Asserting Taylor “the biggest star in music” who transcends formats, the KKBQ Houston program director, Johnny Chiang, stated that country music is “lucky, because at Taylor’s core, she’s a singer-songwriter and her music has meaning. Isn’t that what country is all about? “betty” fits perfectly”.

Elsewhere, “betty” peaked at No. 22 on Australia’s ARIA Singles and Singapore’s Top 30 Digital Streaming charts, No. 32 on the Canadian Hot 100, and No. 92 on UK Downloads chart. Upon the release of its live version, the song opened at No. 58 and 88 on Scottish Singles and Irish Singles charts, respectively. Following the inauguration of the Billboard Global 200 chart seven weeks after folklore’s launch, “betty” appeared on the chart at No. 180, dated September 19, 2020.

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
Betty, I won’t make assumptions
About why you switched your homeroom but
I think it’s ’cause of me
Betty, one time I was riding on my skateboard
When I passed your house
It’s like I couldn’t breathe

[Pre-Chorus]
You heard the rumors from Inez
You can’t believe a word she says
Most times, but this time it was true
The worst thing that I ever did
Was what I did to you

[Chorus]
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 seventeen, I don’t know anything
But I know I miss you

[Verse 2]
Betty, I know where it all went wrong
Your favorite song was playing
From the far side of the gym
I was nowhere to be found
I hate the crowds, you know that
Plus, I saw you dance with him

[Pre-Chorus]
You heard the rumors from Inez
You can’t believe a word she says
Most times, but this time it was true
The worst thing that I ever did
Was what I did to you

[Chorus]
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 seventeen, I don’t know anything
But I know I miss you

[Bridge]
I was walking home on broken cobblestones
Just thinking of you
When she pulled up like
A figment of my worst intentions
She said “James, get in, let’s drive”
Those days turned into nights
Slept next to her, but
I dreamt of you all summer long

[Verse 3]
Betty, I’m here on your doorstep
And I planned it out for weeks now
But it’s finally sinkin’ in
Betty, right now is the last time
I can dream about what happens when
You see my face again

[Pre-Chorus]
The only thing I wanna do
Is make it up to you
So I showed up at your party
Yeah, I showed up at your party

[Chorus]
Yeah, I showed up at your party
Will you have me?
Will you love me?
Will you kiss me on the porch
In front of all your stupid friends?
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

[Outro]
Standing in your cardigan
Kissin’ in my car again
Stopped at a streetlight
You know I miss you

General Information
Albumfolklore
ReleasedJuly 24, 2020
RecordedMay–July, 2020
StudioKitty Committee (Los Angeles)
GenreIndie Folk
Country
Length4:55
LabelRepublic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
William Bowery (Joe Alwyn)
ProducersAaron Dessner
Jack Antonoff
Joe Alwyn
FOLKLORE CHRONOLOGY
epiphanybettypeace
Single Artwork
Making of "betty"
Live Performance
Lyric Video
Official Audio
Official Live Audio