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Lead Single | folklore (2020)

“cardigan” is the lead single of Taylor’s eigth studio album, folklore (2020). It was released alongside the album on July 24, 2020, through Republic Records. The slow-burning folk ballad sees Taylor singing about a love lost in memories from the perspective of a woman named Betty, one of the many fictitious characters she created for folklore.
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Background and Composition

“cardigan” is believed to be the third part of the “Teenage Love Triangle,” told from the point of view of Betty. The storyline is preceded by “august” and “betty.” Taylor explained in a livechat the night of the release of folklore: “There’s a collection of three songs I refer to as The Teenage Love Triangle. These three songs explore a love triangle from all three people’s perspectives at different times in their lives.” She further explained the meaning of “cardigan” by saying:

«The song is about a long lost romance, and why young love is often fixed so permanently within our memories. When looking back on it, why it leaves such an incredible mark and how special it made you feel; all the good things it made you feel, all the pain that it made you feel...The line about feeling like you were an old cardigan under someone's bed, but someone put you on and made you feel like you were their favorite.»

Taylor further told The New York Times in 2021: “The quality that really confounded me about Aaron’s instrumental tracks is that to me, they were immediately, intensely visual. As soon as I heard the first one, I understood why he calls them ‘sketches.’ The first time I heard the track for ‘cardigan,’ I saw high heels on cobblestones. I knew it had to be about teenage miscommunications and the loss of what could’ve been.” Producer Aaron Dessner sat down with Vulture in 2020 to talk about the album in depth. He told the magazine the following about “cardigan”:

«That’s the first song we wrote. After Taylor asked if I would be interested in writing with her remotely and working on songs, I said, 'Are you interested in a certain kind of sound?' She said, 'I’m just interested in what you do and what you’re up to. Just send anything, literally anything, it could be the weirdest thing you’ve ever done,' so I sent a folder of stuff I had done that I was really excited about recently. 'cardigan' was one of those sketches; it was originally called 'Maple.' It was basically exactly what it is on the record, except we added orchestration later that my brother wrote. I sent [the file] at 9 p.m., and around 2 a.m. or something, there was 'cardigan,' fully written. That’s when I realized something crazy was happening. She just dialed directly into the heart of the music, and wrote an incredible song, and fully conceived of it, and then kept going. It harkens back to lessons learned, or experiences in your youth, in a really beautiful way, and this sense of longing and sadness but ultimately, it’s cathartic. I thought it was a perfect match for the music, and how her voice feels. It was kind of a guide. It had these lower register parts, and I think we both realized that this was a bit of a lightning rod for a lot of the rest of the record.»

Music Video

The song’s music video, which was written and directed by Taylor and shot during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, finds Taylor shifting through different places by the magic of playing the piano. The dreamy video presents a cottagecore aesthetic and features Taylor in three different settings: a cozy cabin in the woods, a magical moss-covered forest and a dark stormy sea, representing different phases of a relationship. She said in a tweet that everyone who was on-set took extra precautions to prevent the spread of the virus: “The entire shoot was overseen by a medical inspector, everyone wore masks, stayed away from each other, and I even did my own hair, makeup, and styling.”

Live Performances

Taylor performed “cardigan” in her 2020 concert documentary film, folklore: the long pond studio sessions, alongside all of the other tracks on folklore. She performed a shortened version of “cardigan” at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, as part of a medley with “august” and “willow” (2020), in a cottagecore setting featuring a moss-covered cabin inside a forest, accompanied by collaborators Dessner and Jack Antonoff. Pitchfork‘s Cat Zhang named the performance as one of the show’s best moments. She praised Taylor’s vocals and the enchanted forest theme of the staging, and dubbed Taylor’s look for the performance as a “benevolent fairy princess in a kingdom of dwarves”. On “The Eras Tour” (2023), “cardigan” was part of the regular setlist.

Critical Reception

Upon release, “cardigan” received critical acclaim. Pitchfork‘s Jillian Mapes wrote that the song’s “overlapping details and central framing device — of a cardigan forgotten and found without a second thought—are pure Swift”. Laura Snapes of The Guardian described the song as “cavernous and shimmering as a rock pool in a cave”. NME writer Hannah Mylrea defined the song as a “swirling amalgam” of gleaming production, swooning strings, flickering piano, and lyrics that exude pain from young love, and praised Taylor’s songwriting for “stunningly” conveying complex mixed emotions of hurt, jealousy and heartbreak in a “gorgeous” folk tune. Billboard, on their list of “100 Best Songs of 2020,” placed “cardigan” at No. 11, calling it “a lead single unlike anything Swift had released before.” Emphasizing its “finest” storytelling, The Plain Dealer ranked the song No. 6 on its list of best songs of 2020. Complex listed the song at No. 21 on its ranking of best songs of 2020, highlighting Taylor’s evolved songwriting.

Commercial Performance

“cardigan” debuted at No. 1 on the global Spotify songs chart, receiving over 7.742 million streams, garnering the biggest opening-day for a song by a female artist in 2020. An acoustic version of the song, entitled “cabin in candlelight”, was released on July 30, 2020.

With the song’s debut at the No. 1 spot of the Billboard Hot 100, it became Taylor’s sixth No. 1 single in the United States. Along with folklore debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 the same week, Taylor became the first artist ever to debut atop the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 simultaneously. The song further topped Billboard Hot Alternative Songs, Hot Rock & Alternative Songs, Streaming Songs and Digital Song Sales charts, making Taylor the first act in history to garner twenty chart-toppers on the latter.

Award Recognition

“cardigan” has received three awards and 14 nominations. The song won “Favorite Music Video” at the American Music Awards of 2020, and contended for “Song of the Year” and “Best Pop Solo Performance” at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, marking Taylor’s fifth song to be nominated for “Song of the Year” and the fourth in “Best Pop Solo Performance.”

Fashion and Aesthetic

Accompanying the release of folklore and “cardigan”, Taylor sold “folklore cardigans”, the replicas of the cardigan she wears in the song’s music video — a cream-colored cable knit, with silver embroidered stars on the sleeves’ chunky elbows, and navy blue piping and buttons — on her website She also mailed the cardigans to celebrity friends and well-wishers. American fashion magazine W thought that the cardigan was the pièce de résistance of the album’s cottagecore-centred merchandise. Teen Vogue said the cardigan aids in making “the perfect framework for understanding the role clothing plays in our lives”, which gives a different perspective in understanding fashion, tracing back to fashion’s “sentimental value”. Refinery29 stated Taylor returns to her “truest self”, both musically and stylistically”, bolstered by the merch cardigan and prairie dresses, and found the singer’s looks in the music video similar to that of a classic “English rose”. Irish national broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann thanked Taylor for putting cardigans “back on the map once more”, following James Thomas Brudenell, Coco Chanel, Kurt Cobain and Elizabeth II. The cottagecore aesthetic was met with resurgence on internet following the release of the video and the album.


General Information
ArtistTaylor Swift
ReleasedJuly 24, 2020
WrittenApril 28, 2020
StudiosKitty Committee (Los Angeles, CA)
Long Pond (Hudson Valley, NY)
GenreIndie Folk
LabelRepublic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Aaron Dessner
ProducerAaron Dessner
the 1cardiganthe last great american dynasty
Single Certification
The day Taylor wrote "cardigan"
Single Artwork
Music Video
Live Performance
Lyric Video
Official Audio
cabin in candlelight version
cabin in candlelight Audio
Footnotes by Taylor
Songwriting Voice Memo