Lead Single | folklore (2020)

“cardigan” is the lead single of Taylor’s eigth studio album, “folklore” (2020). It is a slow-burning folk ballad with stripped-down instrumentals of tender piano, clopping drums and melancholic violins. Lyrically, it sees Taylor singing about a comforting romance lost in memories, from the perspective of a woman named Betty, one of the many fictitious characters narrated in “folklore”.

“cardigan” is believed to be the first part of the “Teenage Love Triangle,” told from the point of view of Betty. The storyline is followed 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 lost romance and why young love is often fixed so permanently within our memories. Why it leaves such an indelible mark.”

Producer Aaron Dessner sat down with Vulture to talk about the album in depth. He told the magazine the following about “cardigan”:

“That’s the first song we wrote [in early May]. 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.” — Aaron Dessner

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 revealed 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.” — Taylor Swift

Upon release, “cardigan” received critical acclaim, with praise towards the poetic songwriting and laid-back sound. The song 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.

“cardigan” was nominated for “Song Of The Year” as well as “Best Pop Solo Performance” at the 2021 Grammy awards.


[Verse 1]
Vintage tee, brand new phone
High heels on cobblestones
When you are young, they assume you know nothing
Sequined smile, black lipstick
Sensual politics
When you are young, they assume you know nothing

But I knew you
Dancin’ in your Levi’s
Drunk under a streetlight, I
I knew you
Hand under my sweatshirt
Baby, kiss it better, I

And when I felt like I was an old cardigan
Under someone’s bed
You put me on and said I was your favorite

[Verse 2]
A friend to all is a friend to none
Chase two girls, lose the one
When you are young, they assume you know nothing

But I knew you
Playing hide-and-seek and
Giving me your weekends, I
I knew you
Your heartbeat on the High Line
Once in twenty lifetimes, I

And when I felt like I was an old cardigan
Under someone’s bed
You put me on and said I was your favorite

To kiss in cars and downtown bars
Was all we needed
You drew stars around my scars
But now I’m bleedin’

‘Cause I knew you
Steppin’ on the last train
Marked me like a bloodstain, I
I knew you
Tried to change the ending
Peter losing Wendy, I
I knew you
Leavin’ like a father
Running like water, I
And when you are young, they assume you know nothing

[Verse 3]
But I knew you’d linger like a tattoo kiss
I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs
The smell of smoke would hang around this long
‘Cause I knew everything when I was young
I knew I’d curse you for the longest time
Chasin’ shadows in the grocery line
I knew you’d miss me once the thrill expired
And you’d be standin’ in my front porch light
And I knew you’d come back to me
You’d come back to me
And you’d come back to me
And you’d come back

And when I felt like I was an old cardigan
Under someone’s bed
You put me on and said I was your favorite

General Information
ReleasedJuly 24, 2020
RecordedApril 2020
StudioKitty Committee Studio
(Los Angeles)
GenreIndie Folk
Soft Rock
LabelRepublic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Aaron Dessner
ProducerAaron Dessner
Single Certification
The day Taylor wrote "cardigan"
Single Covers
Music Video
Official Lyric Video
Official Audio
"Cabin In Candlelight" Version
"Cabin In Candlelight" Audio
Footnotes by Taylor