the last great american dynasty

folklore (2020)

“the last great american dynasty” is the third song on Taylor’s eighth studio album, “folklore” (2020). It follows the story of Rebekah Harkness, a patron of the arts, and founder of the Rebekah Harkness Foundation. In 2013, Taylor bought a Rhode Island mansion once owned by Rebekah Harkness. It is known as “Holiday House.”

Taylor wanted to write a song about Rebekah Harkness and Holiday House for a long time. In the documentary/concert film “folklore: the long pond studio sessions” she told Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff:

“When [Aaron] sent me the track to ‘the last great american dynasty’ I had been wanting to write a song about Rebekah Harkness since 2013, probably. I’d never figured out the right way to do it because there was never a track that felt like it could hold an entire story of somebody’s life and moving between generations. When I heard that [the track] I was like, ‘Oh my God, I think this is my opening. I think this is my moment. I think I can write the Rebekah Harkness story!’ It has that country music narrative device. In country music, it’s like, ‘This guy did this, then this woman did this, then they met…and their kid was me! I was that kid!’ Which is the best because when you listen to country music it’s like, ‘Shivers everywhere, my whole body!'” — Taylor Swift

Taylor draws subtle comparisons between herself and Rebekah Harkness in the song. Rebekah, whom people actually called Betty, was married to the heir of Standard Oil fortune and thereby married into the Harkness family. She and her husband, Bill, bought a house in Rhode Island up on a cliff where Rebekah threw a lot of outrageous parties. She was infamous for not fitting in, entirely, in society. To Taylor, that story, at the end, becomes personal since she eventually bought that house. She likens her star-studded parties to the bevy of famous composers and and dancers that once frequented Holiday House in Harkness’ days. Also similar to Taylor, Rebekah Harkness was often a target of harsh criticism from the tabloids, and people alike. The line “filled the pool with champagne” can also be found in the “reputation” song “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” with the line “everyone swimming in a champagne sea.” In that way, this narrative type of song is symptomatic of ‘folklore’:

“I wrote that after we’d been working for a while. It was an attempt to write something attractive, more uptempo and kind of pushing. It was very much in this sound world that I’ve been playing around with, and she immediately clicked with that. Initially I was imagining these dreamlike distant electric guitars and electronics but with an element of folk. There’s a lot going on in that sense. I sent it before I went on a run, and when I got back from the run, that song was there. It’s almost like a song would come out like a lightning bolt. It’s exhilarating. The shared focus, the clarity of her ideas, and the way she structures things, it’s all there. But I think she works really hard when she’s working, and then she tweaks. She keeps going, so sometimes things would evolve or change. By the time she actually sings it, she’s really inside of it. She doesn’t do very many vocal takes before she nails it.” — Aaron Dessner

“the last great american dynasty” debuted at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the chart week of August 8, 2020.


[Verse 1]
Rebekah rode up on the afternoon train, it was sunny
Her saltbox house on the coast took her mind off St. Louis
Bill was the heir to the Standard Oil name and money
And the town said, “How did a middle-class divorcée do it?”
The wedding was charming, if a little gauche
There’s only so far new money goes
They picked out a home and called it “Holiday House”
Their parties were tasteful, if a little loud
The doctor had told him to settle down
It must have been her fault his heart gave out
And they said

There goes the last great American dynasty
Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been
There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen
She had a marvelous time ruining everything

[Verse 2]
Rebekah gave up on the Rhode Island set forever
Flew in all her Bitch Pack friends from the city
Filled the pool with champagne and swam with the big names
And blew through the money on the boys and the ballet
And losing on card game bets with Dalí
And they said

There goes the last great American dynasty
Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been
There goes the most shameless woman this town has ever seen
She had a marvelous time ruining everything

They say she was seen on occasion
Pacing the rocks, staring out at the midnight sea
And in a feud with her neighbor
She stole his dog and dyed it key lime green
Fifty years is a long time
Holiday House sat quietly on that beach
Free of women with madness, their men and bad habits
And then it was bought by me

Who knows, if I never showed up, what could’ve been
There goes the loudest woman this town has ever seen
I had a marvelous time ruining everything

I had a marvelous time ruining everything
A marvelous time ruining everything
A marvelous time
I had a marvelous time

General Information
ReleasedJuly 24, 2020
RecordedMay–July, 2020
StudioKitty Committee Studio (Los Angeles)
GenreIndie Folk
LabelRepublic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Aaron Dessner
ProducerAaron Dessner
cardiganthe last great american dynastyexile
Single Certification
Rebekah Harkness & Holiday House
Official Lyric Video
Official Audio
Official Live Audio