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Beautiful Ghosts

CATS (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) | 2019

“Beautiful Ghosts” is a song written by Taylor and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, released on November 15, 2019, for the movie adaptation of the musical Cats. Whilst the radio version is performed by Taylor, the version within the film is performed by Francesca Hayward, who plays Victoria.
Composed specifically for the 2019 motion picture adaption of Cats, the song “Beautiful Ghosts” follows protagonist Victoria’s yearning for a future as ethereal and exciting as what Grizabella laments after in “Memory.” Partnering powerful imagery with haunting vocals over orchestral accompaniment, the stripped-back production enhances a sense of nostalgia and lost times as reflected in the lyrics.

Background and Recording

Andrew Lloyd Webber felt that Victoria, a minor character in the musical but the protagonist of the movie, needed a song. He played the music he had composed for Taylor and she came up with the lyrics during the meeting. In a conversation with Taylor, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber told her: “I played this to you and I said it was a new song. You said ‘I’ll do the lyric[s]’, and you did it then and there, more or less.” A few months later, he added:

«Taylor Swift is one of the great songwriters. I’ve had the joy of working with her on the Cats movie. She was like the best thing in it, I think, for many people. We had a great time writing a new song together for that.»

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber
Taylor said that she wanted to emulate the lyrics of T.S. Elliot, the original lyricist for the musical. She knew the song would be in the scene right after Jennifer Hudson sings “Memory” (the musical’s most famous song). She wanted Victoria to reflect off what she just heard and give her a counter point of view:

«Because ‘Memory’ is Grizabella singing about how she had all these beautiful, incredible moments in her past, she had these glittering occasions where she felt beautiful and wanted, and now she doesn’t feel that way anymore. Okay, so what if you have this kitten who’s been deserted and tossed out, and she’s had to wander around the streets of London, looking where she’s going to find a home? She would be thinking, ‘At least you had those!’ The first line that came to me is, ‘And the memories were lost long ago, but at least you have beautiful ghosts.’ I just wanted to get in the head of the character, if she was hearing someone lamenting about wonderful, majestic, incredible times, an extraordinary life behind her. And a young person thinking, ‘What if I never have any of that in my life? What if that’s lost on me? What if I don’t get that ever? At least you have that to cling to.’ […] It came together really well. I learned later they had this beautiful piece of music, but they didn’t know what they wanted the cat to say. I was like, ‘I got you. I know what that cat would say.'»

Taylor Swift

The One Bright Spot of CATS

CATS was widely panned and flopped at the box office in spectacular fashion. It was so “off-the-scale wrong” that Andrew Lloyd Webber, who composed the Tony-winning show, bought a therapy dog to cope with the trauma. His singular bright spot in an otherwise catastrophic experience was writing “Beautiful Ghosts” with Taylor. “It was one of the few enjoyable experiences [on the film]. It was probably the enjoyable experience. We sat around the piano, I played her a melody. It was a joy. She’s a real pro. Talk about being a pro. One of the things I was quite intrigued by, she got to the essence of what T.S. Eliot was about. It wasn’t just a lyric thrown together at all. I did enjoy working with her very, very, very much.”

Critical Reception

The song received generally positive reviews from music critics, who praised Taylor’s vocal performance. Darlene Aderoju and Joelle Goldstein of People described the song as “chillingly-beautiful” and a “haunting melody” that “speaks to a feeling of longing to be wanted and reminiscing on better memories.” They also praised Taylor’s singing, describing it as “impressive pipes beyond her typical country-pop style”, especially the final belted note. Elite Daily‘s Jessica Bolaños opined that the song is “nothing short of perfection” and stated that the lyrics are “dripping with passion”.

Award Recognition

“Beautiful Ghosts” received a nomination from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in the “Best Original Song” category at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, giving Taylor her third career Golden Globe nomination. The song was also nominated for “Best Song Written For Visual Media” at the 2021 Grammy Awards.

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
Follow me home if you dare to
I wouldn’t know where to lead you
Should I take chances when no one took chances on me?
So I watch for the dark, wait for my life to start
With no beauty in my memory

[Chorus]
All that I wanted was to be wanted
Too young to wander London streets, alone and haunted
Born into nothing
At least you have something, something to cling to
Visions of dazzling rooms I’ll never get let into
And the memories were lost long ago
But at least you have beautiful ghosts

[Verse 2]
Perilous night, their voices calling
A flicker of light before the dawning
Out here, the wild ones are taming the fear within me
Scared to call them my friends and be broken again
Is this hope just a mystical dream?

[Chorus]
All that I wanted was to be wanted
Too young to wander London streets, alone and haunted
Born into nothing
At least you have something, something to cling to
Visions of dazzling rooms I’ll never get let into
And the memories were lost long ago
But at least you have beautiful ghosts

[Bridge]
And so maybe my home isn’t what I had known
What I thought it would be
But I feel so alive with these phantoms of night
And I know that this life isn’t safe, but it’s wild and it’s free

[Chorus]
All that I wanted was to be wanted
I’ll never wander London streets, alone and haunted
Born into nothing
With them, I have something, something to cling to
I never knew I’d love this world they’ve let me into
And the memories were lost long ago
So I’ll dance with these beautiful ghosts
And the memories were lost long ago
So I’ll dance with these beautiful ghosts

General Information
ReleasedNovember 15, 2019
Recorded2019
GenreOrchestral
Length4:21
LabelPolydor
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Andrew Lloyd Webber
ProducersGreg Wells
Tom Hooper
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Songwriting Session
Making of
Lyric Video
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