Taylor Swift’s Lyrical Expertise

Theresa Cullen, Op-Ed Editor

Taylor Swift expertly combines a melodic score, strong yet soothing vocals, and remarkable lyricism in her eleventh Evermore track, “A Cowboy Like Me.” The song starts quickly, playing a singular beat before Swift enters with a fragmented sentence, “and the tennis court / was covered up with some tent like thing.” By initiating the song with a conjunction, Swift conveys the tone of interrupting something, as if you are coming into the song halfway through. 

She starts the narrative off in the middle of the story, mirroring how her own characters break rules in their individual lives. While setting the stage of the event as an upper class party, which both characters are crashing. She then progresses the story through the character’s relationship, showing the emotional evolution and perspective change of the main character as the song moves among the ideas of trickery, love, and then loss. 

This story progression is particularly unique to Swift’s recent albums Folklore and Evermore that center, almost entirely, around stories and narratives rather than on Swift’s own life. Relating instead to her emotions and chosen stories. “The music and lyrics truly speak for themselves, making for songs that are novels of emotion, therefore making Evermore’s music more personal than anything that Swift has created before,” wrote Turi Sioson in her article, “The Storytelling Genius of Taylor Swift’s Evermore.” Sioson explains that, “like a great fiction novelist, Swift allows her characters in Evermore to speak for themselves, and simply conveys her own emotions through their individual stories.” 

A unique layer to the song is the repetition that occurs multiple times in different forms. Swift repeats the common phrases “takes one to know one,” “tricks up your sleeve” and “skeletons in both our closets” in the song, particularly at the beginning. It is through these sayings that Swift envelops the song with a sense of familiarity, just as the characters are familiar with each other’s wild lifestyle. This familiarity also makes the song feel like one you’ve known forever, making it an easy one to play while out driving or while cooking dinner. 

Swift also makes a clever allusion to her other songs in the line: “Ladies lunching have their stories about / when you passed through town.” This references the other female characters in the album who are often cited eating together such as Este in “No Body No Crime.” This connection draws the overall narrative of the album together; each song feeling more like a piece of poetry or an excerpt from a book than a singular piece, highlighting Swift’s reach into fictional storytelling. 

The song’s complex lyricism, and thus “wordiness,” also makes it enticing to analyze, as many Swift fans do, while also making it fun to hum along with. However, this wordiness can make it hard to listen to when trying to multitask, particularly when writing at the same time as listening, as Swift demands the listener’s full attention. 

Swift adds complexity to the song through outside references. The most striking of which states, “now you hang from my lips / Like the Gardens of Babylon,” referencing the Hanging Gardens of Babylon that were located near the royal Babylon Palace. The hanging Gardens were considered one of the seven wonders of the world, as they are thought to have been adorned with fluorescent colors and fascinating architecture. 

Additionally, parallelism is used by Swift to tie the song’s ending back to its start, and to convey the complexity of the depicted relationship. One instance is the shift from “forever is the sweatiest con” to “I’m never gonna love again.” Although both convey similar messages, the words “forever” and “never” contradict each other, making it feel as though the song moves through emotional maturity levels. Swift also uses figurative language to paint a specific image in the listener’s mind of the emotions the characters are feeling. This can be seen in lines such as “now I’m waiting by the phone/ like I’m sitting in an airport bar,” mirroring situations the audience is familiar with, to her character’s unfamiliar narrative, thus enticing the audience to form an emotional connection with the song. 

Taylor Swift utilizes a slow repeating musical track adorned with accordions and drums to create a solid background that supports the song’s lyrics. The combination of this track with quiet background vocals allows for Swift’s voice to take precedence, showing off her strong technique while adhering to the true nature and genre of the song as a narrative piece. The unusual narrative about two people coming together in a life of crime draws listeners attention, while conveying the message of pursuing something the wrong way, and stumbling upon what you need by accident. 

“A Cowboy Like Me” creates a Bonnie and Clyde like narrative that entices listeners with Swift’s vocals and musical skills, and leaves them with a heart touching story that provokes the imagination. Swift’s next album, Red (Taylor’s Version ) comes out on Nov. 12, and can be listened to on almost all streaming platforms.