Taylor Swift entered a new era with her first Indie/Alternative album Folklore, released in July 2020, just eleven months after her hit pop album Lover. Up until the release of her newest album Evermore, Folklore was arguably Swift’s most lyrical album. Folklore’s 9th track “this is me trying” exemplifies this well through Swift’s masterful language and story telling abilities.
“this is me trying” utilizes a variety of literary techniques including metaphor, double entendre, hyperbole, anecdote, and repetition in order to embody a feeling of helplessness and struggle. However, it also has an underlying uplifting message: despite the struggles the speaker has undergone, he/she continues to try.
While it is unclear who the speaker of “this is me trying” is, it is clear that the song embodies the feeling of trying as hard as possible and yet still appearing to fail. The song opens with the metaphorical lines, “I’ve been having a hard time adjusting/I had the shiniest wheels now they’re rusting,” indicating that the speaker is someone who is not only going through an adjustment period, but also has fallen a long way from who they used to be. The speaker again references his/her past glory with the double entendre 2nd stanza line “So I got wasted like all my potential,” and the 2nd stanza hyperbole, “I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere.” Thus, Swift paints a picture of a speaker who, in the past, had been a successful high achiever, but after a shift in his/her life, falls from the pedestal he/she had once been on.
Then, “this is me trying” continues on, referencing an audience that the speaker refers to exclusively as “you” throughout the song. The audience is first referenced as the speaker explores the imagery of pulling his/her car off to the side of the road and contemplating following his/her “fears all the way down,” indicating that the speaker was considering suicide. However, the speaker then states, “And maybe I don’t quite know what to say/But I’m here in your doorway.” Thus, the audience is someone the speaker turns to in a dark period in his/her life. The audience is referenced again in the 3rd stanza as the speaker utilizes metaphorical language, “All I want is you/You’re a flashback in a film reel/On the one screen in my town.” This further develops the audience as someone who is no longer in the speaker’s life, though the speaker cannot stop remembering him/her. The words, “one screen” indicate that the speaker is forced to watch the audience as there is nothing else to watch on the only one screen in the town that is the speaker’s mind. The word “flashback” furthers this but also adds that the audience disrupts the speaker’s life, despite being gone, as flashbacks are sudden and disruptive to a person. Finally, the image of a film reel gives the indication that the speaker is trapped in the spherical film reel, his/her thoughts of the audience repeating over and over again. This also parallels Swift’s earlier line, “The curve became a sphere.” Therefore, the speaker may feel trapped and helpless to the audience, just as he/she did to the achievement curve of academia.
Given the extended metaphor of the audience being a flashback the speaker is forced to watch, it is also possible that the first stanza is a flashback, rather than an actual event in the song.
The 2nd stanza is primarily anecdotal, telling readers about the speaker’s past life. It tells readers more about the audience as we learn that the speaker was told the reason for his/her failures was entirely mental, that the speaker struggles with anger and feels regret for his/her anger, and that the speaker previously turned to alcohol to cope with issues in his/her life. The 2nd stanza includes 2 double entendres that further emphasize the speaker’s alcoholism. The first, “So I got wasted like all my potential” is likely a play on the phrase, “you’re wasting your potential.” Therefore indicating that the speaker turned to alcoholism after “falling behind the curve.” The second, “Pouring my heart out to a stranger/But I didn’t pour the whiskey” is a little different. This double entendre is the speaker telling the audience that though he/she is upset, he/she didn’t succumb to alcohol, talking to a stranger instead. This furthers the speaker and the audience’s relationship as the audience is clearly aware of the speaker’s alcoholism and might have attempted to help. The 2nd stanza is also the only one that doesn’t directly mention the audience, mentioning a stranger instead. It is possible that the 2nd stanza is a flashback, like the first, and the stranger is the audience before the speaker met him/her. Thus, the 3rd stanza is the only one that occurs in real time.
To summarize a bit, the 1st stanza is the speaker turning to the audience to cope with suicidal ideation, the 2nd stanza is how the speaker and the audience met, the audience helping the speaker through his/her past that influenced his/her alcoholism. The 3rd stanza is the only stanza that is not a flashback. It references the damage done to the speaker by the audience leaving.
Now, the chorus of the song is what changes tone. While all this is happening, the chorus sings,
I just wanted you to know
That this is me trying
I just wanted you to know
That this is me trying
At least I'm trying
The line, “At least I’m trying” occurs first after the speaker doesn’t pour the whiskey and then repeats again after the speaker reminisces about the audience. Not pouring the whiskey felt, to the speaker, like a small victory. Thus, the speaker begins to take pride in trying.
After overcoming suicidal ideation and alcoholism, the speaker reassures him/herself that he/she will overcome his/her longing for the audience as well. Thus, the song ends on an optimistic note, that even though trying is sometimes all one can do, trying is something anyone can do.
Therefore, Swift utilizes figurative language and story-telling to both deepen the experiences of readers as well as expand them. Readers begin to understand, on a more three-dimensional level, the feeling that trying is all someone can do. But, readers also delve into new experiences as Swift creates two characters and tells a story between them that brings readers into a new reality.