hoax: Why Taylor Swift is a Lyrical Genius

The song “hoax” is the final track on Taylor Swift’s album, folklore. This album was a time for Swift where she fully wrote about situations that she has not experienced, and truly experimented with storytelling.

In an interview, Swift stated that this song was written about several “fractured” situations about love, family, and a “business thing” (the drama surrounding Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun). The song is centered around betrayal, and love. How even when someone has betrayed you deeply, and has traumatized you, you can still feel love for them, and want to stay with them. Love isn’t just easy, just sunshine, and rainbows. Love is hard, and painful, and tragic. And with the right person, it’s worth it.

Verse 1

The first four lines of the verse read:

My only one
My smoking gun
My eclipsed sun
This has broken me down

Right out of the gate, it is evident that something is wrong within the narrator’s relationship. The narrator opens by stating that the subject of the poem is their “only” one, meaning that they are their one true love, or the only person the narrator feels they will ever be with. The narrator describes their partner as a “smoking gun.” This is an idiom, and can mean a piece of incriminating evidence. However, in a more literal sense, it can mean that the narrator has already been “shot” by their partner, and that the narrator is now reeling in the wake of being betrayed. The “eclipsed sun” also adds to how the narrator has once had a beautiful relationship, but this relationship is now shadowed, leaving the narrator “broken.” I think it’s interesting how throughout the verses, the partner is referred to with “my,” revealing that the narrator feels a deep connection to this person.

The next four lines of the first verse read:

My twisted knife
My sleepless night
My win-less fight
This has frozen my ground

Again, Swift is pulling in imagery to depict how painful the narrator’s partner’s actions have made the narrator feel. But what I think most interesting about this section is the line, “This has frozen my ground.” When ground is frozen, nothing can grow. Essentially, the relationship is unfruitful. However, this could also be an allusion to a lyric in Swift’s song, “the lakes,” which states:

A red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground

This meaning would be the opposite. Even though a relationship may be frozen, something beautiful can grow. There is hope. So even when a relationship seems to be going downhill, there may be something salvageable in the remnants of disaster.

Chorus

The chorus reads:

Stood on the cliffside
Screaming, “Give me a reason”
Your faithless love’s the only hoax
I believe in
Don’t want no other shade of blue
But you
No other sadness in the world would do

Now, the narrator is begging their partner to do something, anything, that would allow the speaker to not feel as though they should leave the relationship. The narrator wants to stay. It also gives slight suicide imagery, with the speaker literally standing on the edge of a cliff, though we don’t know if they are actually contemplating jumping. Within the chorus, it is also revealed that the speaker knows that their partner’s actions aren’t healthy. And yet, they still believe in the “hoax” of the relationship. In an interview, Swift discussed the last three lines of the chorus. She stated that this was what she believed true love was–not just finding someone to spend joyful moments with, but finding someone that you’re willing to be miserable with. This message is revealed through Swift’s use of enjambment within the fifth and sixth lines of the chorus. This enjambment places emphasis on the words “but you,” showing that this is the only person the narrator would tolerate this behavior from.

Verse 2

The second verse reads:

My best laid plan
Your sleight of hand
My barren land
I am ash from your fire

The first line of this verse may be an allusion to a line from Robert Burns’ poem entitled “To a Mouse,” which reads,

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley

that translates to, “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.” So, the speaker had a plan (possibly the romanticized version of being in love), which their partner has ruined. The “sleight of hand” line lends to how deceiving the partner is being. But the speaker isn’t fooled by their partner’s magic trick, and upon reflection, is able to see what they are plotting. And then, there is the word “barren.” This could mean that the relationship is empty (maybe empty emotionally, especially from the partner’s end), but also, like the frozen ground line, could mean that nothing good can come of their relationship. Then comes one of my favorite lines of the song: “I am ash from your fire.” Other than being just a beautiful line, it really shows how destructive their relationship is, but also how the narrator feels that they are simply the remnants of their partner’s terrible. They are no longer a physical thing, but dust. Ash.

Swift then goes into the chorus, which is the same as above.

Bridge

The bridge is often the most poetic part of Taylor Swift’s songs.

The first four lines of the bridge read:

You know I left a part of me back in New York
You knew the hero died, so what’s the movie for?
You knew it still hurts underneath my scars
From when they pulled me apart

What I think is really interesting about the bridge is Swift’s choice of tense. She begins in the present tense, then transitions into the past tense, which plays into the cycle of this relationship. The partner will continue to betray, and the narrator will continue to fight for the relationship to continue. I also love the hero line. I feel like this line is the narrator speaking to themselves, asking themselves why they’re still in the relationship if they know the ending (getting hurt). The scars line speaks to the narrator’s past relationships, and how they keep seeming to get hurt by those they once trusted. It also describes the permanence of the narrator’s trauma. Like a scar, they will never be fully healed.

The next seven lines of the verse read:

You knew the password, so I let you in the door
You knew you won, so what’s the point of keeping score?
You knew it still hurts underneath my scars
From when they pulled me apart
But what you did was just as dark
Darling, this was just as hard
As when they pulled me apart

I absolutely love the password line, and the metaphor it brings. It’s saying how this person knew exactly what to say to the narrator to gain their trust, only to betray it. The partner knew exactly what buttons to push to rile up the speaker. Then, we get an expansion of the scars line. It is added that what the partner did to the narrator was just as terrible as being dissected by others. And yet, the narrator still calls their partner “Darling.” They are still using this term of endearment even though they have been so deeply hurt.

Outro

The outro reads:

My only one
My kingdom come undone
My broken drum
You have beaten my heart

Don’t want no other shade of blue
But you
No other sadness in the world would do

Again, the partner is the narrator’s “only one.” Who they believe to be their soulmate, the only person they would stay with while being treated horribly. The kingdom line is a biblical reference, and reveals how the narrator once had the perfect relationship (a kingdom) that is now unraveled because of one side’s actions. The next two lines show how a rhythm of life has been disturbed, and essentially how heartbroken the narrator is. And yet, despite this heartbreak, Swift ends her song with the repetition of the line that she said described true love.

Despite much of the song’s negative tone, I’m not sure if the meaning of the poem is entirely negative. Yes, it describes a seemingly terrible situation, but I think it’s also saying that if you truly love someone, you will be willing to stick by them through these situations. Love is willing to be sad, and happy, and everything in between. But I also think that there’s a difference between a loving relationship that has flaws, and valleys, and a truly toxic relationship.

3 thoughts on “hoax: Why Taylor Swift is a Lyrical Genius

  1. Caroline R.

    I have listened to this song a ton but you pointed out so many things I’ve never noticed. I especially like the parts about the Robert Burns poem and the mention of the tense change in the bridge. Both are things I’ve never thought of but definitely enhance my understanding of the song

    Like

  2. Estefania L.

    I really have a new appreciation for this song. Hoax has never been one of my favorite songs off of Folklore, but this analysis has really made me view the song differently, and I will definitely start listening to it more often.

    Like

  3. Lucy B

    I enjoy your analysis of this song and how you look at and depict all of the pieces of it. When I listen to it, I’ll definitely think about some of these new elements.

    Like

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