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.

What Does “Meursault” Mean?

Albert Camus’ The Stranger was originally published in French, and later was translated into English. Because of this, we can assume that the narrator’s name, “Meursault,” also originated from the French language.

Camus does not seem like the type of person who would choose a name for his narrator at random, specifically because of the depth of the novel. He seems extremely thoughtful, and specific with his word choice.

So what could the name “Meursault” mean?

When “Meursault” is searched on the internet, the first thing that appears is the wine, and the region in which said wine came from. Though it is possible that Camus simply chose the name “Meursault” because he liked the wine, I would like to explore other possible origins.

The most obvious French word that could be found within “Meursault” is the word “meurt,” which means “dies.” This seems the most probable translation of the first part of the name, as death is a major aspect of The Stranger–Meursault doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral, kills a man, and is later sentenced to be executed.

The hardest translation of “Meursault” is the ending part, “(s)ault.” The “s” may be included in the translation, or could be a filler letter. One possibility is that Camus meant to include the french word “sauf,” which means “except,” or “safe.” However, this translation isn’t extremely connected to the story, and is therefore improbable. Another word could be “sauter,” which means “to jump,” or “saule,” which means “willow tree.” Neither of these seem very probable, either. 

Two other possible words that are less explicit within the latter half of “Meursault” are “soleil” and “autre.” “Soleil” translates to mean “sun.” Heat and the sun are constant burdens upon Meursault, so this is a possibility. The other, more intriguing, option is “autre,” which means “other.” This translation, I feel, is the most likely. Meursault is an other in society. He goes against everything that is “normal,” or expected.

So, within the name “Meursault,” we could find prominent aspects of The Stranger: death, and being an anomaly within society.

Parent-Child Relationships in “Tenth of December”

Within George Saunders’ short story, “Tenth of December,” contrasting parent-child relationships are depicted.

On one side of the coin is Robin and his mother. Robin is an imaginative young boy conjures up wild stories of “Netherworlders,” and heroism. Robin describes his mother as a “good egg” who’s always been there for him, and is occasionally overprotective. In school, Robin is often bullied, and is constantly teased. Though this bullying is sometimes based upon his “manner of speaking,” it is also due to his mother’s “style faux pas.” Robin’s mother has no idea of this bullying, and Robin prefers to keep it like this. 

In a way, mother and child are sheltering each other: Robin is sheltering his mother from seeing how horribly he is being treated, while Robin’s mother is attempting to shelter him from “dangerous situations” (e.g. using a stapler).

Despite this sheltering, their relationship is extremely healthy. They are both achieving mutual recognition, and are extremely loving towards each other. 

On the other side of the coin is Eber and Allen. After Eber’s biological father abandoned him, his mother remarried to Allen. At first, Allen and Eber’s relationship was healthy. Allen was very encouraging of Eber’s ambitions, and Eber describes Allen as the “kindest man ever.” Then, Allen became ill, and began to change into “THAT.” He was verbally abusive to Eber and his mother, despite both of them trying to help him through his illness. Still, regardless of all of this, Eber loves Allen.

Years later, Eber develops cancer, and is terrified of becoming like Allen. So much so that he decides to commit suicide. He believes that a father is someone who “eases the burdens of those he loves,” and feels that by committing suicide, he is preventing himself from being “THAT.” 

This short story is a perfect example of how our upbringing and parents can dictate our personality and decisions. It is also an example of how we do not have to become our parents if we do not wish to. At the end of the story, Eber is prevented from committing suicide, and realizes that he was being “cruel” and “selfish” by attempting to do so.

“Tenth of December” is a beautiful, hopeful story, and is the perfect ending to Saunders’ short story collection.

Mutual Recognition In “The Semplica Girl Diaries”

In George Saunders’ short story, “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” Jessica Benjamin’s theory of mutual recognition is explored. In this story, Saunders fashions a world similar to the one we live in today. The one major difference, however, is that it has become popular for wealthy people to have “Semplica Girl Arrangements,” where girls from underprivileged countries are strung up by their heads as a form of lawn décor.

Saunders’ story follows a family who recently came into wealth after winning the lottery, and has bought four Semplica Girls. One of the children, Eva, is the only one who sees anything remotely wrong with society’s usage of Semplica Girls. In a piece of artwork, Eva drew her family’s four Semplica Girls with speech bubbles saying, “OUCH! THIS HURTS,” “THANKS LODES,” and “WHAT IF I AM YOUR DAUHTER.” She then, in an act of bravery, releases the Semplica Girls in the middle of the night.

Eva is the only one who has recognized the Semplica Girls as something other than objects. She sees them as human beings, not as simply lawn decorations. Even though she is the one in a position of power, she chose to equalize the power dynamic and allow the Semplica Girls freedom. We are not told, however, if the Semplica Girls also recognized Eva, to complete the circle of recognition. 

Though Eva appears slightly naive in that she released the girls into the night with no plan of where they would go, or how they would survive, and cost her family $8,600, her intentions were good. She witnessed something that didn’t sit right with her, and she chose to fix that thing. Her bravery is admirable.