Betty (Taylor Swift song)

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"Betty"
Cover artwork of "Betty" live version
Live version cover artwork
Single by Taylor Swift
from the album Folklore
ReleasedAugust 17, 2020 (2020-08-17)
Studio
  • Kitty Committee (Los Angeles)
  • Rough Customer (New York)
Genre
Length4:54
LabelRepublic
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
Taylor Swift singles chronology
"Exile"
(2020)
"Betty"
(2020)
"Willow"
(2020)
Lyric video
"Betty" on YouTube

"Betty" (stylized in all lowercase) is a song by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, taken from her eighth studio album, Folklore (2020). It was written by Swift and Joe Alwyn (under the pseudonym William Bowery), who produced the track with Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff. MCA Nashville and Republic Records released the song to US country radio on August 17, 2020. "Betty" is an Americana-inspired song combining country, folk rock, and guitar pop. Its production consists of a harmonica, plenty of plucking guitars, and a key change after the bridge.

The lyrics are about a relationship between two fictitious characters named James and Betty. Some media publications initially interpreted the song in a queer context due to the lyrics not mentioning James's gender, but Swift stated that James is a 17-year-old boy. Narrated from his perspective, "Betty" is about his apology to Betty after having cheated on her. They are two of the three characters involved in a love triangle depicted in three Folklore tracks, the other two being "Cardigan" (from Betty's perspective) and "August" (from the remaining unnamed character's perspective).

Music critics noted "Betty" for reminiscing of Swift's early country-music songs and praised its engaging storytelling. The song peaked at number six on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart and number 42 on the Billboard Hot 100. It peaked within the top 40 on singles charts in Australia, Canada, and Singapore. The single was certified gold by Music Canada (MC). Swift first performed "Betty" live at the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards on September 16, 2020; the performance was recorded and released on digital music platforms two days later.

Background and release[edit]

Bob Dylan performing
The production of "Betty" was inspired by Bob Dylan's 1960s albums.

American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift conceived her eighth studio album, Folklore, while quarantining amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Produced by Swift, Jack Antonoff, and Aaron Dessner of the National, it was released on July 24, 2020, by Republic Records.[1] "Betty" is the only song on Folklore produced by both Antonoff and Dessner. For the song's sound, Swift used Bob Dylan's albums The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) and John Wesley Harding (1967) as reference points.[2][3]

The song features a co-writing credit from Swift's partner Joe Alwyn, whom was initially credited under the pseudonym William Bowery.[4] She stated that, one day, she heard Alwyn "singing the entire, fully formed chorus...from another room" and asked if they could write a song together while in quarantine, which eventually became "Betty".[5] Swift cited Patty Griffin's "Top of the World" (2004) as her inspiration to write from a male perspective.[1]

On July 23, 2020, Swift revealed the track listing of Folklore, where "Betty" placed fourteenth, and released the album on July 24, 2020. In the primer that preceded the release, Swift teased imageries of various tracks, with "Betty" being about "a seventeen-year-old standing on a porch, learning to apologize."[6] On August 17, 2020, the song was made a single to US country radio stations by MCA Nashville.[7][8]

Composition and lyrics[edit]

"Betty" is an Americana-influenced song.[9] Some critics said it features a production resembling Swift's early country albums;[10] Hannah Mylrea of NME commented the track combines country with folk rock.[11] Other reviewers described the genre as guitar pop,[12] and 1990s alternative pop.[13]Its production prominently features an interlacing harmonica, which has its own solo part, and plenty of plucking guitars.[14][15] Critics likened "Betty" to the songs of other musicians. Vulture's Justin Curto said it harkens back to the guitar-pop sound of alternative rock band Sixpence None the Richer in the 1990s,[12] whereas Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone compared the harmonica solo to that in Bruce Springsteen's 1975 song "Thunder Road".[15]

As with other Folklore tracks, "Betty" displays vivid storytelling.[14] It is one of the three tracks that depict a fictitious "teenage love triangle", the other two being "Cardigan" and "August". They narrate the storyline from the perspectives of each of the characters involved, at different times in their lives.[15][16] "Betty" is narrated from the perspective of James, who cheated on the titular character Betty, as he involves himself in a "summer fling" with the unnamed female narrator of "August". Therefore, James "show[s] up" at Betty's party to reconcile with her. He apologizes about his past mistakes but does not fully own up to them, citing his disdain of crowds and Betty's "wandering eye" as excuses.[17] Swift explained that James "has lost the love of his life basically and doesn't understand how to get it back".[18] The lyrical structure of "Betty" is characterized by a dramatic shift from the conditional ("If I just showed up at your party/Would you have me?") to the present ("I showed up at your party/Will you have me?").[14] The song incorporates a key change after the bridge.[19] Inez is an additional character named in the song, who is portrayed as a gossiping neighbor. James confesses that, even though Betty does not usually believe Inez because her gossips are mostly false, Inez is right this time about him. The characters—James, Betty, Inez—are named after the daughters of actors Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively.[20]

Although Swift explicitly stated that James is a 17-year-old boy,[21] due to the lack of mention of James's gender anywhere in the album, some audience interpreted "Betty" in a queer context.[22][23] When Dessner was asked about the song's potential queerness, he replied: "I can't speak to what it's about. I have my own ideas. I also know where Taylor's heart is, and I think that's great anytime a song takes on greater meaning for anyone."[3] For The Atlantic's Spencer Kornharber, "The final narrator is a 17-year-old named James, but with Swift singing the lyrics, 'Betty' first hits the ear as a tale of same-sex desire."[24]

Critical reception[edit]

Pitchfork's Jillian Mapes commended "Betty" as "youthful hope of a song" like the Chicks' 1998 single "Wide Open Spaces", but is notably wiser and "queerer" than the high school romances Swift generally wrote about during her teenage years.[22] Also writing for Pitchfork, Vrinda Jagota stated that the song exemplifies the maturity and nuance that Swift has gained since her teens.[14]

Rob Harvilla of The Ringer thought that the "semi-buoyant" song recalls Swift's 2006 debut into the country music scene, prompting her sensitive but sly songwriting, and lauded on how "Betty" interweaves with other tracks on Folklore.[25] The Atlantic writer Spencer Kornhaber opined that the suspenseful storytelling made him "stand up and put my hands on my head while waiting for it to end", and pointed out that the song first felt like a tale of same-sex desire before arriving at its bridge.[24] Dave Holmes of Esquire deemed "Betty" the centerpiece of Folklore.[26]

Zachary Kephart of Country Universe dubbed the song a "full-circle moment" and "fitting" return for Swift, because it is told from a younger perspective. He complimented the instrumentals and thought that "Betty" works better as a deep cut than a radio single.[27] Ellen Johnson of Paste named the track as one of the best country songs of 2020, stating that it proves Swift's empathy "truly knows no bounds", being written from the point of view of a "regretful" teenage boy.[28] In The New York Times's individual critics' lists of the best 2020 songs, "Betty" was included on such lists by Jon Caramanica and Lindsay Zoladz.[29] The Tampa Bay Times featured the track on their list of the best 30 songs of 2020.[13] At the 2021 BMI London Awards, "Betty" won an award for "Most Performed Songs of the Year", marking Alwyn's first BMI win.[30]

Commercial performance[edit]

After Folklore was released, on the Billboard charts dated August 8, 2020, "Betty" debuted at number six on Hot Country Songs[31] and number 42 on the Billboard Hot 100.[32] It is Swift's 22nd to reach the top ten on Hot Country Songs and marked the highest debut for a woman since Bebe Rexha's "Meant to Be" (2017). The song debuted at number 60 on the Country Airplay chart, marking Swift's 36th entry.[31][33] On country-music charts, "Betty" opened at number one on Country Streaming Songs and number 15 on Country Digital Song Sales.[33] After its country-radio single release on August 17, 2020, it was the most added track of the week on Mediabase-monitored country radio stations.[33]

Elsewhere, "Betty" peaked at number 22 on Australia's ARIA Singles and Singapore's Top 30 Digital Streaming charts, number 32 on the Canadian Hot 100, and number 92 on UK Downloads chart. Upon the release of its live version, the song opened at numbers 58 and 88 on Scottish Singles and Irish Singles charts, respectively. Following the inauguration of the Billboard Global 200 chart seven weeks after Folklore's launch, "Betty" appeared on the chart at number 180, dated September 19, 2020.[34]

Live acoustic version[edit]

Swift first performed "Betty" live at the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards at the Grand Ole Opry House on September 16, 2020, marking Swift's first performance at a country-music show in seven years.[35][36] Seated in front of a glowing stage light, she performed the clean version on a black Gibson acoustic guitar and was accompanied by one harmonica player.[37][38] She wore a burgundy sequined turtleneck and khaki pants.[37] The live version was released onto music streaming and digital platforms on September 18, 2020.[39] Swift auctioned off the Gibson guitar, which she autographed, at Christie's auction house, as part of Academy of Country Music's COVID-19 relief fund.[40]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from Tidal.[41]

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Certifications for "Betty"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[56] Gold 40,000double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[57] Silver 200,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Release history[edit]

Release dates and formats for "Betty"
Region Date Format(s) Version Label(s) Ref.
United States August 17, 2020 Country radio Original [7][58]
Various September 18, 2020 Live from 2020 ACM Republic [39]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]