Betty (Taylor Swift song)
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Live version cover artwork
|Single by Taylor Swift|
|from the album Folklore|
|Released||August 17, 2020|
|Taylor Swift singles chronology|
"Betty" (stylized in all lowercase) is a song recorded by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, for her eighth studio album, Folklore (2020), which was released on July 24, 2020. As the fourteenth track on the album, it was written by Swift and William Bowery, and was produced by Swift, Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff. It was serviced as a single to country radio, by Republic Records, on August 17, 2020. "Betty" is a country and folk rock song with an interlacing harmonica. Lyrically, it depicts James apologizing to Betty for his infidelity; James and Betty are two of the three core characters involved in a fictitious love triangle described in Folklore.
Upon release, "Betty" received positive reviews from music critics, who welcomed Swift's return to her country roots and praised the song's storytelling. The song debuted at number 6 on Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and number 42 on the Hot 100, scoring Swift her twenty-second top-10 hit on the former. Elsewhere, the song reached the top-40 in Australia, Canada and Singapore. "Betty" received its debut performance at the Grand Ole Opry House as part of the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards on September 16, 2020; this live version was released to all music platforms the next day.
"Betty" is the only song on Folklore that involves both the producers Swift picked for the album—Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner—every other track was either produced by Antonoff or 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. William Bowery, who is also credited as a songwriter, appears to have no online presence, and therefore is presumed to be a pseudonym.
Composition and lyrics
Alike majority of Folklore, "Betty" also exudes vivid storytelling. It is one of three tracks on the album that depict a fictitious love triangle, the other two being "Cardigan" and "August"; these three tracks narrate the story of the same love triangle, from the perspectives of each of the three characters involved, at different times in the lives. "Betty" is the tale from the perspective of the cheating boyfriend James, who had a "summer fling" with the unnamed female narrator of "August". James apologizes about his past mistakes but does not fully own up to them, citing his agoraphobia and Betty's "wandering eye" as excuses, setting forth his irresponsibility.
"Betty" has been described as a country and folk rock tune, steered by plucked acoustic, electric, pedal steel and bass guitars, a dominant, intertwining harmonica, and other instruments such as a vibraphone, drums and percussions. Swift explained the song as follows:
[James] has lost the love of his life basically and doesn't understand how to get it back. [...] This is a song that I wrote from the perspective of a 17-year-old boy. I've always loved that in music you can kinda slip into different identities and you can sing from other people's perspectives. So that's what I did on this one.
Written in the key of C major, "Betty" has a moderate tempo of 96 beats per minute. Swift's vocals in the song span between a range of G3 to G4. The lyrical structure of "Betty" is characterized by a dramatic shift from the verses' past tense, to a conditional mood in the chorus, and to the present tense in the climax, where a key change occurs between its bridge and final chorus. Inez is an additional character named in the song, who is portrayed as a gossiping neighbor. James confesses that, eventhough Betty does not usually believe Inez because her gossips are mostly false, Inez is right this time about him. The characters—James, Betty and Inez—are named after the daughters of actors Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively.
Due to the lack of mention of James's gender anywhere in the album, "Betty" is also interpreted as a queer anthem. 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".
Hannah Myrlea of NME called "Betty" a sweet tune that evokes a nostalgia for Swift's older country sound. Likewise, Time's Raisa Bruner also opined that the song sees Swift returning to her country roots. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone compared the harmonica in "Betty" to that in Bruce Springsteen's 1975 song "Thunder Road". 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. Also writing for Pitchfork, Vrinda Jagota stated that the song exemplifies the maturity and nuance that Swift has gained since her teenage. 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.
Jonathan Pertile of The Duke Chronicle praised the key change in the song, calling it the most effective since Swift's 2008 hit, "Love Story", and her "skilled" manipulation of perspective, painting a wise Betty in "Cardigan", but a hapless James, who resorts to excuses of "I'm only seventeen, I don't know anything". In agreement, Dave Holmes of Esquire also compared the key change to that of "Love Story", designating "Betty" the centerpiece of Folklore. 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. 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.
Upon release of Folklore, "Betty" debuted at number 6 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and number 42 on the Billboard Hot 100, both dated August 8, 2020. It is Swift's twenty-second top-ten hit on the former—her first since "Soon You'll Get Better" (2019) and her highest debut since the Tim McGraw duet "Highway Don't Care" (2013); it also 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 thirty-sixth entry on the chart and the first since her Sugarland collaboration "Babe" (2018). "Betty" also arrived at number-one on the Billboard Country Streaming Songs chart with 14.5 million streams collected. It sold 3,000 downloads and opened at the fifteenth spot of Billboard Country Digital Song Sales chart.
When it was released as a single to US country radio on August 17, 2020, "Betty" debuted at number-one on the format's add-board of the week, gaining support from 58 Mediabase-monitored country radio stations. It marked Swift's first single to become the most added song of the week since her 2013 hit "Red". Asserting Swift "the biggest star in music" who transcends formats, the KKBQ Houston program director, Johnny Chiang, stated that country music is "lucky, because at Taylor's core, she's a singer-songwriter and her music has meaning. Isn't that what country is all about? "Betty" fits perfectly".
Live acoustic version
"Betty" received its worldwide debut performance 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 show in seven years. Seated in front of a glowing stage light, Swift performed the clean version of the song on an acoustic guitar, accompanied only by a harmonica player. The singer was dressed in Stella McCartney, wearing a burgundy sequined turtleneck and khaki pants, and did her own hair, makeup and styling for her attire. The live version was released onto music streaming and digital platforms on September 18, 2020.
Credits and personnel
- Taylor Swift – vocals, songwriter, producer
- William Bowery – songwriter
- Aaron Dessner – producer, recording engineer, percussion, piano, bass, high string guitar, electric guitar
- Jack Antonoff – producer, recording engineer, drums, percussion, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, organ, mellotron
- Josh Kaufman – recording engineer, harmonica, electric guitar, lap steel
- Laura Sisk – recording engineer
- Jonathan Low – recording engineer
- Serban Ghenea – mixer
- John Hanes – engineer
- John Rooney – assistant engineer
- Randy Merrill – mastering engineer
- Mikey Freedom Hart – mellotron, pedal steel, Wurlitzer, harpsichord, vibraphone, electric guitar
- Evan Smith – saxophones, clarinet
|Canada (Canadian Hot 100)||32|
|UK Download (OCC)||92|
|US Billboard Hot 100||42|
|US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)||6|
|US Country Airplay (Billboard)||34|
|US Rolling Stone Top 100||19|
|Various||July 24, 2020||Standard||Republic|||
|United States||August 17, 2020||Country radio|| |||
|Various||September 18, 2020|| ||Live Acoustic||Republic|||
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