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, a harpsichord, and plenty of guitars with 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 clarified that James is a 17-year-old boy.[1] 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.[2] "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.[3][4]

The song features a co-writing credit from Swift's partner Joe Alwyn, whom was initially credited under the pseudonym William Bowery.[5] 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".[6] Swift cited Patty Griffin's "Top of the World" (2004) as her inspiration to write from a male perspective.[2]

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."[7] On August 17, 2020, the song was made a single to US country radio stations by MCA Nashville.[8][9]

Composition and lyrics[edit]

Like the majority of Folklore, "Betty" displays vivid storytelling.[10] It is one of the three tracks on the album that depicts a fictitious storyline, what Swift refers to as the "teenage love triangle", along with "Cardigan" and "August". These three tracks narrate the story of the same love triangle from the perspectives of each of the characters involved, at different times in their lives.[11][12] "Betty" is the tale from the perspective of the cheating boyfriend James, whose girlfriend is Betty, as he involves himself in a "summer fling" with the unnamed female narrator of "August". Therefore, James debates "show[ing] 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.[13]

"Betty" has been described as a country, folk rock, guitar pop,[14][15] and neofolk tune,[16] with elements of Americana,[17] propelled by an interlacing harmonica, a multitude of guitars: acoustic, electric, pedal steel, lap steel, high string and bass guitars,[10][12] and other instruments such as a harpsichord, vibraphone, saxophones, drums, percussions, Mellotron and a Wurlitzer electric piano. 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.[18]

Man playing a guitar on stage
Man playing a red guitar
"Betty" features production from Swift, Alwyn, first-time collaborator Aaron Dessner (pictured left) and frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff (pictured right).

Written in the key of C major, "Betty" has a moderate tempo of 96 beats per minute.[19] Swift's vocals in the song span between a range of G3 to G4.[20] The lyrical structure of "Betty" is characterized by a dramatic shift from the verses' past tense, to conditional sentences in the chorus, to the present tense in the climax,[10] where a key change occurs between its bridge and final chorus.[21] 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 and Inez—are named after the daughters of actors Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively.[22]

Due to the lack of mention of James's gender anywhere in the album, "Betty" is also interpreted as a queer anthem.[23][24] 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".[4]

Critical reception[edit]

Hannah Myrlea of NME called "Betty" a sweet tune that evokes a nostalgia for Swift's older country sound.[14] Likewise, Time's Raisa Bruner also opined that the song sees Swift returning to her country roots.[25] Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone compared the harmonica in "Betty" to that in Bruce Springsteen's 1975 song "Thunder Road".[26] 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.[23] Also writing for Pitchfork, Vrinda Jagota stated that the song exemplifies the maturity and nuance that Swift has gained since her teens.[10]

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.[27] 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.[28] Jonathan Pertile of The Duke Chronicle praised its key change, 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".[21] In agreement, Dave Holmes of Esquire also compared the key change to that of "Love Story", designating "Betty" the centerpiece of Folklore.[29]

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.[30] 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.[31] The New York Times listed "Betty" in the top 15 of their ranking of best songs of 2020.[32]

"Betty" has been interpreted as a gay anthem. As James's gender is not revealed anywhere in the song or the album, many commentators interpreted the track to be having an underlying queer theme, especially lesbian romance. However, Swift has explicitly stated that she originally envisioned James as a boy. Callie Ahlgrim of Insider Inc. said Swift stating the song's narrator is a boy does not negate the LGBT fans' interpretations of the song.[24][33][34]

At the 2021 BMI London Awards, "Betty" won an award for "Most Performed Songs of the Year", marking Alwyn's first BMI win.[35]

Commercial performance[edit]

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.[36][37] 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).[37][38] "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.[38]

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. 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".[38]

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.[39]

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.[40][41] 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.[42][43] She wore a burgundy sequined turtleneck and khaki pants.[42] The live version was released onto music streaming and digital platforms on September 18, 2020.[44] 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.[45]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from Tidal.[46]

Charts[edit]

Certification[edit]

Certification for "Betty"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[61] Gold 40,000double-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 [8][62]
Various September 18, 2020 Live from 2020 ACM Republic [44]

References[edit]

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External link[edit]