Cardigan (song)

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A black-and-white-filtered picture of Swift looking towards the camera while hugging her knees
Single by Taylor Swift
from the album Folklore
ReleasedJuly 27, 2020 (2020-07-27)
  • Kitty Committee Studio (Los Angeles)
  • Long Pond Studios (Hudson Valley, New York)
  • 3:59 (Original version)
  • 3:48 (Cabin in Candlelight version)
Producer(s)Aaron Dessner
Taylor Swift singles chronology
"The Man"
Alternative cover
Cabin in Candlelight version artwork
Cabin in Candlelight version artwork
Music video
"Cardigan" on YouTube

"Cardigan" (stylized in all lowercase) is a song recorded by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, as the second track on her eighth studio album, Folklore (2020), released on July 24, 2020 through Republic Records. It impacted radio stations on July 27, 2020 as the lead single from the album. Swift wrote the song with its producer Aaron Dessner. "Cardigan" is a slow-burning folk, soft rock and indie-rock ballad with stripped-down instrumentals of tender piano, clopping drums and melancholic violins. Lyrically, it sees Swift singing about a comforting romance lost in memories, from the perspective of a woman named Betty, one of the many fictitious characters narrated in Folklore.

Upon release, "Cardigan" received critical acclaim, with praise towards the poetic songwriting and laid-back sound. The song debuted at number one on the global Spotify songs chart, receiving over 7.742 million streams, garnering the biggest opening-day for a song by a female artist in 2020. An accompanying music video for the song—written, directed, and styled by Swift—was released alongside album launch. The dreamy video presents a cottagecore aesthetic and features Swift in three different settings: a cozy cabin in the woods, a magical moss-covered forest and a dark stormy sea, representing different phases of a relationship. An acoustic version of the song, entitled "Cabin in Candlelight", was released on July 30, 2020.

With the song's debut at the number-one spot of the Billboard Hot 100, it became Swift's sixth number-one single in the United States. Along with Folklore debuting at number-one on the Billboard 200 the same week, Swift became the first artist ever to debut atop the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 simultaneously. The song further topped Billboard Hot Alternative Songs, Hot Rock & Alternative Songs, Streaming Songs and Digital Song Sales charts, making Swift the first act in history to garner twenty chart-toppers on the latter. "Cardigan" also debuted at number one in Australia and reached the top-ten in Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Background and composition[edit]

"Cardigan" is a wistful, slow-burning, folk,[1] soft rock[2] and indie-rock[3] ballad driven by a stripped-down arrangement of a tender piano and a clopping drum sample, over a moody atmosphere.[4][5] The song is written in the key of C minor and has a moderately fast tempo of 130 beats per minute.[6] Swift's vocal range in the song spans from E3 to A4.[7] The production also encompasses melancholic violins and a buoyant Mellotron riff.[8] The lyrics display confidence, but are also "slightly embittered".[9] Swift told her fans that "Cardigan" is about "a lost romance and why young love is often fixed so permanently within our memories".[10] It is one of the three of the tracks on the album that depict the same love triangle from three different perspectives at different times in their lives (the other two being "August" and "Betty").[11]

In the song, Swift sings from the perspective of a fictional character named Betty, who recalls the separation and enduring optimism of a relationship with someone named James. Swift also mentions Peter Pan and the High Line in the song, and uses a cardigan as a metaphor for a "lingering physical memento" of the relationship.[12][8] While promoting the limited edition version of the single, Swift told fans on her Instagram Story that she sent the original songwriting voice memo to Aaron Dessner on April 27, 2020 after hearing the instrumental tracks he created.[13] Dessner said "Cardigan" was the first song written in their collaboration,[14] and was the first song written from the album altogether. According to Dessner, Swift wrote the lyrics to his music in around five hours.[15]

Music video[edit]


A scene in the music video, where Swift plays a moss-covered piano, from which a waterfall emerges.

An accompanying music video for "Cardigan"—written, directed, and styled by Swift—was released along with the album.[16] The "homespun" and "dreamlike" video starts out with Swift sitting in a candlelit cottage in the woods, wearing a nightgown and playing a vintage upright piano. This scene also features a photograph of Swift's grandfather, Dean, who fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal, and a painting that she painted during the first week of isolation.[17] When the soundboard starts glowing, she climbs into it and is magically transported to a moss-covered forest, where she plays the song on a grand piano producing a waterfall.[18][19] The piano bench starts to glow and she climbs into it. She gets transported to a dark stormy sea, where she holds on to a floating piano.[20][19] The piano soundboard glows and she climbs in, and she returns to the cottage, where she dons a cardigan. According to a video posted to her Vevo account, the forest scene "represents the evergreen beginning of a relationship where everything seems magical and full of beauty", while the ocean scene "represents the isolation and fear involved while a relationship is breaking down." The video also states the ending scene "signifies returning to a sense of self after experiencing love loss", discovering one's true self; Swift's soaking-wet nightgown signifies how the relationship changes the individual.[17] The music video is characterized by a prairie, cottagecore aesthetic.[18]


She had the whole storyline—the whole notion of going into the piano and coming out into the forest, the water, going back into the piano.

The music video was inspired by the period and fantasy films that Swift watched in isolation during COVID-19 lockdown.[17] She contacted cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto in early July to work on the video; Prieto had previously worked on the music video for "The Man", Swift's official solo directorial debut.[19] As the director, Swift worked with assistant director Joe Osborne and set designer Ethan Tobman.[19] Swift developed the concept for the video, which Prieto described as "more ambiguous", "more personal", and "more of a fantasy" than "The Man".[19] Ahead of filming, Swift drafted a shot list of the video, detailing the video's scenes with specific time sequences in the song, and sent visual references to Prieto and Tobman to communicate her vision of the video.[19]

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges to filming, and extensive safety standards were enacted. All crew members underwent COVID-19 testing, wore masks at all times, and practiced social distancing as much as possible.[19] An onsite medical inspector supervised COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.[21] As Swift had to remain unmasked for large amounts of time while filming, crew members wore color-coded wristbands to denote those allowed to come within close contact with her. Additionally, the entire video was filmed from a camera mounted to a robotic arm controlled by a remote operator, a technique usually reserved for crane shots and establishing shots.[19]

Aside from directing and acting, Swift also did her own makeup, hair, and styling for the video.[21] To keep the song from being leaked, Swift wore an earpiece and lip-synced to the song. The video was filmed indoors over a day and-a-half.[19] Swift and the video's editor, Chancler Haynes, "worked simultaneously from two separate locations on set in order to edit the video on time".[17]

Critical reception[edit]

The song received widespread critical acclaim upon release. Callie Ahlgrim of Insider dubbed the lyrics of "Cardigan" as an "effective way" to "evoke young love and innocence lost", describing them as simple, sharp and extremely poignant.[22] Pitchfork's Jillian Mapes wrote that the song's "overlapping details and central framing device—of a cardigan forgotten and found without a second thought—are pure Swift".[23] Courteney Larocca of Insider opined that the song has Lana Del Rey influences.[22] Laura Snapes of The Guardian described the song as "cavernous and shimmering as a rock pool in a cave".[24] Jill Gutowitz of Vulture characterized "Cardigan" as "adorable, and yet, again, hurtful".[25]

NME writer Hannah Mylrea defined the song as a "swirling amalgam" of gleaming production, swooning strings, flickering piano, and lyrics that exude pain from young love, and praised Swift's ability to "stunningly" convey complex mixed emotions of hurt, jealousy and heartbreak in a "gorgeous" folk tune. Mylrea placed "Cardigan" at number four on her NME list ranking all 161 Swift songs so far.[26] Caragh Medlicott of Wales Arts Review deemed the song as "a resurgence of self-worth discovered, somewhat ironically, through the love of another".[27] Uproxx's Philip Cosores stated that "Cardigan" is "rooted in the vivid details and melodic warmth that characterizes much of [Swift's] music". Entertainment Weekly's Maura Johnston termed the song's lyrics as "confident" but "slightly embittered".[9] Roisin O'Connor of The Independent compared the song to "Call It What You Want" from Swift's sixth studio album, Reputation (2017),[28] while Spin's Bobby Olivier compared it to "Wildest Dreams" from her fifth studio album, 1989 (2014).[4]

Commercial performance[edit]

"Cardigan" debuted at number one on global Spotify songs chart with over 7.742 million streams, garnering the biggest opening-day for a song by a solo artist or a female artist in 2020.[29]

The song hit number one in Australia, becoming Swift's sixth chart-topping single in the country and her first since 2017's "Look What You Made Me Do". It was one of five songs that debuted in the top ten in the country, making Folklore the album with the most top 10 songs of 2020 in the country.[30] In the UK, "Cardigan" debuted at number six, with two other songs from the album also debuting in the top ten, taking Swift's total UK top-ten hits to sixteen[31] and making her the first woman in UK history to debut three top-ten songs simultaneously.[32] In Ireland, the song debuted at number 4 along with tracks "Exile" and "The 1" also debuting in the top 10 of Irish Singles Chart, bringing Swift's career total top-ten hits to fifteen. In New Zealand, the song debuted at number two with "Exile" and "The 1" again debuting in the top 10, bringing Swift's total top ten hits in the country to nineteen.

In the United States, "Cardigan" debuted at number-one on the Billboard Hot 100, dethroning "Rockstar" by DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch from the top spot, earning Swift her sixth number-one single in the country and second number-one debut following "Shake It Off" (2014). This made Swift the first artist ever to debut at number-one on both the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 charts in the same week. The single was joined in the top-ten by "The 1" and "Exile", and increased Swift's number of top-ten hits to 28. Moreover, it extended her record as the woman with the most top-ten debuts to eighteen. It is the first solo song by a female artist to top the chart since "All I Want for Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey in December 2019. In its opening week, "Cardigan" earned 34 million US streams, 12.7 million in radio airplay and sold 71,000 copies, becoming the most-streamed and the top-selling song of the week dated July 30, 2020. The song topped six other Billboard charts: Streaming Songs, Alternative Streaming Songs, Digital Song Sales, Alternative Digital Song Sales, Hot Alternative Songs and Hot Rock & Alternative Songs charts, and extended Swift's all-time record as the artist with the most number-one hits on the Digital Song Sales chart to twenty.[33][34]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Organization Award Result Ref.
2020 MTV Video Music Awards Song of Summer Nominated [35]

Track listing[edit]

  • Digital download and streaming[36]
  1. "Cardigan" – 3:52
  • CD, 7" vinyl and 12" vinyl[37]
  1. "Cardigan" – 3:52
  2. "Songwriting Voice Memo"
  • CD, digital download, streaming, 7" vinyl and 12" vinyl (cabin in candlelight version)[37]
  1. "Cardigan" (cabin in candlelight version) – 3:48

Credits and personnel[edit]

Song credits[edit]

Credits adapted from Tidal.[38]

  • Taylor Swift – vocals, songwriter
  • Aaron Dessner – producer, songwriter, engineer, recording engineer, drum programmer, bass, electric guitar, mellotron, piano, percussion, synthesizer
  • Benjamin Lanz – synthesizer
  • Yuki Numata Resnick – violin, viola
  • James McAlister – drum programmer
  • Clarice Jensen – cello
  • Bella Blasko – engineer
  • Kyle Resnick – engineer
  • Laura Sisk – vocal engineer
  • Jonathan Low – recording engineer, mixer

Music video credits[edit]

Credits adapted from YouTube.[39]

  • Taylor Swift – director
  • Jil Hardin – producer
  • Rebecca Skinner – executive producer
  • Rodrigo Prieto – director of photography
  • Chancler Haynes – editor
  • Ethan Tobman – production designer
  • Joe Osborne – 1st associate director
  • Grant Miller – visual effects
  • David Lebensfeld – visual effects
  • Josh Davis – gaffer
  • Ryan Mcquire – key grip
  • Vincent Lucido – storyboards


Chart performance for "Cardigan"
Chart (2020) Peak
Billboard Global 200[40] 77
Australia (ARIA)[41] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[42] 46
Belgium (Ultratip Flanders)[43] 2
Belgium (Ultratip Wallonia)[44] 21
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[45] 3
Canada AC (Billboard)[46] 26
Canada CHR/Top 40 (Billboard)[47] 22
Canada Hot AC (Billboard)[48] 12
Croatia (HRT)[49] 61
Czech Republic (Singles Digitál Top 100)[50] 29
Denmark (Tracklisten)[51] 19
Estonia (Eesti Tipp-40)[52] 15
France (SNEP)[53] 138
Germany (Official German Charts)[54] 67
Global Excl. US (Billboard)[55] 106
Guatemala Anglo (Monitor Latino)[56] 7
Hungary (Stream Top 40)[57] 29
Ireland (IRMA)[58] 4
Japan (Japan Hot 100)[59] 94
Lithuania (AGATA)[60] 17
Malaysia (RIM)[61] 2
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[62] 57
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[63] 2
Norway (VG-lista)[64] 27
Panama Anglo (Monitor Latino)[65] 5
Portugal (AFP)[66] 21
Scotland (OCC)[67] 16
Singapore (RIAS)[68] 2
Slovakia (Singles Digitál Top 100)[69] 45
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[70] 66
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[71] 31
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[72] 51
UK Singles (OCC)[73] 6
US Billboard Hot 100[74] 1
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[75] 13
US Adult Top 40 (Billboard)[76] 10
US Mainstream Top 40 (Billboard)[77] 17
US Hot Rock & Alternative Songs (Billboard)[78] 1
US Rolling Stone Top 100[79] 1


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[80] Gold 40,000double-dagger

*sales figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

Release dates and formats for "Cardigan"
Region Date Format Version Label Ref.
Various July 24, 2020 Original Republic [81]
July 27, 2020 [37]
Italy Contemporary hit radio Universal [82]
United States Hot adult contemporary Republic [83]
July 28, 2020 Contemporary hit radio [84]
Various July 30, 2020
  • Digital download
  • streaming
  • CD
  • vinyl
Cabin In Candlelight [85][86]
United Kingdom July 31, 2020 Contemporary hit radio Original EMI [87]
August 15, 2020 Adult contemporary radio [88]

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