Early on during the coronavirus lockdown, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift posted an Instagram selfie with the most relatable caption: “Not a lot going on at the moment.” However, as we all now know, that could not have been further from the truth because, while everyone else was baking bread, Swift developed her surprise eighth studio album, Folklore, which dropped on July 24, 2020.
Although Swift hadn’t planned to release another album so soon after the launch of Lover in 2019, inspiration struck. As she shared on Twitter, she put all of her, quote, “whims, dreams, fears, and musings into” the hour-long, 16-track creation.
But, as if an entire album wasn’t enough, Swift also announced that she’d release a video for the album’s first single, “Cardigan.” Swift assured fans on Instagram that the shoot was overseen by a medical inspector to ensure everyone involved was safe, telling fans as they awaited the video’s YouTube premiere, “Shooting this in quarantine was surreal. We adhered to every guideline. We had masks, gloves, [and] face guards. Masks and distancing are mandatory in my life, it’s what I do [and] everyone should, too.”
Swift also noted that, while she wanted the video to be centered around a clever and metaphorical plot device — in this case, the mystical piano, whisking her away to worlds both fantastic and frightening — she also wanted the video’s symbolism to have personal meaning to her. Despite that, she’s aware that fans will take their own meanings away from the video, which she directed.
With that in mind, let’s examine the hidden details you might’ve missed in “Cardigan.” Although Taylor Swift has already launched a line of clothing to commemorate Folklore’s release, it’s her on-screen attire that has the fashion world abuzz. Swift spends the entire runtime of the “Cardigan” music video in a nondescript white gown, which might look like any old nightgown to the untrained eye.
However, Swift’s white gown seems to specifically resemble a “nap dress,” a kind of nightgown styled for daywear that’s become trendy in the bleary-eyed, isolated world of 2020. And the nap dress also seems to satisfy an element of whimsy that’s evident in the fantasy world of “Cardigan.” As writer Rachel Syme described for The New Yorker, the nap dress “…suggests a cheeky indulgence for one’s body and a childlike return to waking up bleary-eyed hours before dinner.”
Syme also added that Nell Diamond, CEO of Hill House Home and creator of the Nap Dress, said the garment evokes images of Victorian ghosts, which fits Swift’s symbolism, as “Cardigan” plays to memories of the past and lost love.
Answering fan questions on YouTube in the lead-up to the song’s release, Swift said of “Cardigan,” “The song is about a lost romance and why young love is often fixed so permanently within our memories — why it leaves such an indelible mark.” But wait — the nap dress isn’t the only symbol in “Cardigan.” Countless fans took to Twitter to note that the imagery throughout “Cardigan” evokes vibes similar to that of her ex-boyfriend Harry Styles’ music video for “Falling.”
For one point of comparison, both videos depict imagery of pianos in the water. The One Direction alum also wears an outfit that is suspiciously reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s flowing white dress. However, Swift’s instrument of choice probably wasn’t intended to draw attention to her on-again, off-again ex. Instead, the piano depicts the one constant that has always kept Swift afloat no matter what — music.
Swift begins the video in what appears to be an old shack or treehouse of sorts, but, thanks to her piano, she’s transported to new worlds where she experiences an array of emotions and different obstacles. By the end, Swift finds herself overcome by an angry sea, likely meant to represent the pain of young love, and all the vitriol critics have spewed at her throughout the years.
But, once again, the singer’s piano arrives to save her at the very moment she appears to have lost all hope. Swift grabs hold, doesn’t let go, and, ultimately, its magic glow offers her safety. She returns to the rundown reality from which her story began. From her feud with Kanye West to her mother’s cancer battle, Swift has always relied on music to keep her grounded, even when life’s hardships threaten to run her ship ragged.
Through music, Swift will always find her way back home. From the title and imagery of Folklore alone, it was not hard to pick up on the whimsical, forest vibes Taylor Swift was going for with her surprise new album release. But the aesthetics of the “Cardigan” video sealed the deal on the aesthetic.
It’s not just about evoking a back-to-nature feeling, though. The wistful look of the album art and video also nods toward many people’s desire for both fantasy and normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic. “Cardigan” offers vivid scenes that allow viewers to get lost in an alternate universe.
The name of the song, and the cardigan she wraps herself in at the end of her journey, seems to symbolize the comfort we long to return to someday. For Taylor Swift, that comfort might be found in her cozy relationship with boyfriend Joe Alwyn, and how he helped her reputation bounce back after a long stretch of snake comparisons.
But in the context of COVID-19, the cardigan has the power to transform into any metaphor fans can conjure. As Swift admitted during her chat with fans before the premiere, she’s well aware of her fans’ tendency to derive their own meanings from her work.
That’s a big part of the beauty behind everything she creates. Taylor Swift’s work provides fans an opportunity to interpret each song as they see fit, allowing every individual to become part of the art itself. What more could a music lover want? For more such content, keep watching this space.