Alongside the rest of the world, Taylor Swift found herself unexpectedly experiencing a world-altering coronavirus pandemic. She put her quarantine time to good use writing the songs for her eighth album, Folklore. Folklore marked the first time Swift strayed from her customary rollout strategies, which typically involved dropping singles and weeks or months of promotion. Instead, she announced the record on social media hours before its release. The songstress admitted that previously she might have overthought the timing of her new release and saved it for the "perfect" moment. "But the times we're living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed. My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world," she reflected. "That's the side of uncertainty I can get on board with." This song was released as the first single alongside the album launch.
According to Swift, this song started with the imagery of "a cardigan that still bears the scent of loss 20 years later." That image in her head became a story in which she compares a teen romance between two characters named Betty and James to an item of clothing. When I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone's bed You put me on and said I was your favorite When James came into Betty's life, she was low in confidence feeling like a discarded cardigan. He made her feel precious and needed by putting her on (i.e. wearing the tatty old garment). According to Swift, 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."
This is one of three songs on Folklore where Swift reflects on an ill-fated summer love triangle involving three teens: Betty, James and an unnamed girl. "Cardigan" is from Betty's point of view, "Betty" from James' perspective and "August" from the unnamed girl's. On "Cardigan," Swift sings about the triangle on the second verse. Chase two girls, lose the one When you are young, they assume you know nothing
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