Taylor Swift’s 2020 albums – ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore’ – are like water. In the surface of them, we see ourselves, as vague and actual as we really are. Underneath that surface, though, things get more complicated. Of course they do. Our whole lives lurk down there. Swift may have turned from diarist to storyteller but her music has only become even more truthful as a result.
Maybe that’s why these two records were so brilliantly received. No one considers Taylor Swift simply to be a celebrity anymore – she’s clearly an artist. Which in part means that it’s harder to spot the singer amongst the cast of characters she inhabits – those ballgowns Taylor used to wear always made it pretty easy to find her in a crowd. Not that she’s disappeared altogether. It’s just that now she’s wearing cardigans and she looks more like you or me.
Which makes sense, because Taylor Swift is a real person. Yes, really. And just as we are all a million different ideas at once, Swift is also a kaleidoscope of the things she’s done, the feelings she’s felt and the ways in which she’s been interpreted. Swim in the waters of ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore’, and you’ll see that the generation’s most significant pop star is very much present, that the fact of her is absolutely embedded in the apparent fiction.
Intriguingly, though, Taylor Swift isn’t the only person you’ll find struggling to stay afloat in the rain-filled lakes of ‘folklore’ or trying to make it to the shore of ‘evermore’. You’re also sure to meet F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Daisy Buchanan swimming down there in the weeds. And, of course, this makes sense because we already know that Taylor Swift’s read The Great Gatsby. On ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’, she said she’d been, “feeling so Gatsby for that whole year,” and on ‘Don’t Blame Me’ she labelled herself: “your Daisy”.
Still, it’s true that on these more recent records Taylor inhabits Daisy in a way she hasn’t done before. And when the sun’s at its highest point and the heat is at its most exasperating, you’ll realise that’s not in fact your own reflection staring back at you from the surface of Swift’s own sound. In that whisper thin moment, you’ll note actually that it’s Daisy Buchanan’s. You’re in her head. This is what she sees and this is what she thinks.
It’s not exactly the same Daisy you know from Fitzgerald’s book, though. At the beginning of ‘folklore’, it’s as if we’ve travelled beyond the last still-fragmenting pieces of Fitzgerald’s novel and we’re now in Daisy’s future. And this is where we remain throughout the two records, diving in and out of the past for sure, but never actually being there. We aren’t here to change anything, we’re here instead for understanding.
And to facilitate that understanding, it’s important to note that from this point on we mostly refer to Taylor as Daisy! We are committing 100 per cent to the idea that for the duration of these two records, Taylor is that older version of Daisy, living out her life, Gatsby’s death many, many years behind her.
The pink colouring has been used to highlight the Taylor quotes, the blue colouring has been used to highlight quotes from ‘The Great Gatsby’. Read the essay – and then the notes at the end – to help you start constructing your own response to ‘The Great Gatsby’.
‘the 1’ begins in an appropriately reflective mood:
“But we were something, don’t you think so?
Roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool
And if my wishes came true
It would’ve been you.”
In offering us a version of Daisy some time forward from The Great Gatsby’s tragic conclusion, Taylor details a character whose sadness has been blunted by reality. There’s no room for the former when you’re so concentrated on the latter. Sure, Taylor/Daisy celebrates how she and her lover/Gatsby might have looked for that brief lightning flash of the twenties, but she knows too that her own wishes were as futile as the pennies she threw in the pool. Yes, she and Gatsby were something and Nick was almost right when he said, “Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,” but Daisy was never going to stay on that side of that bridge.
Maybe because she was a woman.
Or because she was a mother.
Or because she was married.
Or because she was old money.
She was prepared to “kiss in cars and downtown bars,” but, “Outside the wind was loud and there was a faint flow of thunder along the Sound,” and Daisy felt the weather in a way that Gatsby did not. She knows from the start of the novel that there’s “only so far new money goes” and it’s this truth that “preyed on Gatsby.” To Daisy, there was always something inherently “shameless” about Gatsby. “She was appalled by West Egg.”
Could things have been different? Taylor’s albums don’t suggest so. On ‘exile’ she sings about a “crown” because – by the time, as a reader, you’ve fought your way through all the “unnecessary… innumerable” flowers – this is really what Gatsby wants: the throne. Yes, he adores Daisy, but he LOVES her lifestyle and Daisy recognises her role as an accessory. She is something to be worn by the men who somehow all seem to think they’re not like other men and yet are hardly different from each other at all.
And so she knows all along that she and Gatsby are walking “a very thin line” in more ways than one.
When they first met, things were easier. Daisy wasn’t married and Gatsby’s background was blurred behind the mist of his own invention. “Can’t repeat the past?” he cries in chapter 6. “Why of course you can!” But of course that past didn’t even exist in the first place. Not really.
Which means Daisy ended up in the future she was always destined for. “I gave so many signs,” Daisy thinks now. Gatsby just didn’t understand them. Or more likely he ignored them, just like he ignored that swimming pool of his. For so long unused, someone was always going to dive in eventually. Underneath the pool’s surface – in the same way we’ve established is true of ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore’ – are the zillion possible realities that Gatsby does not want to consider. It’s no surprise that he dies shortly after swimming with the truth for the first time. The minute he entered that water, the reflection of his manicured bright blue sky was shattered forever.
The swimming pool, the brewing storm, the hidden past – the tension of living amidst Fitzgerald’s characters was almost unbearable. Daisy had more than anyone to lose and the anxieties she felt then were so pronounced, it’s no wonder that, years into the future, she’s “Weepin’ in a sunlit room.” She’s free to cry now in a way that she wasn’t on that hot day when everything was “so confused.”
Back then, in smoke-filled speakeasies, the boundaries were so hard to work out. Daisy played the ‘mirrorball’ to Gatsby’s dancer. She showed Gatsby “every version” of himself. When he looked at her, he imagined that he could be the respected gentleman he so desired to be. He was already rich but real richness necessitates depth, strength and fullness. You can stack it up as high as you want, but money is never going to offer anyone those qualities. And Daisy knows Gatsby sees her as the gateway to those more indeterminable ideals. So, once again, she feels like an accessory to someone else’s dream.
Not that Gatsby could rationalise – or even identify – her confusion: he was lost in “the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it.” Not that Daisy is, or was, adverse to the occasional illusion herself. “Please picture me, in the trees, I hit my peak at seven…” Taylor sings. In the singer’s words, we recognise Daisy’s craving for a more innocent time. If only she could have shared in Gatsby’s delusion, if only she could have rewound to a time when she wasn’t who she was. But she was always, “Over the creek… too scared to jump in.” And Gatsby was always in that creek and from where he was standing – his feet permanently in the mud – she “was high in the sky.” Up there – “High in a white palace” – she lived up to Gatsby’s idea of her. Down on the ground, though, she “tumbled short of his dreams.”
And so, all these years on, somewhere far away from the pages of the original novel, yes, Daisy remembers a time when she “was livin’ for the hope of it all,” but she knows too that there wasn’t ever really hope at all. Which is why, from the first moment we meet her, she’s “p-paralysed.” Why is she so stuck?
Because she’s a woman.
Because she’s a mother.
Because she’s married.
Because she’s old money.
And even now, with Fitzgerald’s ink long since dried and Jay Gatsbys living on every street in New York, Daisy finds it “hard to be anywhere.” She thinks of Gatsby and he’s “a flashback in a film reel.” He never really existed. Not like Tom existed. Not like ‘real life’ existed. She’s permanently caught between that life and those wishes that were never going to come true.
Everything that was real to Daisy would have been lost in a life with Gatsby. In every way that a person can be, Gatsby was illicit. “Make sure nobody sees you leave,” she thought to herself as the sun came up, and her nights with Gatsby faded like footprints in the sand. “Look at this idiotic fool that you made me,” she wants to tell Gatsby now.
She also might tell Gatsby that: “You taught me a secret language, I can’t speak with anyone else,” but really that’s a misreading of the situation. Gatsby wasn’t the one who knew any secret languages. Daisy was the one with the voice “full of money.” “And you know damn well, for you I would ruin myself, a million little times,” she might say too, but that’s not true. She didn’t and she wouldn’t. And, yes, it might be “so pretty to think, all along there was some invisible string tying you to me,” but, Gatsby was “Mr Nobody from Nowhere” and there was no string. And even if there had been, string doesn’t count for much in The Money Decade.
The fact is that Daisy was motivated as much as anything by “the steel of my axe to grind for the boys who broke my heart.” Gatsby was her revenge on Tom. She needed Tom to be devoted and he wasn’t. She needed Tom to need her and he didn’t. Until he realised that he did. “You’re revolting,” she told her husband, when at last her “claws come out”.
For a while, then, Daisy felt safer with Gatsby because he appeared to be the antithesis of Tom. For the former polo player, life was a game in a way that it couldn’t be for Gatsby. Daisy may not know the full details regarding Gatsby’s background, but she does know that Gatsby’s been to war and seen things he “just can’t speak about.” She also knows that when he looks at her, he gets a “glimpse of relief,” and as a result Daisy feels special. So, “She blossomed for him like a flower.” She meant something to Gatsby that she couldn’t to Tom, someone who was already utterly used to a life of growth and iridescent colour. Daisy dazzled Gatsby and even now she wonders if she could again: “if I just showed up at your party, would you… lead me to the garden?” But of course we know the answer to that because YOU CAN’T REPEAT THE PAST.
In light of that smothering, sunburnt reality, the last two tracks of ‘folklore’ are well-placed. Daisy might still have a romantic streak, but Taylor Swift uses these final moments to remind us that above all Daisy is a realist:
“Our coming-of-age has come and gone
Suddenly the summer, it’s clear
I never had the courage of my convictions…
No, I could never give you peace.”
Deep in the core of his being, underneath the surface of his so far untouched pool, Gatsby knows all that too. It’s why he acted “like a little boy.”
“I would die for you in secret,” Daisy considers now, but that kind of thinking was never any good to Gatsby. He wanted her to die in public. Except, of course, he never really realised that he was asking her to die at all. Or that actually – for Daisy – being with him would have been worse than death because in the middle of the “dumping ground” of Daisy’s own making, Doctor Eckleburg would always have been watching – his “eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under the sun and rain.”
Gatsby’s “best laid plan” was never going to be good enough. His “sleight of hand,” was never going to be sleight enough. The future – for the two of them together – would have entailed moving to a “barren land” and no one can blame Daisy for side-stepping that fate. The truth is that Daisy was never in control of herself the way Gatsby imagined she was.
“Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind,” Swift sings on ‘willow’ (the first track on ‘evermore’) and, yes, we’re still inside Daisy’s head but she’s imagining herself the way Gatsby imagined her. She’s older now – she can see Gatsby’s mistake in a way that he would never have been able to. He thought that Daisy could do as she wished; he saw her life and thought that somehow she was free in a way that he was not. In reality, though, she was even more comprehensively trapped than him – it’s just that her cage happened to be lined with fur and decorated with sparkling diamonds. Gatsby was forever dazzled by the “gleaming” and the “twinkling.” “What must it be like,” he wondered, “to grow up that beautiful, with your hair falling into place like dominoes?” He turned Daisy’s “life into folklore” and so the real Daisy drifted further out of sight than ever. “We could just ride around,” she said over and over, but he wanted more and so ultimately he got less because there was nothing else Daisy could offer him.
Gatsby was not interested in keeping his relationship out of sight the way Daisy wanted – needed – to. He was always waiting “by the door” like he was “just a kid”, always waiting to use his “best colours for” her “portrait”. He wanted to hang Daisy on the wall where everybody could see her, but even if she’d wanted that too, his colours would have been too bright, his portrait too perfect. He didn’t see the real Daisy any more than he’d seen the real her that first time he managed to somehow cross the “indiscernible barbed wire between” their two very separate worlds. Daisy wanted Gatsby to “tell me I’ve got it wrong somehow,” but she never asked him to because of course she knew she wasn’t wrong at all – he saw who he wanted to see and he didn’t understand the real Daisy any more than Tom did.
But at least Gatsby was faithful. Daisy remembers looking at Tom and realising, “That ain’t my merlot on his mouth,” and “that ain’t my jewellery on our joint account.” Gatsby’s adoration of her offered her respite from Tom’s “carelessness,” but in the end there could be no relief in life as a gangster’s mistress. Tom’s affair with Myrtle would end at some point; Daisy just had to wait it out. There was no reason that in the meantime every semblance of her own existence should be “violently extinguished” in the way she knew it could so easily be. If her relationship with Gatsby went much further, one way or another she would be squashed or discarded in a way that Tom could never be squashed or discarded.
Ultimately, then, Daisy refuses the change in circumstances that Gatsby represents. “I can’t face reinvention,” Taylor sings during happiness – and never is Daisy’s own voice louder or clearer. The message is clear. To be happy, a woman needs to be “a beautiful little fool” – and the “green light” that is so important to Gatsby and to all men… well, that means nothing to Daisy. She has no control over when the light changes or how it might be interpreted when it does.
And so she stays the way she is, fixed in place by the things that make her look like, “a queen, selling dreams, selling make up and magazines.” She’s too smart to think – like Gatsby – that love is about winning, “an arcade ring over and over”. The arcade ring could look at first like a more romantic gesture, but it’s still a ring and any woman in the 1920s knows what a ring symbolises. Which is why she takes the “string of pearls valued at 350,000 dollars,” instead. And it’s why lines like, “Your opal eyes are all I wish to see,” don’t win Daisy over either. For her, it’s the word ‘opal’ which drowns out the rest of that sentence? The rest of her remains unnoticed. Again, all anyone sees is that “gleaming” and “twinkling”.
In the end, we know exactly why Daisy decided that she, “Never wanted love, just a fancy car”, and how she came to think of love as a “rabbit hole”. She was having “a bad time”, and so she “clung to the nearest lips”: Gatsby’s. With the bad weather getting worse, Gatsby was her safety net. If Tom was going to leave her, she couldn’t afford to be left alone. And so, yes, when Tom “left the room”, she “got up and went over to Gatsby and pulled his face down” and began “kissing him on the mouth.” But only when Tom was absent and only because she was working out how to make up for her husband’s absence if it became permanent.
Nothing, though, could ever change the fact that, for Daisy, everything was always about Tom. Gatsby “was the wrong guy,” and for anyone who wants to think of Gatsby as the only victim in this equation, remember that it was Daisy who was “pushed from the precipice”, that it was Daisy who “climbed right back up the cliff,” that it was Daisy who “survived.” She was pushed around in ways that Gatsby never was and yet she lived past the final pages of Fitzgerald’s novel because she understood the rules.
“I should’ve asked you questions,” Taylor sings on ‘marjorie’ as we reach the final moments of ‘evermore’. “I should’ve asked you how to be, asked you to write it down for me,” she says, and in those final moments of this second album, we’re surely hearing Swift’s voice floating back into earshot. “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together,” she’s telling Daisy.
And she’s telling us too. She’s telling us that we need to look at Daisy’s story more closely. That it’s Daisy who was always much more than someone who needed “to be handled,” that it’s Daisy who never needed “smoothing over,” that it’s Daisy who felt as if her “pain would be for evermore.” Because, nearly a hundred years ago – mother or not, married or otherwise, old money or new money or no money – such was the life for a woman.
How does Fitzgerald present ideas about Daisy as a woman in love?
Before you begin your essay, start by narrowing your focus and writing an introduction. Perhaps you will take one of these angles:
- Fitzgerald presents Daisy not so much as a woman in love as a woman engaged in a fight for her own survival.
- Fitzgerald presents Daisy as an object of desire. Love doesn’t come into it.
- Fitzgerald presents Daisy as a woman devastated by the absolute absence of love.
- Fitzgerald presents Daisy as a woman in love with her husband.
- Fitzgerald presents Daisy as a woman desperate to keep her love secret.
- Fitzgerald presents Daisy as a woman more concerned with her lust for material wealth than Gatsby’s ‘romantic readiness’.
Find the quotes and ideas to support any of these intros within the above article. Extract the thoughts that interest you most and weave them together in your own style.
Here’s some advice that will help you to structure this (or any) A-Level essay.
Once you’re done, you can send your work in. We want to publish the most exciting writing and offer advice.
Then have a go at another Taylor lesson!