Showcasing the Brilliance of Taylor Swift’s Storytelling – A Snippet of “champagne problems”

By Katja Kramer

In Taylor Swift’s own words, songwriting can be a way of “preserving memories” (Swift, 2019). You can find that concept realized in numerous songs of hers that are either known or rumored to be composed of autobiographical elements, like “Dear John” or “Mr. Perfectly Fine.” However, besides her talent to preserve actual chapters in her life by transforming them into remarkable lyrics, the American singer-songwriter has exceptional storytelling skills, which may have always been obvious, but which she has never demonstrated more clearly and beautifully than in the shape of her two recent studio albums folklore and evermore that contain songs that pull the audience into mesmerizing worlds with relatable characters, telling captivating stories.

Though there are also other significant factors, like the variety of different genres explored by her in the course of her career or her vocal performance, that make Swift’s music popular, her exceptional talent in terms of songwriting is what makes her stand out for a lot of people — people who go as far as calling Taylor Swift “a queen when it comes to writing absolutely iconic bridges” (Pontes, 2020). Whenever I hear somebody swoon over her songwriting, I agree without hesitation. Even though there is a number of people who object that Swift often revisits the same motifs by frequently singing about failed relationships and heartbreak, I do not see why writing about topics that a large part of the audience relates to and enjoys hearing Swift’s powerfully verbalized perspective on should be considered an issue — it rather brings people together and shows that they are never alone when they feel a certain type of way.

Though a song traditionally consists of other essential parts as well, critics often like to accentuate the bridges written by Swift. According to the general definition, in music, a bridge is “a contrasting section that prepares for the return of the original material section” (Wikipedia, 2021). Typically, there is an obvious change in terms of the speed or other significant traits of the melody. However, in the given context, one can use one of Swift’s bridges to primarily showcase her outstanding songwriting and storytelling skills — regardless of whether the part of the song that is discussed is a bridge, a verse, an outro or else.

When people talk about her bridges, for many of Swift’s listeners those that she wrote for “All Too Well,” “Getaway Car” or “Cardigan,” to name a few, very often rank among the best. To name another brilliant example — “champagne problems,” which is a song Swift’s boyfriend Joe Alwyn co-wrote with her for her ninth studio album evermore. She herself has said that the song is about “longtime college sweethearts [that] had very different plans for the same night, one to end it and one who brought a ring” (Twersky, 2020). So basically, the lyrics tell the fictional story of a proposal rejected by the first-person speaker. But this is not all of it — many believe it is safe to say that the speaker struggles with her mental health (Andaloro, 2020), which is very likely why she feels like she cannot be with her beloved, and I fully agree that there is a lot of evidence that supports that view, especially when taking a close look at the bridge. It is the lyrics in its entirety that makes listening to the song an emotionally moving experience; nonetheless, as stated by countless people around me and on the internet, the bridge is what really makes “champagne problems” the masterpiece that people from different places all over the world consider it to be.

Beginning the bridge with “Your Midas touch on the Chevy door / November flush and your flannel cure” (ll. 1-2), Swift makes a reference to a figure in Greek mythology that turned “everything he touched into gold” (The Free Dictionary) — which can be understood as the speaker talking about the way her partner had the ability to make everything better, to make every moment they shared more precious. When she got cold (l. 2: “November flush”), he put a piece of his clothing — made of “flannel” (l. 2) — around her, warming her up. The speaker goes on recalling a joke she made in response to her partner telling her that the “dorm [they lived in at college] was once a madhouse” (l. 3), saying that it was “made for [her]” (l. 4). Swift uses this method of storytelling to give the listeners an insight into how comfortable the speaker felt around her beloved — so comfortable that she even joked about her mental health struggles.

“How evergreen, our group of friends / Don’t think we’ll say that word again” (ll. 5-6), Swift sings and the audience wonders what “word” it is that they will never say again. It could be “evergreen,” it could be “friends,” but it might as well be “our”. While there might be critics who will say that this concept is confusing, I say it is clever. Because in the end, it almost does not matter which of the words the line refers to, for the message remains the same — whatever group of friends they used to be part of, this group will no longer be what it once was.

To me, “And soon they’ll have the nerve to deck the halls / That we once walked through” (ll. 7-8)  is a particularly amazing line for one major reason — I did not notice it or the meaning behind it the first time that I listened to the song, but when I did, I was stunned by how creatively Taylor Swift put one’s lack of understanding for how the world around you keeps spinning while you are heartbroken into words. Although she does that so subtly, Swift still manages to get the speaker’s emotional state across; giving an insight into how resentful, in a way, the speaker feels inside when taking a look at other people’s lives. The couple in the song has just broken up, they are each suffering in their own way, and yet, people have the “nerve” (l. 7) to go on with their lives — which is absolutely normal of course, but in that moment when you feel broken, you simply cannot understand how everything around you just keeps going.

In the further course of the bridge, the speaker looks back on how she realized she could no longer stay with her partner (l. 10: “I never was ready”), as he, on the other hand, was begging her to stay (l. 12: “’Til someone’s on their knees”). Before expressing her assurance that everything will work out eventually for her now-ex-lover (l. 16: “But you’ll find the real thing instead”) with finality, she thinks of how she got called “fucked in her head” (l. 15) by people for not accepting the proposal. That remark leads back to her hinted mental illness, the origin of which is rather unclear. While she felt comfortable enough joking about her struggles with her former partner, remarks like these are clearly linked to hurt when commented on by somebody else. Even if that very comment was unintentional and the ones it was made by did not mean to refer to her actual mental health — perhaps being unaware of her struggles, even — it does not leave the speaker unaffected.

People who cannot or do not want to relate to Taylor Swift and do not enjoy her music can make all sorts of points. They can criticize that her music deals with a limited range of topics, — though one can easily refute that argument by listing songs like “The Best Day,” which Swift wrote for her mother, or “seven”, which is about the innocence of childhood and touches upon the topic of domestic violence — they can say that they simply prefer a genre different from the ones explored by her, or whatever else people find to pass criticism on. What cannot be denied is that Swift’s songs reach an astonishingly broad audience that does relate to her lyrics, pulling at people’s heartstrings, while time and time again leading to admiration and the wish for even more powerfully written songs, more albums, more stories. Honestly speaking, judging from the bridges she constructs — “champagne problems” being one of them — one might think Taylor Swift has a professional degree in architecture. Her songwriting is one amazing element of her music, but the aspect of storytelling that she has brought to another level in her recent albums is a whole different form of art that makes Swift’s music so popular and her one of the greatest artists of this generation.

Song “Champagne Problems” by Taylor Swift:

            (…)

1          Your Midas touch on the Chevy door

            November flush and your flannel cure

            “This dorm was once a madhouse”

            I made a joke, “Well, it’s made for me”

5          How evergreen, our group of friends

            Don’t think we’ll say that word again

            And soon they’ll have the nerve to deck the halls

            That we once walked through

            One for the money, two for the show

10        I never was ready, so I watch you go

            Sometimes you just don’t know the answer

            ’Til someone’s on their knees and asks you

            “She would’ve made such a lovely bride

            What a shame she’s fucked in her head,” they said

15        But you’ll find the real thing instead

            She’ll patch up your tapestry that I shred

            (…)

for full lyrics, see: https://www.musixmatch.com/lyrics/Taylor-Swift/champagne-problems

References

  1. “Taylor Swift’s Songwriting: How the Star’s Music Has Changed, for Better or Worse | CBC Music.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 22 Aug. 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/music/taylor-swift-s-songwriting-how-the-star-s-music-has-changed-for-better-or-worse-1.5246984.
  2. Pontes, Rafaela. “Thirteen of Taylor Swift’s Best Bridges.” Hercampus.Com, 2 Nov. 2020, https://www.hercampus.com/school/psu/thirteen-taylor-swifts-best-bridges/.
  3. “Bridge (Music).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Sep. 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_(music). 
  4. Twersky, Carolyn. “Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn Wrote ‘Champagne Problems’ Together about a Rejected Engagement.” Seventeen, Seventeen, 11 Dec. 2020, https://www.seventeen.com/celebrity/music/a34943494/taylor-swift-joe-alwyn-champagne-problems-lyrics-explained/).
  5. Andaloro, Angela. “What Champagne Problems Lyrics from Taylor Swift Really Mean.” TheList.com, The List, 11 Dec. 2020, https://www.thelist.com/293868/what-champagne-problems-lyrics-from-taylor-swift-really-mean/.
  6. “Midas.” The Free Dictionary, Farlex, https://www.thefreedictionary.com/Midas.

2 Replies to “Showcasing the Brilliance of Taylor Swift’s Storytelling – A Snippet of “champagne problems””

  1. A very beautifully written essay which is in no way boring to read. The topic and the style of writing is very fitting for the younger audience.

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