cardigan is believed to be the first part of folklore’s “Teenage Love Triangle,” told from the point of view of Betty. The storyline is followed by “august” and “betty.” Swift explained in a livechat the night of folklore’s release (‘There’s a collection of three songs I refer to as The Teenage Love Triangle. These three songs explore a love triangle from all three people’s perspectives at different times in their lives.’)

Vintage tee, brand new phone
High heels on cobblestones

The later track betty touches on how this relationship ultimately crumbled (‘I was walking home on broken cobblestones, just thinking of you’)

When you are young they assume you know nothing

Because this song is from Betty’s retrospective view after learning James has cheated, we can assume she’s heard James' excuse (‘I’m only seventeen, I don’t know anything’). Based on the way the tone of this song varies as Betty recounts the stages of their relationship, from happy memories to ‘losing the one’, Betty appears both to love and resent James. This line could be Betty’s way of refuting James' excuse and showing she is hesitant to forgive him.

Sequin smile, black lipstick

This description is strikingly similar to the outfit Swift wore to the 2016 Met Gala, where she allegedly met Joe Alwyn, her boyfriend as of folklore’s release.

Sensual politics

Taylor had maintained a long-standing silence on political issues for the majority of her career. This changed in 2018 when she took a stand against a Republican candidate in her home state of Tennessee.

The idea of playing ‘sensual politics’ is two-fold for Taylor. She shed her ‘American sweetheart’ image for an emboldened female in charge of her own sexuality as explored during her Reputation era (and referenced in the preceding lines). She also became something of a feminist talking point in the music industry regarding her assault court case against a radio DJ as well as her fight to own her own masters in an industry soaked in ‘toxic male privilege’. She also expressed similar sentiments about being a woman in the music industry in her 2019 single The Man.

When you are young they assume you know nothing

But I knew you Dancing in your Levi’s

Levi’s is a classic American denim company. This imagery is reminiscent of Swift’s country lyrics, such as her 2006 debut single, Tim McGraw (‘Think of my head on your chest, and my old faded blue jeans’). She also mentioned wearing them on August 2019’s London Boy (‘I love Springsteen, faded blue jeans, Tennessee whiskey’). As of this song’s release, Swift’s most recent mention of a lover wearing jeans was on November 2017’s Delicate (‘Dark jeans and your Nikes, look at you’)

Drunk under a streetlight, I knew you

Swift returns to this scene on the later track betty (‘Kissin' in my car again, stopped at a streetlight’).

This imagery also calls back to Swift’s 2019 track Cornelia Street (‘We were in the backseat, drunk on something stronger than the drinks in the bar, the streetlights pointed in an arrowhead leading us home’)

Hand under my sweatshirt
Baby kiss it better
And when I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone’s bed
You put me on and said I was your favourite

Swift later mentions the cardigan on betty (‘Standing in your cardigan, kissin' in my car again, stopped at a streetlight’).

This imagery is similar to a set of lyrics on 2017’s Call It What You Want (‘My baby’s fly like a Jetstream, high above the whole scene, loves me like I’m brand new’).

It’s also reminiscent of a similar metaphor on Swift’s 2012 track All Too Well (‘I’m a crumpled-up piece of paper lying here, ‘cause I remember it all too well’)

A friend to all is a friend to none Chase two girls, lose the one

‘Lose the one’ is also a nod to the album’s opening track, the 1.

When you are young they assume you know nothing

But I knew you
Playing hide-and-seek and
Giving me your weekends, I knew you

On Swift’s 2019 track It’s Nice To Have A Friend, she appreciates the simplicity of a simple weekend with a lover (‘Feels like home, stay in bed the whole weekend’).

There’s also a connection to 2017’s New Year’s Day (‘I want your midnights’). Swift referenced this New Year’s Day lyric on 2019’s “Paper Rings,” which has yet another similar lyric (‘I want your dreary Mondays’).

Your heartbeat on the High Line Once in twenty lifetimes
And when I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone’s bed You put me on and said I was your favourite

To kiss in cars and downtown bars
Was all we needed
You drew stars around my scars
But now I’m bleeding

On August 2019’s Lover, Swift uses ‘guitar string scars’ as a metaphor for past relationships that broke her heart, while Joe Alwyn, her boyfriend as of the song’s release, makes the pain of heartbreak worth it (‘With every guitar string scar on my hand, I take this magnetic force of a man, to be my lover’).

Cause I knew you
Stepping on the last train
Marked me like a bloodstain, I knew you

Swift often describes someone’s impact on her life by likening their influence to a stain — a prominent example appears on October 2014’s Clean (‘You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore’). Another, more positive, example appears on November 2017’s Dress (‘You made your mark on me, a golden tattoo’).

Tried to change the ending

Taylor refers to the ending of a relationship like that of a piece of fiction again during this album in the song exile (‘I think I’ve seen this film before and I didn’t like the ending’). It’s also present much earlier in her discography in the song Breathe from Fearless (‘Music starts playin' like the end of a sad movie, it’s the kinda ending you don’t really wanna see’).

This concept is also featured in New Year’s Day from reputation although in a more positive manner (‘Don’t read the last page, but I stay when it’s hard or it’s wrong or we’re making mistakes’).

Peter losing Wendy, I knew you

In the classic 1904 tale by J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan invites Wendy to visit Neverland with him, where time moves slowly. Peter wants Wendy to stay forever and be his “mother”, but she eventually leaves behind the fantasy of Neverland and childhood and returns to her real life, where she moves on and grows up.

Leaving like a father
Running like water
When you are young they assume you know nothing
But I knew you’d linger like a tattoo kiss
I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs

The idea of a former lover ‘haunt[ing] all of my what-ifs’ is paralleled in ‘the 1’ (‘If one thing had been different, would everything be different today?’)

The smell of smoke would hang around this long
Cause I knew everything when I was young
I knew I’d curse you for the longest time
Chasing shadows in the grocery line

‘Chasing shadows’ is a British phrase used to describe someone looking for something that doesn’t exist or trying to achieve something that is impossible. It seems that Betty is looking for James everywhere she goes even though she knows he isn’t there. This is similar to line from the previous song the 1 (‘I thought I saw you at the bus stop, I didn’t though’).

The phrase also plays on the Peter Pan reference earlier in the song. In the film, Peter and Wendy chase down Peter’s shadow so they can reattach it. Taylor pairs the juvenile idea of chasing shadows like in Peter Pan with the adult task of grocery shopping to suggest that Betty is growing out of her youthful naivety.

I knew you’d miss me once the thrill expired
And you’d be standing in my front porch light

The porch imagery returns on betty (‘Betty, I’m here on your doorstep, and I planned it out for weeks now’).

And I knew you’d come back to me
You’d come back to me
And you’d come back to me
And you’d come back

These lyrics are reminiscent of Swift’s October 2014 track This Love, which describes an on-and-off relationship (‘These hands had to let it go free, and this love came back to me’).

Later in betty, this sureness is juxtaposed with James' worries (‘But if I just showed up at your party, would you have me? Would you want me?’)

Taylor has also just referenced Peter Pan and a similar version of this line is heard in the 1953 animated Disney version when Peter returns to see Wendy (‘I knew you’d come back’).

And when I felt like I was an old cardigan
Under someone’s bed
You put me on and said I was your favorite