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Released: 2020

“Cardigan” by Taylor Swift is a wistful and evocative exploration of young love and heartache, adorned with an array of metaphorical language. The lyrics disclose a narrative of nostalgia, lost innocence, and the indelible imprints of a past relationship, presenting the story from the perspective of a woman who perceives herself as an ‘old cardigan’ rediscovered by her lover.

The first verses, “Vintage tee, brand new phone / High heels on cobblestones” present the song’s protagonist as a juxtaposition of past and present, while sensuously grounding her in the gritty reality of urban living. The repeated refrain “When you are young, they assume you know nothing” exceptionally encapsulates the universal experience of youthful underestimation. Swift paints an intimate, familiar picture with “Dancin’ in your Levi’s / Drunk under a streetlight,” employing these tangible images to bring the lovers’ history to life.

Our cardigan-clad heroine recalls the emotional intimacy of their relationship with “Hand under my sweatshirt / Baby, kiss it better,” revealing the tender and comforting aspects of their bond. Importantly, the lyrics “And when I felt like I was an old cardigan / Under someone’s bed / You put me on and said I was your favorite” are central to the song’s narrative. Here, Swift captures the sensations of being loved, valued, and cherished, even when feeling discarded and unnoticed, through the compelling metaphor of an old cardigan.

“A friend to all is a friend to none / Chase two girls, lose the one” these lines bear the sting of betrayal, suggesting the lover’s infidelity, while encapsulating the jaded wisdom acquired through her experiences. Balanced against the warm memories, this line paints a fuller, more complex image of their past.

The heartbreaking chorus signifies the breaking down of their relationship: “You drew stars around my scars / But now I’m bleeding.” Here, the song pivots from nostalgia to loss, expressing how her lover’s initially comforting presence has ultimately left her more damaged. Now, her scars are not just emotional markers of the past but active wounds.

In the final stanza: “I knew you’d come back to me,” Swift articulates the complex nature of such a relationship, acknowledging the allure it held despite its problems. The lyrics underscore the cyclical nature of their relationship — it implies a knowledge of their pattern: painful partings followed by inevitable reunions.

With “Cardigan”, Swift masterfully weaves an intricate narrative of youthful love tinged with the pain of maturity and experience. The song depicts the haunting beauty of the past and its persistent influence on the present, creating a lyrical narrative that is at once universal and deeply personal.