Part I: august
“The sun drenched month of August, sipped away like a bottle of wine. A seventeen-year-old standing on a porch, learning to apologize. Lovestruck kids wandering up and down the evergreen High Line. A cardigan that still bears the scent of loss twenty years later.”
It started with an Instagram countdown on July 23rd, 2020; 24 hours later, the 8th studio album folklore has redefined Taylor Swift’s place in the music industry. Along with the release of her would-be third Grammy album of the year, Taylor Swift has told the public — "I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing about or from the perspective of people I've never met." In folklore, three tracks — cardigan, august, and betty — are told from the perspective of three kids and a summer that changed everything, for worse or for better.
August, following the themes of Getaway Car and Cruel Summer, is about a summer affair between James, a boy already in a relationship and a girl who lost him when he wasn’t hers to begin with. The song opens with August approaching James’ door, and whispers that led to the beginning of their affair. Because August narrated that “But I can see us lost in the memory,” it can be inferred that the precedent “never have I ever before” was spoken by her and the line before that, the “are you sure?” was from James. This reveals that August had agreed to James not for the thrill of just being with someone, but because she genuinely wanted him and no other.
In the chorus, she expresses the feeling of “August slipped away into a moment in time” and “August sipped away like a bottle of wine,” which can be interpreted in two distinct ways, determined on whether the female narrator was really named August, which Taylor has not and probably will never confirm. If her name was something else, the lines describe how she wished the summer would last longer, because being with James, months feel like a moment and time slipped and flowed out of her control. However, if she was August, the imagery of time and wine would insinuate how she felt like her entire life had been stripped down to the moments with James and nothing else was important anymore. She was young and in love and intoxicated, knowing well that the affair would eventually end but didn’t stop herself from condensing her life down to being with James.
August states that she wished to write her name on James’ back in the second verse, followed by questioning whether he’d contact her after this summer, and recalls thinking that he could be hers. The dynamics of these lines portray August knowing that they were on very different pages in their relationship, and even so she never stopped loving him. From her thinking that she had him, it can also be interpreted that James had lied to August in the beginning of their relationship, which, referring back to him asking her if she was sure, draws the conclusion that James had promised to be with her but went back on his words in the middle of their affair.
In the bridge of the song, August reminisces how their relationship used to change for the better, which pretty much confirms that she thought they were going to date before learning that he only wanted her for the summer. “Wanting was enough,” she tells the world, “for me, it was enough,” and the repetition strengthens the idea that the affair wouldn’t have been enough if she hadn’t been in love with him the whole time; it wouldn’t have been enough for anyone but herself. These two lines also reinforces how she had made him the only part of her life that mattered, and perhaps that was why she became known as August to the fandom — because without the affair in August, she was nothing. She then goes on and says the most tragic line in the song: “you weren’t mine to lose.” She had lost him before she had found him.
August describes pulling up to James’ place and telling him to get in the car as the song progresses to its outro, but here’s where it gets messy. From the way she phrased it, the scene had only occurred once, suggesting that they were not having an affair in or using a car. Besides, she had the upper hand as she told him to get in, which was uncommon in the previous descriptions of their affair, and all of this indicates that they had broken up in the car. Afterwards, August narrates about canceling her plans in case he’d call, drawing back to the line about him calling her when they’re back at school, and from what it seems, he never did. He moved on, but August couldn’t, she was canceling all her plans for him, once again showing how she was deliberately tearing her normal life down to be with him because he was the only one that mattered. In the next lines, she describes how she used to be “living for the hope of it all,” for him to meet her behind a mall. The song ends with a repetition of “for the hope of it all,” letting the world know that she wasn’t over the affair or the breakup or just loving him in its simplicity.
The affair from James’ and Betty’s perspectives will be explored in next week’s article and the one after that.
The 2am writer that lives in the mind of sixteen-year-old Yun-Fei Wang has been taking over her sanity for a few years now, tearing her lifeline down, yet building up an escapism in the same breath. Find her in the evanescence of black-inked words, or at @rainofelsewhere on Instagram.