Taylor Swift, Daisy Buchanan, and Zelda Fitzgerald: the Real Meaning Behind Reputation (Part 2)

The thrilling conclusion to a ridiculous fan theory. Source: Joey Clinton

When we last left off in Part 1, we laid down the basics of the lives of the Fitzgeralds and established that Taylor herself is a massive fan of both their work and works written about them. Now, moving forward, this theory is going to rely on two assumptions: that you, the reader, have at least a passing familiarity with the plot of The Great Gatsby, and that the characters of Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby were heavily inspired by Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, respectively. Hundreds of articles have already been written exploring and arguing over this connection, so I’ll just link to a few of them here. Suffice to say, one of the most incriminating pieces of evidence connecting the two is the fact that one of Daisy’s lines is taken verbatim from Zelda’s words after their daughter was born, “I hope she’ll be a fool…a beautiful little fool.”

A brief aside: I know that this connection between Zelda and Daisy is a controversial one in academia, but we’re looking at the book through the lens of Taylor Swift’s music, where themes of both Zelda and Daisy show up. Regardless of what academia might say, Taylor appears to see a connection there.

Now, finally, let’s look at how all of this ties into reputation, and what Taylor seems to be saying through the album.

I-I-I See How This Is Gonna Go: Visual References

Let’s start with the music videos and media surrounding the album itself.

Look What You Made Me Do, the first music video released for the album is chock full of pop culture references and symbolism outside of the purview of this theory, but what I want to focus on here is the design of the room where the final dance sequence takes place.

Notice the overall aesthetic of the room. Source: TaylorSwiftVEVO

These sets were chosen explicitly for this video, and it’s telling that Taylor chose to design one of them in the aesthetic of the Jazz Age. In fact, the architectural symbolism doesn’t end there. During the Reputation Tour, the final few songs are performed on top of a massive water fountain in front of a backdrop of a mansion that looks suspiciously like those of the various live-action adaptations of The Great Gatsby.

The mansion backdrop to the ending of the Rep tour (that dramatically explodes at the end). Source: UMusic
Left: Gatsby’s mansion from the 1974 Great Gatsby, Right: Gatsby’s mansion from the 2013 Great Gatsby. Source: Youtube rips of the movies (probably illegal, but I won’t tell if you won’t)

Delicate‘s music video continues the trend of 1920’s architecture, and, in addition, displays another touch of 1920’s inspiration: her fashion.

The dress Taylor wears here… (source: TaylorSwiftVEVO)
…is remarkably similar to those worn by flappers in the 1920’s. Source: Pinterest
In fact, these sort of dresses show up all throughout the Reputation tour, such as this one during her performance of “Shake It Off”. Source: Pinterest

That colorful dress leads us into the next connection between Taylor and Gatsby: the usage of color symbolism.

Crimson Red Paint On My Lips: Color Symbolism

Now, the first thing they teach you in an English Lit class is that Fitzgerald loved using colors as symbols in his work. His novels are filled with specific references to specific colors, meant to evoke various emotional states. The Valley of Ashes is described as grey, Gatsby constantly pines after the green light, gold represents old money while yellow represents new money, etc. This same concept pops up all throughout reputation, for example, on End Game, she says “It’s like your eyes are liquor, it’s like your body is gold/you’ve been calling my bluff on all my usual tricks/so here’s the truth from my red lips.” I Did Something Bad has “Crimson red paint on my lips.” So It Goes… features both “I make all your grey days clear” and “Come here, dressed in black now.” Getaway Car is chock full of it, “The ties were black, the lies were white/in shades of grey in candlelight.”

Over and over, she uses color symbolism in her work. Now, so far, we’ve just discussed thematic similarities between her work and Fitzgerald’s, now, let’s look at some tracks on the album that show a more direct connection.

…Ready For It? talks about island breezes and lights down low, and discusses someone who is “younger than my exes but he acts like such a man so.” It’s someone who she pines after, but who isn’t good for her. “Knew he was a killer first time that I saw him/wondered how many girls he had loved and left haunted.” This applies to both Daisy and Zelda in their romantic lives, and the island breeze especially applies to Daisy (as The Great Gatsby is set on Long Island).

End Game continues the narrative and elaborates. The singer has a big reputation, and any relationships she would be in would be a big conversation. She just wants to be on a beach drinking with the man she loves, who she knew when she was young and reconnected with when they were both older. They tried to forget their relationship, but just couldn’t, which implies some sort of obstacle the relationship faces.

I Did Something Bad is where the story becomes interesting, as it presents two verses about two different individuals. The first one is a narcissist who she doesn’t trust, but who loves her. He lies to her, so she lies back. This leads him to obsess over her. The next verse, on the other hand, is about a playboy who loves her, who thinks he saved her. She then leaves them, because her trust issues show her that “you gotta leave before you get left.”

Don’t Blame Me features the most straightforward reference when she says, “I once was poison ivy, but now I’m your Daisy.”

Delicate features some incredibly direct references, as it repeatedly discusses mansions and dive bars on the “East” and “West” sides, fitting perfectly with East and West Egg in The Great Gatsby. In addition (to bring up the music video again), the music video features Taylor dancing on top of a taxicab in the rain, just as Zelda and Francis once did.

Gorgeous is about the singer crushing on someone, mentioning “a boyfriend who’s older than us/he’s in the club doing I don’t know what,” which aligns perfectly with Tom and Daisy’s relationship.

Getaway Car is absolutely full of Gatsby symbolism, as it fits perfectly with the climatic car crash in The Great Gatsby. Apart from the black, grey, and white symbolism at the beginning (which aligns with the symbolism of the Valley of Ashes in Gatsby), it tells the story of a couple escaping a climactic love triangle via a getaway car, after drinking Old Fashioneds together (a popular drink in the 1920’s), ending with them both being sorry for some reason, implying some sort of negative outcome. Also, they never had a “shotgun shot in the dark,” which fits with what ended up happening to Gatsby.

King of My Heart is about a guy who does more for the singer than “all the boys and their expensive cars,” who says “you fancy me, not fancy stuff,” which the singer values more than the other men she’s faced in the past. This fits with the way Gatsby and Daisy (and Zelda and Francis) met, as he was a poor individual who connected with Daisy, an incredibly wealthy individual.

Dancing With Our Hands Tied continues this initial meeting where the two lovers meet in secret and we see more color symbolism. “Deep blue but you painted me golden.” She “could’ve spent forever with your hands in my pockets,” implying that she was okay with financially supporting him, but “people started talking, putting us through our paces.”

Dress is a sultry glimpse into their love life (again featuring more color symbolism). “Made your mark on me, a golden tattoo.” Again, the love is presented as being in secret, for some reason, they can’t proclaim their love publicly. This doesn’t make much sense when applied to Taylor herself but makes perfect sense when applied to Daisy Buchanan and her affair with Gatsby.

This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things talks about throwing wild parties where the bass beat rattles the chandelier, and, to put it as straightforward as possible, she was “feeling so Gatsby for that whole year.” Now, what’s important here is, if we interpret this in the context of The Great Gatsby, it shows a Daisy unrepentant. It’s easy to forget that Gatsby, the supposed hero of the novel, lies to Daisy about his wealth and his identity, and treats her more as an object of desire rather than a peer. In this song, we see Daisy taking “an axe to a mended fence,” even though she “was giving you a second chance.” In the end, she toasts her “baby,” the one she loved all along, which, in the context of Gatsby, is Tom.

Call It What You Want shows Daisy in the years after Gatsby’s death, moving on from “the jokers dressing up as kings.”

New Year’s Day is a song about the aftermath of the party, distinguishing between those who are there for you during the wild parties, and those who stay after the party ends. In all honesty, there’s a strong argument to be made (that Taylor may be making here) that Tom, despite his infidelity, was more reliable than Gatsby. While Tom and Daisy’s relationship was quite toxic, it was at the very least dependable, whereas Gatsby was a party guy; someone who wouldn’t be there to clean up the mess they made.

In the end, reputation tells a story remarkably similar to that of both The Great Gatsby and Zelda Fitzgerald’s life. It reclaims the narrative by telling it from the perspective of the women who have been scorned.

Now, a brief note to people who think I might be stretching this concept a bit. Analyzing media is about something deeper than a simple hunt for an author’s intent. By identifying parallels and pointing out which works which may have influenced the creations of another, we learn more about ourselves and about what resonates across generations of readers and authors and playwrights and poets. We can do more than simply create a simple fan theory and attempt to prove or disprove it, we can examine the media we consume and trace the genealogy of the individual elements that resonated with us. So is this article a fan theory, an academic analysis, or just the rantings of a crazed Taylor stan?

Eh, call it what you want.


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