Deconstructing the tragedy of one of the most popular tracks of one of the career-best albums of Taylor Swift. Read on to find more.
No one knows how to serve drama like Swift. As a recent convert to her ever-expanding fandom (the indie, mystical tunes of folklore and evermore just punched me in the guts) I have just started unearthing the artist’s penchant for all things dramatic – buoyed by a strong core of emotional complexity. I mean who can forget the legendary, no-explanation launch of Reputation? And even as the world ears for her version of Red, fanatics of the Swift cult around me discuss the possibility of a surprise 1989 announcement too. Why? Merchandise being sold at precisely 19.89 US dollars.
Bustling crowds or silent sleepers/You’re not sure which is worse
As someone who is new to this fandom, discussions of such high-wired conspiracy theories enthrall me to say the least. But even though I hardly find myself contributing to these discussions, I find solace in stepping back and soaking in on the tracks that have impacted me the most from the albums which caused me to sit up and take absolute note of this woman. Champagne Problems, the second song of the Evermore album is a romantic whirlwind of dizzying emotions. The first time I heard it, in the month of November in Bangalore next to a large glass window outside which a sunny downpour continued, I was moved beyond comprehension. It was not just the lilting tune that got to me but the sensations that were ignited by the lyrics of the song – which give the sensation of roses wilting under a million strung golden fairy lights.
Because I dropped your hand while dancing/Left you out there standing/Crestfallen on the landing
But that is a sensation you are allowed to articulate only on successive streamings. The first one is urgent. It lifts and lands you right in the middle of things or as Horace would say in media res. We know there is hurt in the air and that hearts which have been dropped like glass now lie around crestfallen. Set to the backdrop of a cautiously optimistic piano and tender melody, the song tells the story of a woman looking back on her past, specifically with a past lover that she came very close to marrying. This is that one love-story we are all witness to in our college days. Heady romance under golden sunshine, night trains just to catch a glimpse of the one you love – a romance that is not perfect but one tinted with the brushes of imperfection. A tint that only makes it appear more gorgeous from afar.
You had a speech, you’re speechless/Love slipped beyond your reaches/And I couldn’t give a reason
The conflict of the narrative action comes as the holidays roll around and the man plans to propose to her on Christmas. This proposal comes at a premature stage in the relationship, when our protagonist is unsure about the relationship and its future. As the man goes down on his knees and asks the seminal question, disaster unfolds. In the song, she details how she had become unsure of the relationship in time and the proposal was the ultimatum that made her decide their relationships’ fate. The stage is set and we finally meet our moment peripeteia.
“She would’ve made such a lovely bride/What a shame she’s fucked in her head, ” they said/But you’ll find the real thing instead/She’ll patch up your tapestry that I shred
As the song proceeds, we hear the woman, clearly suffering from severe self doubt and poor mental health, question the amount of hurt she caused the man, whose heart she claims to have dropped like glass. It is a decision which clearly doesn’t sit well with her too, for she too repeatedly points out the guilt that haunts her for the decision she made to turn away the man she was not in love with as deeply as she was supposed to. It is a matter of preparation and she simply was not prepared – something people around her fail to realise and that is the crux of this song.
She has nothing but only the best of wishes for her erstwhile lover and in words that are painfully beautiful she sings a verse of perfect symmetry which at face value, is a classic lyric switch – leaving the listener with the closure that even though she has broken his heart, one day her man will move on and find someone who will make him happier than she ever did. That one day, he won’t even remember what her name was or all the issues they had. This is the true point of catharsis in the song. But like every wound that is ever dealt in the world, the scars will fester and although they will eventually fade and lighten – their traces will never disappear in completeness. Their friends will never be theirs in a collective sense ever again. Their dorms no longer decked. All she wishes for is that someone walks into his life to give him the love she was too messed in the head to give him.
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”
The trauma of the failed engagement will of course never leave the man – he will forever be haunted by being abandoned on the altar of his first proposal and no matter where he goes the champagne problems of his first love will always be hanging in the air like a lonely ghost. But one feels largely sorry for the woman herself too because of her incapacity to even bring herself to utter the gravity of the situation she finds herself in. She is aware of the acute hurt she has caused her lover but as we realise the tragedy of the separation of these lovers, we also realise the larger tragedy of this song.
And hold your hand while dancing/Never leave you standing/Crestfallen on the landing/With champagne problems
The woman will always be misunderstood for her choice – by her hometown sceptics who will never understand that all she did was put herself before the relationship that came knocking at her door. There is something deeply decadent about the tragedy of this situation. The titular drink in itself is something that is associated with celebrations and excess and by naming a song of such undying sadness after something that is so deeply celebratory, Swift only heightens the sense of tragedy. The hamartia of her protagonist is her inability to realise that this was not her fault. It was no one’s fault. It was a love that walked in at the wrong time in the face of the wrong person. No matter how long society forces her to imagine that it was her fault to put herself before the relationship and realise the improbability of a match which was destined to sour – someday she too will find a love.
But even that love will be haunted by the memories of this parting. Sometimes on an occasion of complete happiness the memory of the same will spring forth and make a perfectly sound smile twitch just a little around the edges. The wallets we carry in our pockets do not just have rings and pictures. They also bear the loneliness we inflict upon each other in moments when we least expect to and some evermores perhaps do die hard.
Your mom’s ring in your pocket/Her picture in your wallet/You won’t remember all my/Champagne problems
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