Did Taylor Swift Reference 11th Grade English When Writing “happiness”?

One Sunday I was driving while listening to “happiness” by Taylor Swift from her ninth studio album evermore. I’d listened to the song many times before but having just read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in my AP English class something stuck out to me this time. 

Madisyn Renbarger | PNN Image from Warner Brother Studios

The song “happiness” is a classic Taylor Swift breakup song. This one takes a different approach to getting over a breakup which in this case is taking the high road and learning to be happy for someone else. Fans have theorized that the song might be about Joe Jonas, Tom Hiddleston, Harry Styles, or Calvin Harris but I think it’s about a different love story entirely and that is the one between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchannan. 

I came to this realization when Swift says “I hope she’ll be your beautiful fool”. For a second I questioned if I had heard right and it turns out I did. It’s a reference to The Great Gatsby when Daisy says “I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (Fitzgerald, 17). Here Daisy is saying that girls have more fun if they’re simplistic, beautiful, and don’t worry about anything. Taylor is saying that she hopes her ex’s new lover can be the carefree simplistic girl she isn’t. 

Madisyn Renbarger | PNN The green light coming from Daisy’s dock. Image from Warner Brother Studios

As I listened on I found many more references to The Great Gatsby. The most obvious is “All you want from me now is the green light of forgiveness”. In chapter 1 Gatsby is looking at “a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock” (Fitzgerald, 21). Later on, readers find out the green light is coming from Daisy’s dock. Meaning that the green light represents his hope to be with Daisy. 

A third allusion is Swift’s mention of “Past the blood and bruise” which could represent the fatal crash that killed Myrtle and was the last time they were together. Just a verse later the song says “across our great divide”, Gatsby and Daisy’s divide is the bay that separates the West Egg and East Egg. 

Madisyn Renbarger | PNN Swift wearing “The Great Catsby” shirt. Image from “The Cut”

Later on her mention of “You haven’t met the new me yet” is supposed to represent the changed version of Gatsby who is rich, mysterious, and elusive. But this changed version of Gatsby still includes his “winning smile” that turns into a smirk according to Taylor. Nick describes his smile in vast detail in chapter 3 mentioning how it is “rare with a quality of eternal reassurance in it” the turns into absurd and makes it clear that “that he was picking his words with care” (Fitzgerald, 53). Their descriptions of Gatsby are very comparable and demonstrate similar qualities. 

Ultimately Taylor’s mention of “There’ll be happiness after you But there was happiness because of you Both of these things can be true There is happiness” shows how Gatsby has to continue on and be happy without Daisy because she stays with her husband Tom. On the flip side, it could show how Daisy has to face the consequences of her choices and try and be truly happy with Tom. Then to tie it all together Daisy’s first words in the novel are “I’m p-paralyzed with happiness” (Fitzgerald, 8). Inspiring the title of the song.

Interestingly enough this isn’t the first time Swift has made reference to The Great Gatsby. Her 2017 song “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” from reputation starts out with

Madisyn Renbarger | PNN Photo of the stage during the reputation tour during “this is why we can’t have nice things”
Madisyn Renbarger | PNN Gatsby’s party in chapter 3. Image from Warner Brother Studios

“It was so nice throwing big parties

Jump into the pool from the balcony

Everyone swimming in a champagne sea

And there are no rules when you show up here

Bass beat rattling the chandelier

Feeling so Gatsby for that whole year”. 

Aside from the mention of Gatsby’s name her description is almost identical to that of Nick’s in chapter 3. But after this verse, Swift makes no more mentions of The Great Gatsby. 

© People Taylor mimicking Mia Farrow’s 1974 People cover. Farrow portrayed Daisy in the 1974 Gatsby movie

This could be because of limitation set upon her because in an interview with Entertainment Weekly magazine Taylor mentioned how when writing folklore and evermore it was freeing to be able to “just be inspired by worlds created by the films you watch or books you’ve read or places you’ve dreamed of or people that you’ve wondered about” and not just personal experience. She has said how her song “mad woman” was about a Game of Thrones character and “the last great american dynasty” was based on the previous owners of her Rhode Island home. This means that “happiness” could easily be based on The Great Gatsby. 

Swift’s fans have been closely analyzing her songs for hidden Gatsby references for years and could find small Easter eggs but now the evidence is overwhelming.

The evidence is overwhelming. Is it far-fetched to say that “happiness” is based on The Great Gatsby? Listen for yourself and see if you find any more hidden references.