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What’s the meaning behind Taylor Swift’s August? 'Salt air' lyric explored

Bruno Cooke August 1, 2022
What’s the meaning behind Taylor Swift’s August? 'Salt air' lyric explored
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It’s the first of the month, and Taylor Swift fans are reacting accordingly, by listening to her 2020 track August. What’s the meaning behind the song?

Track eight on Tay Tay’s surprise album Folklore, August is among the favourites of Swift collaborator Jack Antonoff. 

We are entering the eighth month of the year, so what better time to dive into the meaning of Taylor Swift’s invocation of “salt air and the rust on your door”?

What’s the story behind the track?

Photo by Mat Hayward/GC Images

What’s the meaning of Taylor Swift’s song August, from Folklore?

August is the eighth track on Taylor Swift’s surprise album Folklore, which she released on 24 July 2020 amid the covid-19 pandemic and consequent lockdowns.

Its lyrics describe a short-lived summer romance. 

Swift herself said it was inspired by “the sun-drenched month of August, sipped away like a bottle of wine”. The month of hot nights and holidaying slips away all too quickly, like the summer romances with which it is associated.

Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for MTV

Fans, meanwhile, have speculated that August forms part of the trio of songs to which Taylor refers as The Teenage Love Triangle. The other two, supposedly, are Cardigan and Betty, tracks two and 14 respectively.

What’s the supposed connection between August, Cardigan and Betty?

During a live chat of the premiere of the video for Cardigan, broadcast via YouTube, Taylor Swift revealed that there’s a “collection of three songs” on Folklore that she refers to as The Teenage Love Triangle.

“These three songs”, she said, “explore a love triangle from all three people’s perspectives at different times in their lives.”

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

The characters’ names, fans think, are James, Betty, and Inez. The consensus view is that Cardigan tells Betty’s point of view, August Inez’, and Betty James’. 

Swift has not confirmed these rumors, however.

Behind Taylor Swift’s ‘Salt air, and the rust on your door’ lyric

August opens with the following lyric: “Salt air, and the rust on your door / I never needed anything more”.

Reddit users discussed the meaning of the line when the first came out two years ago, in a forum on the topic. Listen to the song below.

One thinks it represents unrequited lust. Salty air symbolizes a “careless spirit”, they say, while the rust on the door is a metaphor for the “inevitable deterioration” of the relationship to which one of the characters in the song is not being faithful.

“The door is already rusty”, summarises another, “because his relationship with Betty is already brittle and susceptible to breaking. August is the salt air that comes into further breakdown the other couple.”

Genius contributors interpret the lyrics more straightforwardly

The Genius annotation on the phrase “Salt air, and the rust on your door” is more literal.

That the air is salty, it argues, implies a location near a coast. Sea air is salty. 

What’s more, salty air in beach towns is “notorious for causing metal to rust rapidly” – presumably because the high level of water vapour in the air causes the iron to oxidise more quickly than in drier climes.

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Meanwhile, the “beach imagery” reinforces the meaning implied by the song’s name – that the relationship Taylor Swift is chronicling in August is, or was, a “summer fling”. 

Why are people listening to the song now?

The popularity of Taylor Swift’s song August has skyrocketed today, the cause of which appears to be simply that it is the first of August today. 

“It’s that time of year”, and the Swift fan accounts have gone into overdrive.

Jack Antonoff, who co-wrote, co-produced, recorded, and provided much of the instrumentation for August, tweeted the day before Folklore’s release that August and My Tears Ricochet were his “favourite things” he and Taylor Swift had done together, meaning he preferred them to previous collaborations on 1989, Reputation, and Lover.

It’s been almost a decade since they first worked together on Sweeter Than Fiction.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.