Though written for the “Cats” musical, “Beautiful Ghosts” is unmistakably a Taylor Swift song. Lyrically stunning, the song tugs on heartstrings for a character I don’t even know yet but can already fully imagine. I know almost nothing about the “Cats” movie, as I’m typically not a fan of musical theatre. However, I am a huge Taylor Swift fan, and her involvement in the movie has made me excited for the December release.
“Beautiful Ghosts” is a brand new original track for the upcoming movie adaption of “Cats.” This track will be sung by character Victoria (Francesca Hayward) in the movie, a cat known for her innocence; it will be reprised by Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) and Swift’s version will play during the end credits.
The song starts off with a soft piano and breathy vocals from Swift, who sounds so sad and broken already. This song is supposed to follow the character Victoria, a cat who never had a home and was never truly loved. She sings in the third line, “Should I take chances when no one took chances on me?” It is also in this line that listeners hear the hints of a British accent. “Cats” takes place in England, all characters being British, and though Swift’s cover is just for the outro credits, she commits and dons an accent.
The chorus is heartbreaking but stunning. Though this song is for Victoria, fans can’t help but relate it back to Swift and her life. “All that I wanted was to be wanted” is the first line of the chorus, setting up the tone. It is also very reminiscent of older Swift songs, including “Fifteen,” another song about reflecting on youth with a melancholy approach, where she sings, “When all you wanted was to be wanted.”
Continuing on this reflection of the past, Swift writes, “Too young to wander London streets, alone and haunted / born into nothing / At least you have something, something to cling to / Visions of dazzling rooms I’ll never get let into.” This is Victoria discussing her life as an orphan, by herself, scared constantly.
She then acknowledges that even if these rich cats aren’t in the lap of luxury currently, they know what it’s like. They have hope that they can return to a nicer lifestyle. The chorus concludes with the key line of the song, the one the title comes from: “And the memories were lost long ago / but at least you have beautiful ghosts.”
In the second verse, Swift sings about how Victoria’s life is starting to look up. “Out here, the wild ones are taming the fear within me,” she writes, describing Victoria’s newfound friends, the other characters in the musical. But it quickly becomes sad again, “Scared to call them my friends and be broken again / Is this hope just a mystical dream?” Clearly Victoria has been hurt before and is worried about trusting someone new, but, again, fans can’t help but draw comparisons to Swift’s own life.
Swift has faced her own issues with friends backstabbing her. Most notably, that friend was Kanye West, who called Swift a “bitch” in song “Famous” and showcased a model of her naked body in the music video after the two had finally made up from the 2009 VMA incident, when he jumped on the stage to interrupt her acceptance speech. Perhaps Swift was able to capture the voice of Victoria so well because she felt she had lived a similar life.
Swift is known for writing stellar bridges, and “Beautiful Ghosts” is no exception. “And so maybe my home isn’t what I had known / what I thought it would be / but I feel so alive with these phantoms of night / and I know that this life isn’t safe, but it’s wild and it’s free.” This is the turning point in the song, the moment where (I imagine) Victoria gives into her new lifestyle. She sheds this anxiety that she has felt throughout the song and embraces her new life, whatever that may be.
Swift follows the lead of the lyrics, voice growing stronger as the lyrics do. While the first and second choruses are soft and timid, this final chorus is loud, demanding attention. She is confident. She is powerful. She is no longer the scared, young girl (cat?) that she was before. Her past no longer defines her; she is free to live her life in a way that makes her happy.
The final line of the song is by far the most impressive part. Swift sings, “At least you have beautiful,” then belts out “ghosts” for eight straight seconds.
“Beautiful Ghosts” becomes even more fantastical after finding out the backstory of the song.
According to an interview with Variety, Swift wrote almost the entire song with Andrew Lloyd Webber in just one afternoon, unintentionally. She plays Bombalurina in the movie, and originally visited Lloyd Webber to discuss one of the songs she actually performs. However, when she heard him playing with this melody, she was quick to offer lyric suggestions. He ended up loving them, clearly, as this song was added to the film.
Swift mentions that she hoped to stay true to the writing style of T.S. Eliot, who wrote the source material that the play is based on. “T.S. Eliot is such a specific type of writer, and uses such specific language and imagery and so, reading through his work and everything I just really wanted to reflect that. You can’t write a modern lyric for ‘Cats.’”
Swift is skilled at writing from a new perspective, mimicking another writer’s voice. Though, this is no surprise, as she’s written songs for “Hannah Montana: The Movie,” the “Hunger Games,” and more.
At the end of the featurette for “Beautiful Ghosts,” she proves to be a quadruple threat: singer, songwriter, actress AND comedian. She jokes, “If you can’t get T.S. Eliot, get T.S.”