In the dead of night, Taylor Swift found herself entangled in the chilling universe of “Where the Crawdads Sing” — Delia Owens’ novel about a young woman who raises herself in North Carolina’s marshes, experiences the fierce sting of ostracization and fights to retain her freedom after being accused of murdering a former lover. Touched by Kya’s lack of restraint yet unrelenting kindness, Swift sacrificed sleep and created “Carolina” instead — a folksy, somber ballad that simultaneously serenades the landscape and synthesizes a sense of secrecy.
Concocted by Swift alone, “Carolina” was then molded by record producer Aaron Dessner, who assisted the songwriter in creating a desired sound that aligns with the setting of “Where the Crawdads Sing.” The track will be featured at the conclusion of the upcoming film, which premieres in theaters July 15.
The acoustic instrumentals of the track act as an understated background to Swift’s dark, haunting vocals. The faint strumming of the guitar that recurs throughout the song summons both simplicity and a subtle hint of dread. Splashes of mandolin and fiddle imbue the song with depth, appropriately characterizing “Carolina” as a bluegrass ode. Juxtaposed against the muted production, Swift’s voice undeniably stars. Swerving to the lowest depths, wistfully holding notes and promptly escalating in the song’s chorus, her voice is lovely yet yields a disconcerting quality. Swift’s ability to oxymoronically lull and disturb her audience is what makes “Carolina” especially captivating.
The eeriness of Swift’s vocals is sewn throughout her lyricism as well. References to mist, webs, dreams and clouds not only establish setting, but saturate the song with an ephemeral feeling. Swift emphasizes beauty but accompanies it with an essence of temporariness, enabling sorrow to shine through. While the musician draws attention to the loss Kyra has suffered, she emphasizes the character’s resilience as well. In the midst of the song, Swift cries, “I make a fist, I make it count,” a testament to the strength of Kya’s resolve.
Addressing Carolina several times, Swift exemplifies how Kya finds solace in its plentiful creeks and pines. Swift masterfully parallels the landscape of Carolina to Kya’s lack of traditional socialization, suggesting that Carolina itself is the only force similar enough to Kya to keep her secrets.
Throughout the track, Swift repeats, “And you didn’t see me here / No they never did see me here.” Slightly taunting, this remark serves not as a declaration of Kyra’s innocence, but rather as a jeer that her guilt cannot be proven. This connects “Carolina” to another pivotal piece of Swift’s discography; in “No Body, No Crime,” the speaker of the song is the perpetrator of a traceless murder. “She thinks I did it, but she just can’t prove it,” Swift croons.
Both songs conform to the folk tradition of the “murder ballad” — dramatic western tunes dedicated to forsaken love, revenge and bloodshed. However, while “No Body, No Crime” functions as an explicit confession, “Carolina” leaves room for doubt, flawlessly mirroring the mystery element of “Where the Crawdads Sing.” “Carolina” complicates the dichotomy of innocence and guilt, suggesting the world can banish a woman to an existence somewhere in between.
Enchanting yet feral, “Carolina” encapsulates the tragedy of “Where the Crawdads Sing.” While containing rather simple production and subdued vocals, the song manages to convey vast complexity. The etherealness of “Carolina” creates an impression of beauty, but it also creates a sense of detachment — alerting listeners of a perspective that is not of this world, but rather, a product of neglect and isolation.