Since dropping her “Folklore” album in late July, it’s been a back-to-back hit for the American singer-songwriter, Taylor Smith. Her latest song, “The Last Great American Dynasty” from the quarantine-inspired album, gives a never-before-pictured glimpse into the life of late socialite, Rebekah Harkness.
Like most of her songs, Taylor Smith’s July 2020 hit, “The Last Great American Dynasty,” has a hidden meaning that would give fans a field day figuring out. This time, however, the iconic singer dropped a huge hint, overtly crooning about the legendary socialite Rebekah Harkness.
“The Last Great American Dynasty” tells the story of Harkness, who died in 1982, seven years before Swift’s birth. It didn’t take long for fans and critics to figure out from the song’s lyrics, more specifically, “Rebekah rode up on the afternoon train…,” that the singer referenced the late Rebekah Harkness, in whose former home Swift now resides.
WHO WAS REBEKAH HARKNESS?
Rebekah Harkness, born Rebekah West in 1915 to Allen Tarwater West and his wife, was a three-time divorcee. She was also heiress to a state-of-the-art property in Rhode Island. She married four times in her lifetime.
However, it was her second marriage to Standard Oil Heir, William Hale Harkness, in 1947, that catapulted her to fame and affluence. Their marriage ended in 1954, following the death of William.
Harkness was famed for her rebellious nature, most notably her acts of mischief at John Burroughs School, St. Louis, alongside a group of female friends called the Bitch Pack. She was also a recognized patron of the arts and a philanthropist.
WHY TAYLOR SWIFT WROTE ABOUT REBEKAH HARKNESS
Having discovered a bit about the legendary Harkness, one would wonder why the award-winning songstress, Taylor Swift, would write about someone who lived almost a decade before her 1989 birth.
The singer revealed the answer to that days before dropping “Folklore, ” album. She explained how her period in isolation availed her the opportunity to look deep into herself. Soon, she became inspired to write about stories of herself, and those of other people that appealed to her, including those she never met.
“The Last Great American Dynasty” is a collection of lyrical terms describing the real-life story of Rebekah Harkness. Seeing as Swift somehow focused on the socialite’s eccentric lifestyle, and her plight after becoming a widow, the singer undoubtedly found Harkness’s endearing personality captivating. Swift’s new song confirmed it, with her blunt description of Harkness as “the misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out.”
TAYLOR SMITH’S CONNECTION TO REBEKAH HARKNESS
Aside from living in a house that was once Harkness’, Smith and the late philanthropist share a lot of similarities. The 30-year-old singer somehow used her voice and lyrics to establish a comparison between herself and the scorned widow through the “Folklore” track.
The story of the controversial socialite proves that the connection between the two icons went beyond shared properties. While Rebekah Harkness did crazy stuff like pouring champagne in the pool and adding mineral oil into the punch with her Bitch Pack, Taylor Swift’s pack of BFFs, including Gigi Hadid, have landed their share of scandalous deeds over the years.
Also, the two women have, at some point, featured in the front covers of Vogue in their different eras. Their dramatic rise to affluence from an average middle-class family is also worth mentioning. In addition, like Harkness’s four marriages, Swift has a long list of men making up her romantic history.
More remarkably, Harkness garnered most of her negative press and judgment from her penchant for throwing extravagant balls in her Rhode Island Estate. Fast forward to several decades down the line; the property is now owned by none other than Taylor Swift, who coincidentally has a flair for lavish parties in the same Holiday House. Remember the controversial fourth of July bashes?
Swift acquired the property at $17 million back in 2013, and has since matched Harkness’s exploits that made her the “maddest woman this town has ever known.”
The singer drew her linkage to the socialite in her concluding verse, attesting she purchased the estate after it lay fallow, “free off mad women, their men, and their bad habits” for years. And of her arrival, which began a new era in the Watch Hill beach house, she crooned:
“There goes the loudest woman this town has ever known. I had a marvelous time ruining everything.”
A LOOK INTO SWIFT’S LYRICAL TWISTS
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” track’s title is an extolling reference to Rebekah Harkness as the last great American dynasty.
In her song, Swift addressed how Harkness’s exploits earned her a negative reputation among Rhode Island residents with the lyrics; “There goes the last American dynasty. Who knows if she never showed up, what this town would have been; There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen; She had a marvelous time ruining everything.” Her last verse had a go at these lines, making herself the vixen in question.
The opening lines introduced Rebekah Harkness as the scorned woman of whom Swift wrote:
“Rebekah rode up on the afternoon train, it was sunny; Her saltbox house on the coast took her mind off St. Louis.” She continued, “Bill was the heir to the Standard Oil name and money; And the town said, ‘How did a middle-class divorcée do it?’“
The town’s people’s criticisms didn’t end at just that, as Swift attested in later lines of her song. If nothing, it worsened after Rebekah Harkness’s husband, William, died from a heart attack in 1954. Many speculated his heart finally gave in to her loud parties and questionable excesses. Upon his death, she inherited the Watch Hill, Rhode Island mansion. Eventually, she got her revenge, throwing more outrageous parties and dying the neighbor’s cat green.”
Swift, a cat-lover, twisted her lyrics a bit, replacing the “cat” in the real story with dog. She, however, made sure the message was clear, hence the lines; “the misfit widow getting revenge on the town that cast her out.”
“The Last Great American Dynasty” undoubtedly did justice to Harkness’s real-life story, appealing to fans like a typical Taylor Swift song.