Not only has the world been able to sit with the new Taylor Swift album, folklore, for a whole weekend, but we've also had some time to digest the various theories swirling around about its lyrics and deeper meanings. And now, one of the biggest mysteries of them all — the identity of the unknown co-writer William Bowery — seems to have taken a turn.
When Swift announced the surprise drop of her eighth studio album on July 24, she made a point to emphasize that the album would be less of a diary of her own life, which has so far been a signature of Swift's albums, but more of a mix of fantasy and reality. She based many of the tracks on personal experiences of others — from her veteran grandfather to a teenage love triangle named after her actor-friends Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds' daughters. This doesn't mean that folklore has been exempt from the intense scrutiny of Swifties, however — and now that more press is emerging around the record, some fans are starting to think that the identity of William Bowery is not her boyfriend Joe Alwyn, but her ex-boyfriend Harry Styles.
Some may think this is simply wishful thinking, but some fans on Reddit and beyond aren't constructing theories out of thin air. It originally seemed most likely that Alwyn was the mysterious Bowery figure, who according to Swift wrote two songs on folklore with her: "exile" and "betty." But in a recent interview with Vulture, when asked if Bowery is Alwyn, The National's Aaron Dessner (a collaborator on the record), said he thinks "it’s actually someone else." He also told Rolling Stone that while he doesn't know Bowery's identity, Bowery came to Swift with the idea for "exile" and he's "pretty sure he’s an actual songwriter. She enjoys little mysteries."
Styles was reportedly written under a pseudonym before (Mick Greenberg) for the pop duo Alex & Sierra, and many believe that those songs were about Swift, so the idea that he'd do it again in collaboration with his ex (whose songwriting he's admittedly a fan of ), seems pretty poetic — pretty Swift, in fact. The last name "Bowery" could also refer to when the former couple stayed at New York City's Bowery Hotel in March 2012. Also, there's a lyric in "exile" that goes, "We always walked a very thin line,” which could be a nod to Styles' most recent album, Fine Line.
For someone who has a history of being chastised and made fun of by the media and audiences for writing songs about her exes, Swift would be, in a way, reclaiming some power over that narrative by joining hands with a former ex to write such a vulnerable song. She made a similar move when she had Katy Perry cameo in her video for "You Need To Calm Down," so why not this?
And to boot, the song is called "exile." Just saying.