Wednesday night marked Taylor Swift’s glorious return to the land of country music, the place that birthed her, the Academy of Country Music Awards. But instead of riding in on a glitter bomb sparkle parade to celebrate her rebirth as a modern-day country artist, Swift opted for a demure nod to her past. Perched on the edge of a stool with her guitar, Swift sported a red sequin top and khakis. Any Swiftstorian can tell you that her first foray into wearing red sequins onstage came during performances for her 2008 album, Fearless. At the time, she also cultivated her preferred method of performance, sitting down with an instrument. While I love a Taylor comeback as much as the next person, this return to country rang hollow, showing instead just how much Swift had outgrown the label of country music artist.
Perched demurely on a stool, old Taylor sang betty, a song from her new album Folklore. Although I find betty to be a tired harkening to Swift’s penchant for revisiting teen drama—I’m convinced it’s a decade-old song she found in a trunk in her attic—no one does stripped-down acoustic renditions of their own acoustic songs like Taylor Swift. (Still, I was very disappointed that Swift went the clean version and didn’t utter the words, “would you tell me to go fuck myself” during a live broadcast.)
My disdain for censorship and betty aside, it was also a sneakily good choice for this particular show considering she hadn’t been invited to perform at the ACMs since 2013 when she sang Highway Don’t Care with Tim McGraw. The bridge in betty, which asks if the song’s narrator would still be wanted at the party, reads like an honest question to the hallowed halls of the Academy of Country Music. Is the new popified non-conservative Taylor still wanted there? It doesn’t matter because, as the song goes, she showed up at the party anyway.
The precious moment, which was backlit in a way only Taylor Swift can handle backlighting was missing Swift’s new, more overt brand of spunk. But it was a reminder of how far Swift has come from her early days of country singing. The song she chose wasn’t the best song on Folklore but at least it wasn’t cardigan, a clunky, irritating diddy about sweaters which are a metaphor for love.