For Taylor Swift, an album release marks the culmination of months, if not years, of labor. But her goal line is just the starting point for fans: New Taylor music is a signal to put on detective hats and scrub all the lyrics for clues and references that Swift has embedded in the songs. FolkloreThe release last week was no different from Swift’s previous outings in this regard, as online platforms quickly exploded with fan speculation about what it means. Many of these discussions focus on the music itself – Betty, James and Inez of all – but the most exciting conversation this time has to do with writing rather than lyrics: Who is William Bowery?
Someone named William Bowery is credited with writing two songs Folklore, “Betty” and “Exile.” But no one has ever heard of Bowery, and no one with that name has any previous songwriting credits to speak of, according to fans who have peered through all the easily accessible reference material. Assuming he exists at all, we only know a few things about this Bowery for sure. One of them is that Swift admires his musical abilities quite a bit: When she announced the album on social media, she wrote that it gave her the chance to collaborate with “some musical heroes for me” before naming the National’s Aaron Dessner, Bon Iver, Jack Antonoff , and – stands out among such a prominent company – Bowery.
To also borrow the idea that Bowery is a nom de plume is Swift’s dalliance with pseudonyms in the past. In 2016, she revealed that while dating DJ Calvin Harris, she secretly wrote one of his biggest hits under the name Nils Sjöberg. All indications are that William Bowery is another classic Swiftian mystery. The theories about his identity are many, so let’s go through them one at a time, from least to most credible.
10. An actual guy named William Bowery
If there was a William Bowery who is talented enough to be one of Swift’s musical heroes, would he not be, if not world famous, someone whose existence could at least be confirmed by even another person? The complete lack of an internet track is suspicious. In addition, the name melts into fiction. “Bowery” is not a very common surname, but it is is the name of a street in downtown New York City – a place where Taylor Swift used to live and has sung about before. All this adds up to the obvious: There is simply no William Bowery. I’m pretty sure that if a songwriter with that name really existed, he would be tied to a chair being interrogated by a group of militant Swifties right now.
Odds: 1,000,000: 1
9. One or more members of BTS
Refinery29 noted RM, a member of the South Korean boy band BTS, as a possible Bowery, and a few Twitter users have also commented on this view. Meanwhile, some Other Twitter users have posed that Bowery is another BTS member, Suga. I think at least some of these fans are doing a metajoke about the complete lack of evidence that all other theories about Bowery’s identity rely on. But some of them are probably just stans who want to believe.
Odds: 1,000,000: 1
8. Lana Del Rey
Because why not! Even the people who propose this admit that it is in the “total crackpot” area.
Odds: 1000: 1
7. Joni Mitchell
Mitchell is definitely a musical hero for Swift, who has often cited the great lady of folk music as one of her favorite artists. A song from Swift’s previous album, “The Lucky One”, was even said to be about her. The less convincing pillars of this theory are that Mitchell, also a painter, has a painting called Bowery Bum and that her father was given the name Bill, a nickname for William. Then there is the issue of leaving a woman as a man, who seems to go against Swift’s belief in feminism. (Then again, when Swift herself used a pen name, she chose a man’s name.) But the biggest strike against this theory may be that if Swift wrote a song with Mitchell, she would probably want to shout it from the roosters rather than hide it.
Odds: 1000: 1
This one is about as thin as the BTS and LDR theories: Fans have guessed that William Bowery could be a pseudonym for Lorde because Lorde and Swift are friends and that would be cool. To be fair, there is documented evidence that the two are real friends, which is more than can be said for Nos. 7-9 on this list.
Odds: 500: 1
5. Ed Sheeran
The Sheeran truths, like many of the factions here, do not have much to go on. They point out that Sheeran and Swift are friends and he is also a musician, one with roots in folk music. It is true that the two have worked together before. It’s also true that Sheeran has performed at the Bowery Ballroom, and his shows sometimes include accordion, an instrument that can be heard on “Betty.” The guitar in that song also gives it a Sheeranish sound, some have posed. Finally, Sheeran has a grandfather named William, one who has appeared in his own lyrics. Of course, all this seems very cumbersome. Do not many people have a grandfather named William? Why would Swift and Sheeran have to hide their collaboration when it is common for them to be friends who have recorded songs before? Sheeran as Bowery is really only likely if you also buy into the conspiracy theory that he and Swift have dated before or are dating now and have to cover it.
Odds: 500: 1
4. Austin Swift
Swift’s brother, Austin, who is also a musician, played a key role in another mystery linked to his sister earlier this year. In May came a cover of Swift’s song “Look What You Made Me Do” in the TV series Killing Eve. The cover was credited to Jack Leopards & Dolphin Club, a group that, like William Bowery, has no online presence and no one had ever heard of it. Nils Sjöberg, a former Swift alias, was listed as the producer of the song. As for Austin’s involvement, Swift had reportedly previously asked Killing Eve creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge about presenting her brother’s music. Separately, fans noticed that the art that came with the song resembled a childhood photo of Austin, who had also once referred to “Dolphin Club” in his display name on Twitter. This whole system may have been a way to hold on to Scooter Braun, with whom Swift is engaged in a very public feud with over ownership of her rear catalog. Apparently, a TV show that uses a cover of one of her songs rather than the original would deprive Braun of royalties. But the Braun – Swift feud only affects her previous album; she owns the masters Lover and Folklore. Where Swift had reason to hide her brother’s alleged commitment a few months ago, none of this points to why she would give her brother a pseudonym this time. This does not mean that it is impossible for Austin to be Bowery, just that he is not more likely to be Bowery than anyone else in Swift’s inner circle.
Odds: 500: 1
Some fans noted that Swift’s most recently confirmed use of a pen name was during the Nils Sjöberg affair, and the person’s identity she was covering at the time was her own. Adopting a man’s name in a male dominated area like the music business was both a way to feel less conspicuous and a little reassuring to those who would underestimate her. I would not put it past her to do it again. Boys have come and gone over the years, but Swift’s commitment to maintaining her reputation has been a constant. Why she would need to use a pseudonym to take credit for a song she was already credited for writing is another question.
Odds: 25: 1
2. Harry Styles
Refinery 29 has pointed out that Dessner – who claims not to know Bowery’s true identity despite also collaborating Folklore—Thinking that the real Bowery is an experienced songwriter. Swift’s ex Styles has moonlight with songwriting under a pseudonym before, and when he did, some thought the resulting songs were about Swift. How does this connect to “Bowery”? Apparently in 2012, when Styles and Swift were a couple, they stayed at the Bowery Hotel. Bowery Ballroom is also one of the last places that styles were performed before the coronavirus lock started. When you look at the lyrics themselves, there is a line in “Exile” – “We have always followed a very thin line” – which fans have said evokes Fine line, the name of Styles’ latest album. (This theory does not seem to stand for “William” at all.) The strongest evidence for the Styles-as-Bowery case may be that it would really cause a frenzy if the media discovered that Styles and Swift were collaborating, which seems like a likely motivation for pseudonymous construction. .
Odds: 10: 1
1. Joe Alwyn
Dessner said Alwyn is not Bowery. But Dessner has also said he does not know who Bowery is. And sometimes the simplest explanation is the right one. Alwyn is the guy Swift is meeting right now, so if there are secret screams on her album, shouldn’t they be for him? In fact, about Alwyn is not Bowery, he should have a difficult conversation with Swift right now. A pen name would also fit in the story of Alwyn who wants to keep their relationship very private. All that said, some of the “evidence” for Alwyn as Bowery is pretty weak sauce: Alwyn’s great-grandfather was a composer and his name was William. (Again: Many have or have old relatives named William!) Something more compelling is that Swift and Alwyn were discovered at the Bowery Hotel in New York early in their relationship, after attending a private Kings of Leon concert – that is not a great hope to guess that this date may have a special meaning for them. (Perhaps also remarkable detail: Lorde was there too.)
As for whether Alwyn has enough musical talent to co-write a song with one of the music industry’s top artists, I was fascinated by a Reddit fan point that at least once before, in the song “Ronan,” Swift gave a songwriter credit to someone who did not directly contribute to writing that song but whose words she quoted on it. Maybe Alwyn did not exactly help write “Exile” or “Betty”, but Swift quoted her notes or texts to her in it. Of course, the same might as well be the case for someone else. And that still leaves us no explanation for the “musical hero” aspect. However, the identity of a writer named William has not been so heavily questioned since Bard.
Odds: 3: 1