Not to be buried among the week’s other Taylor Swift news, the singer has released her recording of the song she wrote with Andrew Lloyd Webber “Beautiful Ghosts,” which will be heard over the end credits of “Cats” upon its release Dec. 20.
Hers is one of three versions of “Ghosts” that will be heard in the film, as Swift and Lloyd Webber wrote it primarily to be sung by Francesca Hayward, who plays Victoria, the white cat that has been made a central figure in the film adaptation of the 1981 stage musical. It’ll also be heard as a reprise sung by Judi Dench. Swift’s version is not, as rumored by some, a “pop” version; with its lush orchestration and dynamics, it’s very much of a piece with the music that’ll be heard in the body of the film.
Although it’s hardly a country song, Swift is indulging in an old country music tradition, as well as a Broadway one: the answer song. And what it’s answering is the tune that broke out of the stage “Cats” and became a standard in the 1980s, “Memory.” In the film, as on stage, Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson) will sing that standard about her glamour days being over, Now, Victoria essentially tells Grizabella that at least memories are better than nothing, which is what she feels she has.
But, as Lloyd Webber told Variety in a recent interview, “as she goes through the song, she becomes empowered.” So, after two downbeat verses and choruses and a bridge, the lyrics change to a more upbeat mode for the final chorus. As the kitten finds her community on the streets with some other scrappy cats, the early chorus line “Born into nothing / At least you have something” turns into “…with them I have something,” and “Visions of dazzling rooms I’ll never get let into” becomes “I never knew I’d love this world they’ve let me into.”
Belying the fact that the song was written to be sung by the youngest member of the cast, Swift returns to a more youthful tonality in her voice in her reading of the song, too, with an interpretation that makes her sound more like the ingenue of her “Fearless” days than the domineering figure of “Reputation.” In essence, we’re hearing the return of the ghost of the younger Swift.
We now return you to the regularly scheduled cattiness of the music industry.