Taylor Swift’s ‘Champagne Problems’ is about Happiest Season and I will die on this hill

You thought ‘Dorothea’ was the gayest song on Evermore? You thought wrong.

Two rounded champagne glasses with gold rims and delicate floral etching, with a stem of small blue flowers in the foreground
Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

There have been many takes published on Clea DuVall’s lesbian Christmas romcom, Happiest Season. There have been even more takes published on Taylor Swift’s latest folksy surprise album, evermore. I am here to do what must be done. If you leave 2020 with any new insights, let it be this one: Taylor Swift’s ‘Champagne Problems’ is a gay-ass song about Happiest Season from Harper’s perspective.

Observe.

You booked the night train for a reason
So you could sit there in this hurt
Bustling crowds or silent sleepers
You’re not sure which is worse

Champagne Season begins with a largely irrelevant scene on a train which I will ignore for the purposes of this argument, although you could argue it captures Abby’s heartbreak in the moments after Harper comes out to her family too late to save their relationship, after a week of forcing Abby into the closet. Then we get into the real shit:

Your mom’s ring in your pocket
My picture in your wallet
Your heart was glass, I dropped it
Champagne problems

I have it on good authority (mine) that this is Harper to Abby, who had planned to propose to her over Christmas. As we know, Abby avoids Christmas after losing her parents. Harper invites her to the family holiday to try and heal, but instead tells everyone she’s straight, abandons her at formal family things where she doesn’t know anyone (perhaps Harper’s most heinous crime) and shatters Abby’s heart along with what little Christmas spirit Abby had left. Woven throughout is the repeated refrain of “champagne problems”, a reminder of the sparkly, privileged world Harper comes from, full of fundraisers and fancy dinners – where Abby quickly discovers she has no place.

Verse two is fun because it works on a ton of levels:

You told your family for a reason
You couldn’t keep it in
Your sister splashed out on the bottle
Now no one’s celebrating

Is this still Harper, musing on the scene where Abby tells her gay best friend John (Dan Levy) how much she’s dying to marry Harper? Or is it a perspective switch to Abby, where she reflects on Harper’s messy coming out moment and her sister Jane, novel-writing eccentric and official coolest character, who instantly declares she’s an ally and who we can all agree is the only one well-adjusted enough to buy champagne for someone else’s prospective gay engagement? OR could we interpret “you couldn’t keep it in” to be about Abby’s long-ago, relatively smooth coming out to her parents – as part of John’s speech to Abby about how everyone’s coming out story is different, or once again from Harper’s perspective to point out that not everyone has it so easy? 

Your hometown sceptics called it
Champagne problems
You had a speech, you’re speechless
Love slipped beyond your reaches
And I couldn’t give a reason

Abby’s hometown is Pittsburgh, where sceptical John compares her plan to marry Harper to buying a rice cooker. He’s right to be wary because several days later Abby, who had planned to ask Harper’s dad for his blessing, is left lost for words as Harper denies that she’s gay in front of Abby and Harper’s whole family. A rice cooker would never.

However: Abby is not the only one Harper has romantically ruined!

How evergreen, our group of friends
Don’t think we’ll say that word again
And soon they’ll have the nerve to deck the halls
That we once walked through
One for the money, two for the show
I never was ready so I watch you go

As John says to Abby about the coming out process: “You have to be ready…you can’t do it for anyone else.” These lines are Harper to Riley, her high school ex and queen of the devastating slinky outfit, who tells Abby all about how when Riley and Harper were secretly dating as teens, Harper outed Riley, told everyone Riley was stalking her and let her get horribly bullied rather than come out herself: “The thing that I can relate to is just being in love with somebody that is too afraid to show the world who they are.”

But you’ll find the real thing instead
She’ll patch up your tapestry that I shred
And hold your hand while dancing
Never leave you standing
Crestfallen on the landing

If you’re on the Riley/Abby train, this lyric pretty much explains itself. However, I offer you a deeper cut: this is about the photo in the credits showing the main cast at Pride, in which Riley’s past trauma is being cuddled away by Clea DuVall.

A screenshot of a mockup instagram post from the Happiest Season credits, showing the entire main cast waving rainbow flags plus director Clea DuVall, who has her arm around Aubrey Plaza.
Remember Pride? And hugs?

Either way, we all live happily ever after and everyone learns to communicate and no one has a single problem ever again. Yay Christmas!

Author: Ellie Wilson

I’m a features and lifestyle journalist of six years’ experience. I spent 18 months in 2017-18 writing profiles of businessmen and I haven’t written about a single man since. Thanks to formative obsessions with both Lord of the Rings and Anne of Green Gables, I like my entertainment wholesome, gay and overly invested in trees. I am white, cis?, middle-class and have no diagnosed disabilities, pronouns she/her. You can see my work at thephasemag.com and elliewilsonwrites.com, and find me on Twitter @writative.

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