“The Last Great American Dynasty” is the third track on Taylor Swift’s 2020 album ‘Folklore.’ The song talks about the life and legacy of Rebekah Harkness, a patron of the arts and founder of Harkness Ballet. In 2015, Taylor Swift bought her Rhode Island mansion which was once owned by Rebekah Harkness.
Taylor Swift announced her 8th studio album ‘Folklore‘ just a few hours ahead of the album release on July 24, 2020. The album had no singles prior to the album release, and Taylor stated the reason for the ‘surprise’ album release as the “uncertainty” surrounding the world right now.
Rebekah Harkness became one of the wealthiest women in the United States of American after her husband, William Hale “Bill” Harkness, an attorney at law and owner of Standard Oil company, passed away. His passing is noted in the song as the passing of the last great american dynasty.
Listen to “the last great american dynasty” by Taylor Swift
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“the last great american dynasty” Lyrics Meaning and Song Review
The first verse of the song gives a much-needed background to the story of Rebekah Harkness and her wealth.
In October of 1947, Rebekah Harkness married William “Bill” Hale Harkness, the son of William L. Harkness who inherited a large share of Standard Oil. Before her marriage to Bill, Rebekah was married to Dickson W. Pierce, a descendant of the 14th President of the United States, Franklin Pierce. Upon the death of William L. Harkness, Bill inherited a large share of Standard Oil, making Rebekah one of the richest women in the United States. [Source: Wikipedia]
And this is “How [did] a middle-class divorcée do it,” as the townfolk questioned her riches.
Taylor Swift draws a picture of the classic wealthy parties that were full of wine and meat and people dressed to the nine. These parties may have lead to Bill’s heart giving up the fight, making Rebekah inherit her husband’s wealth.
The plot of the song is surfaced in the chorus. The society put the blame of the death of Bill on Rebekah who showed up out of nowhere and inherited his wealth. So begins the stories and rumors of who is she and why is she here?!
This alludes to the idea of patriarchy which was prevalent back in the day, and still prevalant today in some societies.
The second verse of “the last great american dynasty” draws some similarities between Rebekah Harkness and Taylor Swift herself. Whilst Rebekah Harkness moved from St. Louis to Rhode Island, Taylor Swift moved from Tennessee to, well, Rhode Island and everywhere else she has houses in. Rebekah Harkness’s glamorous parties are also compared to Taylor Swift’s girls squad and their parties.
And Rebekah Harkness was accused of blowing away her late husband’s fortune on arts and ballet. This was considered ‘madness’ back in the day.
In these lyrics, Taylor Swift sings about how the Rhode Island mansion was sitting all by its lonesome after Rebekah Harkness passed away. 50 years later, Taylor Swift bought it for a staggering $17 million in 2015. Taylor says for 50 years, the house was free of ‘mad women’ until it was purchased by her. Now there’s a new mad-hatter in town.
In a true mad-woman fashion, Taylor outros by screaming she really enjoyed ruining everything. She is possibly referencing to her dominance in the music industry. It is no argument that Taylor Swift is one of the most influential, powerful, and wealthiest artists alive. Taylor Swift is currently ranked at #14 in the richest musicians in the world, well surpassing some of the most prominent male and female artists out there.
Let us hear your thoughts about this song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics and further meaning breakdown on Genius.