This idea started, as many things do, with Taylor Swift.
As the entire English-speaking world must know by now, Swift recently released her re-recorded version of her 2012 album Red, and it’s stirring up some decade-old emotions for all of us. While listening to the 10 minute version of “All Too Well” several times over the past couple weeks, a thought took seed in my mind that I’m sure many a Swiftie/Janeite has had before, that Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility would LOOOOOOOVE Taylor Swift. Like, she would GET her on a deep emotional level. So of course then I had to wonder about connections between other pop stars and Jane Austen heroines, so here we are.
I should say upfront that I didn’t really put that much thought into these match-ups. Most of them were gut instincts, starting with the Austen heroine and immediately thinking of a pop singer that “matches” that heroine’s energy or personality, from my perspective. The ones that I did put slightly more thought into (but still not much), I based on my knowledge of the singers’ public personas and song lyrics. There is absolutely nothing scientific about this, and these are hills I absolutely will NOT die on. You can let me know whether you agree or disagree with any of these in the comments.
Taylor Swift: Marianne Dashwood
I do not know of a person who is more Marianne Dashwood than Taylor Swift, or at least Swift’s artistic persona. Swift presents herself as a romantic, ready to fall in love in an epic way. Songs like “Love Story,” “Mine,” “Lover,” and “Invisible String” ascribe an abstract, almost mystical quality to the romantic relationships they document. Swift has also seemingly dated a lot of Willoughbys, with “Mr. Perfectly Fine” in particular coming to mind. I have heard, though I can’t find an official source to confirm, that Swift was actually inspired by Sense and Sensibility when she wrote the lyrics:
And it’s really such a shame
It’s such a shame
‘Cause I was Miss “Here to stay”
Now I’m Miss “Gonna be alright someday”
And someday maybe you’ll miss me
But by then, you’ll be Mr. “Too late”
Let’s hope she’s finally found her Colonel Brandon.
Beyoncé: Emma Woodhouse
Beyond the obvious–handsome, clever, and rich–Beyoncé projects a confidence and unapologetic self-possession that really reminds me of Emma. They both slay all day, they both look amazing in yellow, and they both express independence and contentment with being single, not needing a relationship to feel complete.
I can care less what you think / I need no permission
You just know Emma would put on “Single Ladies” to help Harriet get over Mr. Elton. Also, it’s just TOOOOO perfect that the soundtrack for the 2020 Emma adaptation has a song called “My Queen Bee” (written and performed by Mr. Knightley actor Johnny Flynn)! Queen Bee, meet Queen Bey.
Lorde: Fanny Price
Fanny is the dark horse of the Austen heroines. She’s often overlooked, underrated, or just misunderstood. Lorde is indeed a famous pop singer, but I think she deserves more hype than she seems to get. I also get the sense that Lorde is uncomfortable with the spotlight (I don’t know if that’s true, that’s just the vibe I get from what I’ve seen of her), and so is Fanny. And while lots of musicians write songs about their working-class roots and how fame and wealth aren’t going to change who they are, these lyrics from “Royals” strike me as very Fanny Price-like contentment with a life that’s full of meaning rather than riches:
My friends and I, we’ve cracked the code
We count our dollars on the train to the party
And everyone who knows us knows
That we’re fine with this, we didn’t come from money
Adele: Anne Elliot
Look, when I say Adele has mom friend energy, I mean it as a compliment. (Also, moms love Adele.) Adele has always had a maturity to her songwriting, even in her earliest work, that seems to me to be a good match for Anne Elliot’s quiet strength and steadfastness. When I first heard Adele’s first big hit, “Chasing Pavements,” I was in the middle of reading Persuasion, and I remember thinking the song worked so well if I imagined it as written from Anne’s point of view, especially this section:
If I tell the world
I’ll never say enough
‘Cause it was not said to you
And that’s exactly what I need to do
If I end up with you
“Hello” also strikes me as such a fitting song for Anne and Wentworth, especially the lines:
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore
Just gonna go cry now.
Lizzo: Elizabeth Bennet
Look, it’s not because their names are similar. OK, that’s a little bit part of it. But Lizzo’s real name is Melissa, not Elizabeth, so I don’t think that should count. To me, Lizzo radiates Lizzy Bennet energy. Just like Elizabeth, Lizzo is fully herself, at all times. Both display warranted disdain for men (“Why men great till they gotta be great?” / “What are men to rocks and mountains?”). And in “Truth Hurts,” Lizzo expresses a very Lizzy-like, deep, innate value of herself, and refusal to let anyone else devalue her.
I will never ever ever ever ever be your side chick
I put the sing in single
Ain’t worried ’bout a ring on my finger
I feel like these lyrics from “Good As Hell” are something Lizzy would say to Jane:
Boss up and change your life
You can have it all, no sacrifice
I know he did you wrong, we can make it right
So go and let it all hang out tonight
I also don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like either of these bad bitches.
Olivia Rodrigo: Catherine Morland
This one is a little more of an abstract connection, but stick with me. Good songwriters are good storytellers, and Olivia Rodrigo definitely has a flair for telling a compelling story, much like Catherine Morland lives in the stories she loves to read. Catherine has also always felt very much like a real teenager to me, and I think Rodrigo’s music captures so much about the universal experiences of teenhood so accurately. These lyrics from “Brutal” perfectly sum up how I felt at 17, when I was hardcore identifying with Catherine Morland:
And I’m so sick of 17
Where’s my fucking teenage dream?
If someone tells me one more time
“Enjoy your youth, ” I’m gonna cry
Rihanna: Elinor Dashwood
Elinor Dashwood really did find love in a hopeless place. While it’s hard to imagine the “sense” of Sense and Sensibility having a career as a pop/r&b/dance music recording artist, I think a lot of Rihanna’s music expresses a sensibility (see what I did there?) that gives me an Elinor vibe. “Umbrella,” the weather-friendly hit that’s been covered at least 10 times, expresses a sense of loyalty and steadfastness that Elinor would claim proudly. Guys, Elinor is Marianne’s umbrella… “Work,” as much as the song itself is a little musically boring IMO (well, Drake is involved, so of course it’s boring, I said what I said), also has some Elinor energy in the lyrics:
All that I wanted from you was to give me
Something that I never had
Something that you’ve never seen
Something that you’ve never been, mmh
But I wake up and act like nothing’s wrong
Well, how did I do? Which pop stars did I miss that you wanted to see? Who do you think their inner Jane Austen heroines are? Also, any ideas about which pop singers could be Charlotte Heywood or Lady Susan? Let me know in the comments!