When Taylor Swift released her surprise album evermore in early December, the music world immediately gushed over the artist’s evolution as a songwriter. Swift’s latest iteration is that of a nostalgic storyteller whose wisdom belies her age. To match her new folksy-alternative sound, she sings of imaginary worlds full of love and grief. (Fear not, Swifties—there is also the occasional real-life reference to her boyfriend, as would be expected).
The thirteenth track, “marjorie,” is described as “a heart shredding masterpiece” by veteran Rolling Stone music critic Rob Sheffield. For those unfamiliar with the singer’s family tree, the song is written for Taylor Swift’s grandmother, Marjorie Finlay. Find out more about who she is and what made her so influential to her granddaughter.
Who Was Marjorie Finlay?
Marjorie Finlay was born Marjorie Moehlenkamp on October 5, 1928, in Memphis, Tennessee. She is Taylor Swift’s maternal grandmother.
Finlay was raised in St. Charles, Missouri, and earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Lindenwood College (now Lindenwood University) in 1949. A coloratura soprano, she was known for her ability to hit high notes and deliver them with speed. Her talent opened the doors to incredible opportunities. In 1950, the former bank receptionist won a talent contest on the ABC network show Music With the Girls. Finlay went on tour with the show for 15 months and continued her music studies in Massachusetts and New York.
She married Robert Finlay, president of Raymond Construction Company, on March 22, 1952. Shortly after they wed, the couple moved between Cuba, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. Wherever she landed, Finlay found a way to sustain her music career. In addition to performing in concerts, operas, and supper clubs, she hosted El Show Pan-Americano, a bilingual variety show that aired in Puerto Rico. She also sang with the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and released a solo album in Mexico.
The couple had two daughters, including Andrea Swift—Taylor’s mom. Finlay died on June 1, 2003, at the age of 74. Although almost two decades have passed since her death, her granddaughter has honored her by immortalizing her in song.
Marjorie Inspired A Track On Swift’s Latest Album “evermore”
On the eve of releasing evermore, Swift posted an announcement about the album on social media. She shared some background on her new songs and revealed that one starred “my grandmother, Marjorie, who still visits me sometimes … if only in my dreams.”
Swift even samples Finlay in the track. “If I didn’t know better / I’d think you were singing to me now,” she sings over her grandmother’s voice. It’s probably not a coincidence that “marjorie” the 13th song on the album—13 is Taylor’s favorite number, as well as her age at the time of Finlay’s death.
The music video for the song is a revealing montage of family footage. It gives Swifties a clearer picture of the singer’s subject: a woman who is prim and proper on the surface, but also—as the lyrics suggest—clever and powerful. In one scene, Finlay is seen with a toddler-aged Swift at the piano, leaving no doubt that she was a major influence on her granddaughter.
“The experience writing that song was really surreal,” Swift explained in an interview with Zane Lowe. “I was kind of a wreck at times writing it. I would sort of break down sometimes … It was really emotional. One of the hardest forms of regret to work through is the regret of being so young when you lost someone, that you didn’t have the perspective to learn and appreciate who they were fully.”
“I’d open up my grandmother’s closet and she had beautiful dresses from the ’60s,” she continued. “I wish I had asked her where she wore every single one of them. Things like that. My mom will look at me so many times and say ‘God you’re just like her.'”
Watch the video and see if you spot any similarities:
Marjorie Also Inspired This Music Video From The ‘1989’ Era
evermore is not the first time Swift drew on her memories of Finlay for inspiration. In the music video for “Wildest Dreams,” from her album 1989, Swift appears as a 1950’s-era actress on a film set in Africa. With her dark locks and glamorous aura, she looks just like Finlay. If you look closely, the movie theatre marquee in the final shot of the video reveals that Swift’s character’s name is “Marjorie Finn,” solidifying the reference to Finlay.
Unfortunately, the very personal nod to her late grandmother was overshadowed by accusations that the video was racist. Cultural critics noted the distinct lack of Black people in the video and deemed it a glorification of African colonialism.
She obviously survived the controversy, and her fans are better off for it. Although Marjorie Finlay is no longer around, she clearly lives on in Taylor’s heart. And her spirit has helped her granddaughter create one of her most celebrated albums to date.