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Who Is Clara Bow and Why Did Taylor Swift Name a Song After Her?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

On April 19, Taylor Swift released her eleventh studio album, The Tortured Poets Department. Rolling Stone described the album as “confused, bitter, raging, vulnerable, yet more gloriously chaotic than we’ve ever heard before,” and I couldn’t agree more. Like many of Swift’s more poetic albums, I definitely had to have my search bar pulled up to Google words or phrases that I’m hearing for the first time.

The last track of the album, titled “Clara Bow,” starts with the opening line, “You look like Clara Bow in this light / remarkable,” so I obviously had to look up who Clara Bow was to get a fuller understanding of the song.

Clara Bow was an American actress who became famous during the silent film era of the 1920s. After learning more about her, I discovered many similarities between her and Swift’s lives. Like Swift, Bow wasn’t an overnight sensation. They both worked long and hard for many years until they signed different contracts. Bow signed with Preferred Pictures and suddenly made 31 films in three years, an astonishing number compared to how many movies today’s actors star in yearly. Swift also made a change in record companies, signing with Universal Music Group in 2018, which led to a switch in her career that gave her more creative freedom (and the rights to her own music).

Once Bow’s biggest film It debuted back in 1927, her fame skyrocketed. She was nicknamed “The It Girl” and became the face of fashion during that era. However, Bow eventually became overwhelmed with fame, gossip columns, and pressure from the industry. She decided to simply leave Hollywood behind and moved to a farm in Nevada with her husband.

Swift made a similar decision in 2015 to leave it all behind in favor of a simpler life outside of all the spotlight. As she recalls in her documentary Miss Americana, she wasn’t physically seen for a whole year. Both Bow and Swift were yearning for a lowkey life where they were able to take a break from making art and just exist. However, unlike Bow, Swift reappeared to the music scene, and thank God she did.

Swift actually broke down the meaning behind the song, among a few others on the album, on Amazon Music. She describes “Clara Bow” as a commentary on what she’s witnessed in the music industry throughout her career.

“I used to sit in record labels trying to get a record deal when I was a little kid,” she says. “And they’d say, ‘You know, you remind us of…,’ and then they’d name an artist, and then they’d kind of say something disparaging about her, ‘but you’re this, you’re so much better in this way or that way.’ And that’s how we teach women to see themselves, as like you could be the new replacement for this woman who’s done something great before you.”

After the first line of the song, where Swift mentions Clara Bow, she also mentions Stevie Nicks, another popular female artist, before mentioning herself. There seem to be a lot of comparisons among female icons in this song, even hinting at future popular artists who may follow in Swift’s footsteps.

I’ve seen a lot of theories regarding who this song could really be about, and I can’t help but agree that this song is sort of an ode to some younger artists whom Swift admires and sees parts of herself in. This includes two singers who opened for The Eras Tour: Gracie Abrams and Sabrina Carpenter. Swift could also possibly be referring to Olivia Rodrigo, who has been compared to Swift in the past. The song ends with the lyrics “The future’s bright / dazzling,” which, in theory, hints that these new artists will do great things in the industry, following in the footsteps of Clara Bow, Stevie Nicks, and Miss Taylor Swift herself.

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Ilana Badiner is a staff writer at the Her Campus at FSU chapter. She writes articles biweekly covering culture, lifestyle, and campus news. In addition to being a staff writer, she is a sophomore pursuing a major in media and communication studies along with a minor in general business at Florida State University. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music, watching movies, and spending time with her friends.