Swifties will recognize the first chords of Taylor Swift’s “Nothing New (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” as soon as they play on The Buccaneers 1×01, “American Poison.” The song leads one scene into another and completely changes the tone of an event that the series premiere anticipates. The vulnerable track speaks for and to the group of friends, consisting of young women in the 1870s, as they debut in London. With its impeccable use of “Nothing New (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault),” The Buccaneers reinforces that an intentional soundtrack changes everything.
As Taylor Swift re-records her masters to reclaim their ownership, it’s becoming more frequent to hear her songs featured on TV shows. As recent as Heartstopper Season 2, The Bear Season 2, and You Season 4, Swift’s songs play at pivotal moments within various stories. They elevate scripts and performances by cracking into character beats. They do so on New Girl, Grey’s Anatomy, and both seasons of The Summer I Turned Pretty. Before the release of 1989 (Taylor’s Version), Duomo’s cover of “Wildest Dreams” appeared on Bridgerton Season 1. Essentially, Swift’s discography continues to be a go-to for music supervisors, and The Buccaneers’s series premiere reiterates why.
“American Poison” relocates Nan, Jinny, Lizzy, and Mabel to London to reunite with Conchi in time for the debutante season. This irreplaceable and indelible friendship – sisterhood, even – is the heart of The Buccaneers. Everything branches out from them. Everyone buzzes around them, except a location that dares to swallow them whole and a debut that sees them as only a number in a sea of likeness. The girls’ individuality that bursts from their very seams becomes a cautionary tale in England’s higher society. That essential context means it’s ideal and heartbreaking for “Nothing New (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” to begin playing during Nan and Conchi’s scene.
The lyrics “They tell you when you’re young / ‘Girls, go out and have your fun’ / Then they hunt and slay the ones who actually do it” aren’t heard until The Buccaneers switches scenes, but the lyrics couldn’t relate to Conchi’s situation better. Her conversation with Nan is filled with fear and desperation, poignantly portrayed by Alisha Boe, that she’s losing the man she loves – and herself – in a marriage that’s only beginning and in a place that squashes her spirit. Conchi has a daughter, who is only a baby and could already face the same ridicule. There’s a generational anxiety and consciousness of systemic sexism brewing in Conchi that pours out onto Nan and into the lyrics of Swift’s song.
Though Swift wrote it in 2012 and released it on Red (Taylor’s Version) in 2021, “Nothing New (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” speaks to a persistent and limiting perception of women that spans long before the 1870s and well past the 2020s.
That inherent and somewhat tragic relatably allows viewers to align themselves more closely with Conchi, Jinny, Lizzy, and the other girls, even if the setting of 1870s London feels too far away. “Criticize the way you fly when you’re soarin’ through the sky / Shoots you down and then they sigh, and say / ‘She looks like she’s been through it’” transforms what could be perceived as excitement into nervous energy as the girls pull themselves together for a presentation that could define their lives. So, the lyrics “Lord, what will become of me / Once I’ve lost my novelty?” playing over Nan asking, “So the girls just have to walk down the stairs, and then the men all get to pick one?” isn’t an accident.
The Buccaneers uses Swift’s complex lyricism to underline the absurdity of defining women in such peculiar ways – namely, through their physical appearance and association with men. The solemn music even takes something as small as Nan’s shoes hurting her feet to commentate on what is expected to be a presentable young woman. Still, Nan has Mabel by her side, and Jinny takes Lizzy’s hand as Phoebe Bridgers joins Swift’s song and sings, “How long will it be cute / All this crying in my room / When you can’t blame it on my youth / And roll your eyes with affection?” The Buccaneers sets those lyrics against girls stepping into womanhood – to be judged as a number, not a person.
“And my cheeks are growing tired / From turning red and faking smiles / Are we only biding time ‘til I lose your attention? / And someone else lights up the room / People love an ingénue” are cutting lyrics that work as a painful backdrop for the women trying to prove themselves to men who verbally express that they will never see them as more than they are on those stairs. They are props to rate until they become nothing new. The Buccaneers closes in on Nan with that realization and the lyrics, “I’ve had (I’ve had) too much to drink tonight / How did I grow from growing up to breaking down? / And I wake up (wake up) in the middle of the night / It’s like I can feel time moving.”
The other women, including Jinny and Lizzy, are frozen as novelties on the stairs, awaiting prospects because the debutante scene is supposed to be a sure way to secure them. But Nan has the unfortunate vantage point of hearing the men’s careless and unfiltered comments that make Swift’s lyrics “How can a person know everything at 18 but nothing at 22? / Will you still want me when I’m nothing new?” a devastating reflection of a woman’s perceived ticking clock of desirability in the 1870s – and even now. Nan sees how dependent a woman’s self-worth can be on a man’s perception of them through Conchi, her sister Jinny, friends she considers sisters, and women she doesn’t even know.
Katherine Jakeways’s writing, Susanna White’s direction, and Kristine Frøseth’s performance illuminate how isolating and suffocating that realization can be. The progression of “Nothing New (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” across both scenes makes Nan’s assertion of “Or imagine them as human beings with no interest at all in your opinion, and not caring if you’re a King or a Mister,” a celebratory end. Sure, it catches the eye of Theo, the Duke of Tintagel, but Nan’s intention has nothing to do with him. Instead, it has everything to do with Nan standing up to the men (and some women) who refuse to see women as they are – brilliant and complex, forever.
What did you think of The Buccaneers‘s series premiere?
The Buccaneers streams on Wednesdays on Apple TV+.