Taylor Swift’s ‘Exile’: A musical resonation to the Jewish Diaspora

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“Exile” is a hauntingly beautiful song by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, featuring British musician Bon Iver (who’s real name Justin Vernon). Released in 2020 as part of Swift’s album “Folklore,” the song delves into themes of heartbreak, loss, and the feeling of being cast aside. While not explicitly about the Jewish Diaspora, “Exile” resonates with the experiences of the Jewish people throughout history. This article explores how the emotions and narrative in “Exile” can be related to the Jewish Diaspora, a significant historical and cultural phenomenon.

A Historical Perspective of the Jewish Diaspora

The Jewish Diaspora is an integral part of our history. Beginning with the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE and continuing through various periods of migration and persecution, we were spread out to various corners of the world, but have been able to keep our faith alive by re-establishing ourselves in different parts of the world, contributing to the rich tapestry of global culture. This dispersion began in antiquity and has continued throughout history due to various factors, including expulsion, migration, and persecution. Over the centuries, Jews have lived in a multitude of countries, adapting to new cultures while maintaining their religious and cultural identity. The concept of exile and yearning for a homeland is a central theme in Jewish history, and it finds an echo in “Exile.”

“Exile” and the Sense of Displacement

In “Exile,” Taylor Swift and Bon Iver sing from the perspective of two individuals who are grappling with the aftermath of a failed relationship. The lyrics express feelings of displacement, loneliness, and a sense of not belonging. The chorus evokes a sense of deja vu and disappointment, much like the recurrent feelings of displacement experienced by the Jewish people throughout history.

“I think I’ve seen this film before

And I didn’t like the ending

You’re not my homeland anymore

So what am I defending now?

You were my town

Now I’m in exile, seein’ you out

I think I’ve seen this film before” 

Chorus from “Exile” by Taylor Swift and Bon Iver

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The Jewish Diaspora, too, has been marked by a sense of displacement. Over centuries, we have been forced to leave our homeland and find new homes in foreign lands, often facing discrimination and persecution. Like the characters in “Exile,” Jewish communities had to navigate the complexities of building new lives while maintaining a connection to their cultural heritage. In the end, we were able to return, but the Jewish people have to defend themselves when it comes to our identities, Israel,  and personal safety. 

Loss and Longing in “Exile”

The lyrics of “Exile” touch on the theme of loss, with lines such as “I can see you starin’, honey, like he’s just your understudy” conveying the feeling of being replaced or overshadowed. In the context of the Jewish Diaspora, there is a profound sense of loss as communities were uprooted from their homes and, in some cases, faced the loss of their cultural and religious practices.

However, despite the loss and hardship, there is also a strong sense of longing in “Exile.” The song’s bridge, “So step right out, there is no amount of crying I can do for you,” captures the idea that even in separation and loss, there is an enduring desire for connection and reconciliation. This longing resonates with the Jewish people’s yearning for their ancestral homeland, a central theme in Jewish culture and religion.

The Resilience of Identity

One of the most enduring aspects of the Jewish Diaspora is the resilience of Jewish identity. Jewish communities around the world have maintained their cultural, religious, and linguistic traditions, often against great odds. In “Exile,” there is a sense of holding onto one’s identity despite the challenges faced in a relationship. This parallels the determination of Jewish communities to preserve their heritage and values, even in the face of adversity.

“Exile” by Taylor Swift and Bon Iver is a poignant song that explores themes of loss, displacement, and longing. While not explicitly about the Jewish Diaspora, the emotions and narrative of the song resonate with the experiences of the Jewish people throughout history. It serves as a reminder of the enduring human spirit, the strength of identity, and the universal nature of feelings associated with exile and separation. “Exile” underscores the importance of recognizing and empathizing with the diverse stories of diaspora communities worldwide, including the Jewish people, who have faced their own unique journey of exile and return.

About the Author
Perri Schwartz is an activist and writer based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She is a 2021-2022 alumnus of the Young Judaea Year Course gap year. She interned with the Israel Daily News Podcast while on Year Course. She is also on the autism spectrum and is super passionate about making the world a better place. You can follow her on Instagram, @thezioprincess.
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