Who is Clara Bow and Why Did She Inspire a Taylor Swift Song?

We deep dive into Taylor's newest musical homage.
Loading the player...

Since announcing the release of her latest studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, at the 2024 Grammy Awards, Taylor Swift fans eagerly counted down the days until they could bask in the sound of 20 new songs. 

After what felt like an eternity for Swifites, Taylor dropped the surprise double album in April 2024, and while many song titles intrigued fans, none stood out quite as much as the sixteenth track, Clara Bow. 

Who is Clara Bow?

Born in July 1905, Clara Bow was one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the silent film era. 

Starring in 58 films between 1922 and 1933, Clara made her name on the silver screen after she won the nationwide Motion Picture Magazine Fame and Fortune contest, granting a then 16-year-old Clara her first Hollywood screen test. 

Clara’s work in cinema also coined the phrase ‘It-Girl’, with her appearance in the 1927 film It skyrocketing her to fame as one of the most popular and glamourous stars of the era.

The actress has also been revered as the muse for Grim Natwick’s Betty Boop cartoon and most recently, Clara’s story was touted as the inspiration behind Margot Robbie’s character in Babylon. 

Clara Bow’s namesake appears on Taylor Swift’s upcoming album. (Credit: Getty) (Credit: Getty)

How did Clara Bow inspire Taylor Swift’s songwriting?

While many fans speculated that Taylor’s song Clara Bow would pay homage to the starlet’s difficult childhood and subsequent rise to fame, Taylor revealed that the track was a commentary on “what I’ve seen in the industry that I’ve been in over time.”

Reflecting on the song’s underlying meaning, Taylor told Amazon Music that her lyrics brought attention to “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.” 

“I picked women who have done great things in the past and have been these archetypes of greatness in the entertainment industry,” she continued, adding that Clara’s prominence as the first ‘It-Girl’ made her a poignant figure for the message she hoped to convey.

Taylor announced the release of The Tortured Poets Department at the 2024 Grammy Awards. (Credit: Getty) (Credit: Getty)

Speaking to People ahead of the album’s release, Clara’s great-grandaughters shared that they were surprised by Taylor’s musical nod to Clara, telling the publication, “We were shocked and then the intrigue set in because no one from our family has been contacted or knew about this prior.” 

“[Clara] came from a really tough background and she made it happen for herself,” they shared, adding, “I would imagine that Taylor uses this as a way to highlight her accomplishments, her accolades, her talent.” 

Following the song’s release, Clara’s family described the track as “hauntingly beautiful,” adding, “My family and I love the song and are thankful for Taylor connecting with Clara’s legacy through her songwriting.”

“It’s really remarkable for Clara to be back in the media attention, 100 years later… I hope this inspires the younger generation to learn about Clara’s story and feel inspired by her perseverance.”

The starlet was coined as the original ‘It-Girl.’ (Credit: Getty) (Credit: Getty)

What happened to Clara Bow?

Before her days as one of Paramount Studios’ biggest film stars, Clara Bow spent her early years in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, caring for her mother who had been later diagnosed with psychosis due to epilepsy. 

Reflecting on her childhood, Clara shared, “As a kid, I took care of my mother. She didn’t take care of me.” Clara also later revealed that her mother had attempted to attack her in her sleep with a butcher knife in 1922, with the episode leading to her mother being institutionalised. 

Following her extensive film career, Clara was reportedly falsely diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1949 after seeking out psychiatric assistance for chronic insomnia. After departing the institution, Clara did not return to her family home – living a reclusive life in a California bungalow up until her death in 1965. 

Related Articles: 

Related stories