Aside from Brendon Urie, the big guest feature on Taylor Swift’s new album Lover comes from the Dixie Chicks. The trio appears on “Soon You’ll Get Better,” a stripped-down track that Swift penned about her mother and her continued battle with breast cancer.
The song, which Swift co-produced and cowrote with Jack Antonoff, features some of the most vulnerable lyrics Swift has written in her entire career. Details like coat buttons tangled in her hair, “holy orange bottles” and “the nicer nurses” make her mother’s routine hospital visits sound all the more real, and all the more heartbreaking. The only instrumentation on “Soon You’ll Get Better” comes from a pair of guitars and Martie Maguire’s waxing-and-waning fiddle, allowing Swift’s memories under the waiting room light to take center stage.
The Chicks’ vocal contributions to the track are subtle but crucial. They provide harmonies on the song’s insistent chorus, and during the bridge, when Swift asks in desperation, “Who am I s’posed to talk to?/What am I s’posed to do?/If there’s no you,” Natalie Maines’ voice echoes her own. Even though “Soon You’ll Get Better” is written in Swift’s trademark second person, addressing her mother, it’s as much a conversation Swift is having with herself, as she grapples with the terrifying yet cruelly ordinary process of becoming caretaker to the person who raised her. “I’ve had to learn how to handle serious illness in my family,” she wrote in Elle magazine earlier this year, and it’s clear she meant something more self-reflective than knowing when to call the insurance company.
With the knowledge that a new Dixie Chicks record is on the horizon, the trio’s appearance here provides a modicum of insight into what their album — the first one with new material in over 16 years — may resemble. Antonoff is suspected to be producing the band’s forthcoming album as well, with Maines posting several Instagram clips of the four of them in the studio since last year. But their role on Swift’s “Soon You’ll Get Better” is, appropriately, a supporting one, and a beautiful one at that.