Finding Wonderland: A Father’s Journey Into Taylor Swift’s Lyrical Rabbit Hole

There’s nothing quite like the electrifying atmosphere of a Taylor Swift concert—a sentiment my daughter, like thousands of other teenagers, wholeheartedly agrees with. After an exuberant 15-minute rundown of her recent concert experience, she mentioned a song that caught my ear: “Wonderland.”

Now, I’ve never been a Swiftie, but what intrigued me was the song’s heavy allusion to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” a subject I’ve always found fascinating. I promised my daughter I would write about it, so here goes my attempt to delve into the depths of Taylor Swift’s lyrical genius through the lens of Lewis Carroll’s whimsical world.

It’s All About the Metaphor

“Wonderland,” a bonus track on Taylor Swift’s fifth studio album, “1989,” is a fascinating study in the whirlwind of emotions one experiences during the ups and downs of a complicated relationship. My daughter claims that the “unnamed, green-eyed man” in question is none other than Harry Styles. Though it’s never explicitly mentioned in the song, she’s quite adamant. But let’s move past the speculative “Harry” narrative to explore the more exciting labyrinth—the All Things Alice.

Through the Rabbit Hole

The song captures the essence of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” remarkably well. It’s a story about navigating the chaos of an exhilarating yet toxic relationship, metaphorically described as a tumble down a rabbit hole. This is brilliant on Swift’s part, capturing the highs, lows, and general madness Alice encounters in her own nonsensical reality.

Why It Works

Lewis Carroll’s work has always encapsulated a child’s challenge in making sense of an adult world—something that Taylor Swift echoes in her lyrics. “It’s all fun and games ’till somebody loses their mind,” she sings, a sentiment that Alice would likely agree with were she dealing with toxic relationships instead of a confusing, alternate universe.

Breaking Down the Lyrics

Taylor Swift is a master of infusing her lyrics with metaphors and references that can easily be unpacked. For instance, the opening lines about “flashing lights” and “taking a wrong turn” aptly describe how easy it is to get entangled in a fast-paced relationship, much like how Alice finds herself in Wonderland. And Taylor’s question, “Haven’t you heard what becomes of curious minds?” directly echoes Alice’s own realization that her curiosity leads her into some tricky situations.

More than Just Lyrics: A Deeper Dive into Wonderland

Also, it’s worth noting that Harry Styles is from Cheshire, a point that’s hard to overlook when considering the Cheshire Cat references throughout the song. My daughter, the young detective that she is, insists that this detail is more than coincidental. Yet, because nothing is explicitly said, we can’t definitively conclude that the song is about him.

“We Both Went Mad”

In the song’s bridge, Taylor Swift sings, “And in the end, in Wonderland, we both went mad.” The line is a clear nod to one of the most iconic quotes from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”: “We’re all mad here.” In Lewis Carroll’s story, madness isn’t a condition to be feared; it’s a form of maturation.

It’s quite possible that Taylor Swift is referencing the same concept of “going mad” as a sort of coming-of-age realization that their exciting yet tumultuous relationship is unsustainable. Alternatively, she might be taking creative liberties with the concept of “madness,” suggesting that the relationship spiraled out of control, driving both parties to emotional extremes.

What Does It All Mean?

In a poignant turn, Swift later compares the Cheshire Cat’s enigmatic smile to the comfort she derived from her partner’s own mysterious grin. Whether this smile is genuinely comforting or mischievously deceptive is left for the listener to decide.

The Everlasting Impact of Alice

As the song winds down, it leaves us with a repetition of the chorus, capturing the unending loop of emotions, much like Alice’s adventures. Whether you’re a Swiftie or not, the song brilliantly utilizes the metaphorical elements of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” paying homage to a story that continues to captivate audiences over a century and a half after its publication.

A Lesson in Effective Storytelling

Whether you’re a fan of Taylor Swift or not, there’s no denying the lyrical prowess she exhibits in “Wonderland.” Much like how Lewis Carroll’s tale has transcended generations, Swift’s song captures the complexity of adult relationships in a manner that resonates with a wide-ranging audience, myself included. And for that, I thank my daughter for introducing me to this musical treasure, as I discover that even in middle age, one can still fall down an unexpected rabbit hole and find something magical at the bottom.

Alice has been an enduring muse for various forms of art, from literature to music, and it’s evident that her influence isn’t waning anytime soon. As someone who appreciates both classic literature and the nuances of modern storytelling, I’m thrilled that Alice in Wonderland continues to inspire.

Musical Artists Inspired By Alice in Wonderland

For decades, our beloved Alice has no longer lived only on the page. Artists across the disciplines have taken her story and used it to more artfully tell their own. The universality of Alice’s message has been expressed in many forms, particularly by musicians, singers and songwriters.

Something about the poetry of music allows artists to explore new and expressive interpretations of her traditional, classic tale. So, let’s explore seven different music artists who have put their own unique spin on Alice’s story, and have even created a brand-new meaning all together. 


A person with a pill in her mouth, wearing a rabbit mask, reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. From the music video for the Natalia Kills song: "Wonderland".

English singer-songwriter, Teddy Sinclair, also known by her stage name, Natalia Kills, released a pop ode to Alice in 2011, titled ‘Wonderland.’ In her song, she lists all of the classic fairytale princesses we all know and some of us love. From Snow White to Cinderella, she rejects each one in turn. She doesn’t need pretty glass heels or a knight to save her; she is not your typical damsel in distress. “I don’t believe in fairytales,” she chants. Instead, she asks for a trip to Wonderland.

Alice’s story can be interpreted as a fairytale, but definitely not an average one. It does not follow the known formula of the Disney princess. Come to think of it, the story doesn’t really follow a formula at all. Which is perhaps a huge part of its appeal. Alice’s story is a beacon for those incapable of trudging the beaten path. She is the perfect Alternative Princess.


Avril Lavigne, sitting in a black dress around some trees. She is wearing playing card suit socks, reminiscent of Alice In Wonderland. From the Avril Lavigne song: "Alice".

On a similar note, the Pop-Punk Queen herself, Avril Lavigne, released her own nod to Alice in 2010, titled (you guessed it) ‘Alice.’ This emotional ballad is filled with all the angst and maelstrom that endears Lavigne to teenage girls everywhere.

In this song, she is lost, afraid, and in need of stability. Her fear and confusion can be felt as she sings, “Is this real?/ Is this pretend?” She seems to find hope again in the idea of Wonderland. She continues, “I found myself in Wonderland/ Got back on my feet again.” She has found her way despite difficulty. The song ends with strength and self-assuredness. Lavigne is a survivor, and so is Alice. 


A circus tent and ferris wheel and roller coaster in the rain. From pop duo: Neoni, this is the cover art for their album: "Wars in a Wonderland".

Next, we see a different perspective on Wonderland. Neoni, a pop duo formed in 2013, released their own ‘Wonderland’ in 2021. The song seems to be sung from the perspective of Wonderland itself, or its residents. This is a unique spin, given that the focal point of the story is usually from Alice’s point of view.

A powerful line of the song reads, “This is Wonderland, where all your dreams come true/ You gotta go get yours before they come get you.” It sounds like there are two sides to this coin; a realized dream that can easily be taken away. To me, this translates to the sometimes opportunistic nature of the entertainment industry, in which these artists are forced to operate. It sounds as if they take pride in their ability to navigate the array of wily characters they face. 


A group of people in Walrus costumes. Album cover of The Beatles 1967 album: "Magical Mystery Tour". Drawing. paralells between Alice in Wonderland and their songs: "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds", and "I am the Walrus", by John Lennon.

Speaking of wily characters, this unsung hero (or villain) from Wonderland is the star of John Lennon’s 1967 song, ‘I am the Walrus.’ Lewis Carroll’s cautionary tale of the Walrus and the Carpenter, it seemed, resulted in The Beatles’ psychedelic classic. In some way, Lennon identified with the Walrus. “I am he as you are he as you are me,” he sings. But… what exactly does he mean? Was it an allegory on capitalism? Is there religious symbolism involved? Did Lennon just really like oysters? With this song, who really knows? 

Some more ambiguous lyrics can be found in his ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ of the same year. But I sense a strong tie to our Alice. She could easily have been the “girl with kaleidoscope eyes” that Lennon references throughout the song. The lyrics follow a similar trajectory as Alice’s descent into Wonderland; the imagery grows stranger as the song goes on. “Cellophane flowers of yellow and green/ Towering over your head” and something about rocking horse people eating pie. With its zany imagery, the setting could very well be Wonderland, and Lewis Carroll’s writing could easily have been the inspiration for this fantastical piece. 


Lady Gaga ddressed in pink Frankenstein garmets and hair, un a black circular background, like the rabbit hole in Lewis Carrolll's Alice in Wonderland. Cover art for her single, "Alice - Take Me to Wonderland".

Lady Gaga’s ‘Alice,’ released in 2020, seems to have a much more straightforward message. “My name isn’t Alice/ But I’ll keep looking for Wonderland,” she chants throughout the dance-worthy pop song. In these lyrics and their repetition, we hear her ache for the nonsensical simplicity of Wonderland, a place without rules. A place where she can be a child again. A place where she can put her rational mind away, and lose herself in the innocent lawlessness of Wonderland.

I would venture to say we were all feeling a bit like this at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, when this song was released. Alice’s adventure once again proves a perfect escape from the trials of a sometimes harsh reality. 


A group of people sitting at a table with food and flowers, dressed like characters from Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Red Queen, Mad Hatter and Alice Liddell, herself.  For the rapper, Dax and hiis song: "Searching for a Reason".

Alice’s story does not have to be told through the lyrics of a song in order to share its message. Dax, a Canadian rapper, released a song in 2021 titled “Searching for a Reason,” the lyrics of which have arguably nothing to do with Alice or Wonderland. Which is why it is even more interesting that the song’s music video is filled with references to the story.

The lyrics “I’m surrounded by so many fakes, I stopped counting/ No gravity, but I’m still grounded,” play in the background as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum taunt the singer. The rest of the video follows suit with Wonderland characters and set pieces. The video is the perfect representation of visual storytelling. Alice’s story is so universal that the song’s lyrics do not need to explicitly mention her, but they can still relate to her adventure, and ours.


Rock band: Shinedown's album cover for The Sound of Madnesss, featuring the Alice in Wonderland-themed song: "Her Name is Alice". 
Black background with 4 white bird shapes and white lettering. Looking Glass Wars Author, Frank Beddor gives us this expert's take. by Marissa Armstrong.

Lastly, we have perhaps the most ambiguous lyrics yet. Shinedown’s ‘Her Name is Alice’ is a perfect example of artist – and audience – interpretation. The song tells the story of a girl like Alice. A girl that is innocent, who views the world through her own eyes, and creates her own reality. The tone of the song is equal parts sad and sweet, mournful and longing. It perfectly captures the melancholy of nostalgia, the pain of growing up while trying to hold onto a part of one’s innocence. Which is what Alice’s tale is all about.

Whether you are a fan of pop hits or more alternative gems, Alice’s story can be found anywhere. She brings people together now just as she always has. Differences in age, gender and background cease to matter as we all find a little of ourselves in her. What other story can claim such a vast and universal message?

Meet The Author:

Marissa Armstrong is a Los Angeles native and currently a student at Arizona State University, where she majors in Film and English. Her brand of dark comedy stems from an appreciation of both the light and the dark in humanity. It is her purpose to use her storytelling wiles to celebrate all things tragically hilarious. Or hilariously tragic.