folklore- An Album Review
Photo by Taylor Swift
On July 23rd, 2020, Taylor Swift shocked the world with her release of a new album with less than twenty-four hours’ notice. With the recent release of her previous album, Lover, fans were in utter disbelief over this surprising announcement. To add some clarity to this unprecedented decision, Swift explained that her new album was written and produced during the months of self-quarantine, following the COVID-19 outbreak. She added that the album was created to embody elements of imagination, fantasy, and her own memories. The album is entitled folklore and definitely conveys Swift’s wild imagination as well as themes of pain, betrayal, nostalgia, and whimsy.
Even though many of her albums draw from her emotion and experience, folklore stands apart from the rest because of its unique sound and increasingly unfiltered approach to songwriting. It is reminiscent of some of her lesser-known songs such as “Sad Beautiful Tragic” (Red), “You Are In Love” (1989), and “It’s Nice To Have A Friend” (Lover). However, it is clear from her lyrics that folklore is meant to remove the veil of “cheesy romanticism” and “puppy love” in order to address the raw and unedited facets of the world around her. Swift chose to step away from her pop empire to produce an album that led with its authenticity and vulnerability as opposed to its catchy beats and lovestruck lyrics. This may have been a massive risk for the Swift brand, but ultimately conveys her maturation as an artist and simultaneous reconnection with her younger songwriting-self. As a whole, folklore is a transcendent dichotomy of indescribable fantasy and unfiltered reality that plays out through a series of narratives and allows listeners to experience a new side of Taylor Swift.
the 1 – Swift starts off her album with a classic “one that got away” ballad. Simple melodies of piano and guitar accompany her nostalgic journey into the memories of a Gatsby-inspired romance. In many ways, the song sheds light on the widely relatable experience of looking back fondly on a relationship and wondering if things could have been different. However, it deviates from much of her previous music in the way that Swift acknowledges the reality of loss and failure and sees it as a means for growth. In this way, she sets the one for the whole album by addressing themes that may be harder to swallow, but ultimately carry more truth and authenticity.
cardigan – At the first listen, this song could be mistaken for the work of Lana Del Rey. With its slow tempo and echoey vocals, it presents a new type of sound that is not common in Swift’s earlier music. Throughout this romantic narrative, Swift compares herself to an “old cardigan” that has been discarded until it is found by someone who can fully appreciate it. However, darker imagery is used to confront the tragedy of losing that person when things start to fall apart. This song has quickly become a personal favorite due to how deeply it dives into the romantic subconscious of Taylor Swift. From its references to Peter Pan to the small glimpses into her personal love story, it provides a window not only into her heart, but also her imagination.
the last great american dynasty – For this song, Swift dove into the scandalous lives of the previous owners of her Rhode Island mansion. Its sound and storytelling can easily be compared to “The Lucky One” (Red), but differentiates itself by diverging into an avenue of scathing gossip. Although this song has less emotional depth than many others, its fun and upbeat rhythm pairs nicely with the captivating stories that Swift has acquired over the years.
exile (feat. Bon Iver) – Taking the lead as one of the most somber tracks on the album, “exile” emerges as an emotional duet surrounding the regrets and realizations of lost love. It is slightly reminiscent of her duet “The Last Time” featuring Gary Lightbody on her Red album, which in a way, seems like a prequel or at least a cousin to “exile.” Bon Iver’s unique vocal pitch adds a sense of raw vulnerability with his deep and emotionally-charged voice. Swift also lowers her pitch in this song to create a harmony of melancholy nostalgia. In many ways, this song would be perfect for a rainy day, a woodsy car ride, or in the wake of a broken heart.
my tears ricochet – In this seemingly acapella ballad, Swift describes the estranged relationship between her and an unnamed other. She uses the entirety of this song to unapologetically describe the falling out of that relationship and call out the betrayal that transpired within it. Her boldness, honesty, and confidence shine through her lyrics and make this a truly empowering track. Additionally, Swift’s unique talent of eloquently dethroning the poor souls that choose to cross her adds a daring twist to this picturesque song.
mirrorball – In most of her music, Taylor Swift chooses to sing about the significant people in her life and rarely makes songs that are solely about herself. However, this song focuses specifically on how Swift sees herself and the strides she makes to keep fans entertained. It explores the theme of deep inadequacy, as well as the desire to keep performing to meet the expectations of others. With such a heavy message, this song causes listeners to not only consider the pressure that we put on performers, but also the impossible standards that they place on themselves.
seven – In a song that shares overlapping themes with “It’s Nice To Have A Friend,” (Lover) Swift rediscovers the beauty and innocence of childhood. She truly captures the imaginative mind of a child when she creates a dreamscape of pirates, fantasy, and worldwide exploration. This sweet and endearing track definitely sparks memories of my own childhood and makes me appreciate what a beautiful and magical time that was.
august – If summer flings ever had a theme song, this would be the one. From the thrill of new love, to the downfall that precedes the change of seasons, Swift masterfully articulates this temporary love affair. Accompanied by an upbeat soundtrack, she describes the wide range of emotions that are felt in these youthful relationships. Although it is not my favorite track on the album, it would be the perfect song for a drive along the coast or a lounge by the pool.
this is me trying – Once again, Taylor Swift gets to the heart of the human condition by addressing the all too relatable cycle of “trial and error.” In this sobering melody, she admits to her flaws and failures, but cries out for the recognition of her attempts to overcome them. The lyric “at least I’m trying” is such a universal statement that speaks to anyone who has fallen short time and again. Swift’s echoey vocals also create a hauntingly beautiful sound that adds a sense of intensity to her lyrics. This song has quickly become one of my favorites on the album.
illicit affairs – In this song, Swift exposes the harsh realities of infidelity through her lyrical poeticism that conveys the deepest of sorrows. She takes on the voice of the mistress and expresses how the most magical of “clandestine meetings” can so quickly lose their luster. Her devastatingly beautiful lyrics illustrate the deceit, loneliness, and unreciprocated feelings that come with such an affair. This track shines particularly bright in the album because of its ability to emotionally touch people who have never experienced this type of relationship.
invisible string – Fate, destiny, and soulmates are three elements that are common in much of Swift’s earlier work. However, those themes make a reappearance in “invisible string” when she tells the story of two people who are bound to end up together. This simple and sweet narrative brings me back to the eras of Fearless and Speak Now and causes me to reminisce about the days of young love. It may not possess as much emotional complexity, but provides a balance to the heaviness of some of the other tracks.
mad woman – As fans have seen recently in songs like “The Man,” Swift has chosen to take another stab at the patriarchy by flipping the “crazy woman” stereotype on its head. Many fans believe this song is directed at the debacle with Scooter Braun who purchased her former label, Big Machine Records, and is now the owner of all of Swift’s former work (folklore and Lover are officially the two albums Taylor solely owns!). In this song, she challenges double standards, the act of gaslighting, and sexist language all within the plot of a cheating spouse. To say this is an artful representation of the problems in our society would be an outrageous understatement. This song has put into lyrics what so many have struggled to find words to express, which is a triumph in itself. Swift has also been able to call out these oppressive tendencies in a way that is both wildly clever and aesthetically pleasing. Well done, Taylor Swift!
epiphany – Although Swift has covered a range of difficult topics throughout folklore, “epiphany” may be the most emotionally-charged track on the album. She chose to confront the modern world head-on by describing a soldier dying on a war-stricken battlefield, as well as a woman suffering from COVID-19. Both scenes are tragic and devastating, but bring a sense of humanity back to those settings by emphasizing that they are happening to real people. I think this is such an important message to include in her music and I don’t think it could have come at a better time.
betty – In a heavily folk-inspired ballad, Swift takes on the voice of a young man who is caught in a love triangle (the love triangle songs are: “cardigan,”“august,” and “betty,” each from the perspective of one of the teenage lovers). This song explores the complicated narrative of both relationships and ultimately comments on the process of navigating love at a young age. I found it charming how accurately Swift was able to articulate the indecisive and unfiltered mind of a teenage boy. For this reason, “betty” is probably one of the most unique and whimsical narratives on the album.
peace – As all fans know, Taylor Swift is no stranger to opening up about her romantic relationships. However, this song takes a more vulnerable approach in which she describes her own insecurities and shortcomings in her current relationship. Reality sets in when she is forced to reconcile her booming career with her desire to give her partner a peaceful life. The track touches on significant themes such as conflict, compromise, and acceptance throughout her monologue. As someone who has grown up listening to Taylor Swift, I appreciate how this song reveals how much her perspectives and priorities have changed over the years.
hoax – Swift ends her eighth album with the same emotional depth with which she started it. She uses a slow tempo and soft piano keys to contrast her subtly dark lyrics about a painful relationship. As always, Swift finds a way to make her songs deeply personal as well as universally relatable. With both beauty and melancholy, this song brings folklore to a close and leaves fans in rising anticipation of what her next words will be. Until then, we have folklore to cling onto until the next time she chooses to grace us with her music.
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