Taylor Swift obviously needs no introduction. She’s been topping the charts for over a decade from her country breakout to her electric pop hits. Instead of sharing her 2019 album, Lover, with the world on tour, she spent the last several months in quarantine crafting a surprise for everyone. The unexpected release of her eighth studio album proves her ability to conquer new genres, yet again, as she enters into a new era in her career. It was released July 24, 2020 through Republic Records of Universal Music Group. folklore is an entrancing collaboration with Jack Antonoff and The National’s Aaron Dessner that may just be the album she was always meant to make.
folklore is appropriately titled as it’s an intricate piece of storytelling with possibly the strongest imagery we’ve heard from Swift. Weaving truth with fiction, she paints vivid stories of nostalgic love and personal experiences with the unique and ever-maturing songwriting that has always been her specialty. She explores the sounds of folk and chamber pop, reaching to places she has never quite been before while also nodding to her country roots (Thompson). It’s cohesive, remaining steady and centered on dreamy arrangements that The Atlantic describes as her, “[swimming] through intricate classical and folk instrumentation largely organized by the gridded logic of electronic music (Kornhaber).”
This album it’s certainly meant to be consumed holistically, but I will share some personal favorites and most streamed tracks on Spotify:
“the 1” is an easygoing and welcoming intro track. It invites the listener into the folk inspiration and themes of love and loss somewhat comprehensively. We immediately hear her imaginative and whimsical lyricism such as in the iconic line, “You know the greatest films of all time were never made.”
“exile (feat. Bon Iver)” might come as a bit of a shock to Justin Vernon fans because of the straightforward lyrics and stripped back nature of the track. It’s a collaboration that further solidifies this album’s crossover into the alternative realm. His deep vocals contrast Taylor’s softer tones in this conversational reflection on a toxic relationship. It’s thematically and musically one of the darker tracks and an important moment in the album’s evolution following the upbeat energy of “the last great american dynasty” that causes the listener to slow down and pay attention.
Swift stated that three songs on the album represent the three different perspectives of a high school love triangle. Though she has not confirmed which songs, fans assume that “cardigan” / “august” / “betty” are what Taylor referred to as “The Teenage Love Triangle.” It’s told by James and Betty and the ‘other woman,’ Inez at different points in their lives. The emotion and imagery conveyed through this storytelling is immersive and intricate, leaving listeners in thoughtful contemplation of a heartbreak, a plea for forgiveness, and a love that was never yours. The magical music video for “cardigan” exhibits natural, earthly imagery that’s almost surreal and mirrors the album’s artwork. She also recently shared a “cabin in candlelight” version of cardigan.
While folklore lacks the typical radio hit like “Shake It Off,” “Blank Space,” or “ME!,” it seems that this album is not confined by that goal and motivated by something completely different. According to her Instagram post, the vision for the album is a “stream of consciousness” meant for “escaping into fantasy, history, and memory.” Maybe an escape is exactly what the world needed at a time like this.
From the movie motifs to connections to her previous albums to the literary references and beyond, there is much more to dissect on Swift’s latest work. It requires much more than a single listen. It has already received high praise by critics and fans alike. A friend of mine and self-proclaimed, life-long ‘Swifite’ said that “folklore is the album I always wished Taylor would write, but never actually thought she would.” I believe many people probably feel the same way. It’s the piece of artistry that her fans knew she was capable of and her skeptics have to give her credit for. What’s next for this industry giant is truly up to her. She clearly won’t shy away from making what she really wants to make.
Kornhaber, Spencer. “Taylor Swift Is No Longer Living in the Present.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 29 July 2020, www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/07/taylor-swift-folklore-review-power-storytelling/614698/.
Mapes, Jillian. “Taylor Swift: Folklore.” Pitchfork, Pitchfork, 27 July 2020, pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/taylor-swift-folklore/.
Thompson, Stephen, et al. “Let’s Talk About Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’.” NPR, NPR, 28 July 2020, www.npr.org/2020/07/28/896193188/taylor-swift-folklore-critics-roundtable.
“Folklore.” The Arkansas Traveler, 28 July 2020, www.uatrav.com/image_b8c7384c-d106-11ea-af84-0320bfed3bac.html.
“Taylor Swift’s Folklore.” KKBOX, www.kkbox.com/sg/en/playlist/5ao-EKxgnNDC5A4t2c.
“Top 10 Fan Theories about Taylor Swift’s New Album ‘Folklore’.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 24 July 2020, www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2020-07-24/taylor-swift-folklore-top-10-fan-theories.
Trust, Gary. “Taylor Swift Charts 16 Songs From ‘Folklore’ on Billboard Hot 100.” Billboard, 3 Aug. 2020, www.billboard.com/articles/business/chart-beat/9428702/taylor-swift-charts-16-songs-from-folklore-on-hot-100.
Claudia is an incoming junior at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, studying Communication and Media and Performing Arts Management and Entrepreneurship. Music has always been an important part of her life, and her passion only continues to grow. For several years, she worked at her local record store, Dearborn Music, where she realized her desire to connect people with the music that they love. On campus, she is involved in the student organization, MUSIC Matters, where she works to plan and execute community events like live shows for local artists and their annual lifestyle festival, Springfest, headlined each year by a major artist. She enjoys getting involved in the Detroit and Ann Arbor music scenes, attending shows and festivals and shopping to build her vinyl collection. She is interested in talent agency and live performance production and hopes to learn about artist development and record label operations through her internship at Music Noises.