Updated: Sep 19, 2020
Unexpectedly releasing her 8th studio album, Folklore, Taylor Swift seems to have left pop behind, fully embracing the realm of indie and folk with her piano ballads and hauntingly beautiful lyrics that seem to linger in the air once they conclude. They’re comforting yet painfully or pleasantly relatable, depending on the song. Although most of her brand has been based on that very relatability of her lyrics, something about this feels different—more mature. The writing is as grand as her usual pop tunes typically sound. I imagine this record was born out of pure genuineness, without having the pressure of pre-planning her usual thematic stage performance of songs all composed with stadiums in mind. It’s tender and raw as if all
her old songs have been peeled back to show all the exposed bone.
Beginning with the lone piano, “The 1” already introduces the delicate simplicity of the record. It becomes more and more catchy as it picks up, almost as if you can feel it start to skip right through you. The feeling of not harboring any hard feelings after a relationship, accompanied by an almost miserable longing, is well known to many, yet sung about so rarely. Only one song into the record and Swift has already stricken listeners with her habitually piercing relatability. Leading seamlessly into “Cardigan,” we are given a near compiled list of small snippets capturing moments only a person in love can recall enough to put on paper. Swift stays out of the one-dimensional, narrating the ups and downs of a relationship in what appears to be chronological order. Swift’s ability to fit what feels like an entire film plot into just four minutes is undeniably impressive.
As the record moves on to songs such as “The Last Great American Dynasty,” “Epiphany,” and “Betty,” listeners can gather that Swift is venturing into an entirely new realm of storytelling. While Taylor is no stranger to crafting grand scenes and narratives through her writing, something feels more direct about this project, as if she is finally embracing the fullness of her imaginary scope. She puts herself into the shoes of diverse characters, whether it be the 17-year-old lovesick boy in “Betty,” or even her grandfather as a soldier, fighting on the beaches of the island of Guadalcanal in 1942, described in “Ephiphany.” It seems as though she created this record not only for herself but for each individual person who listens, regardless of who they may be.
Other songs on the record are accompanied by a certain cloud of darkness, yet omit a feeling of power and strength. “Mad Woman” and “My Tears Ricochet” personally hit me the hardest, although “Exile,” “Hoax,” and “Illicit Affairs” are also worthy of noting for their stirring dismality. “Mad Woman” feels like Swift is embracing her feminist stance, showcasing the sexism she has faced in the music industry for over a decade and combatting it with delicately chosen words and a haunting piano. It is presumed that “My Tears Ricochet” is about her fight to own her own music, battling powerful men who only ever wanted to profit off of her and her hard work. In both songs, her voice is soft, yet filled with power and anger that is impossible to not pick up on. They sound tame and serene, although if one is to really listen to what she is saying, the juxtaposition will be made immediately clear. As she enchants us with her sounds, her words hit like sharp knives against those who have wronged her. She utilizes her pain and turns it into a weapon, which appears to be a common theme for Folklore.
These tracks seem to fall into different categories, making for some exciting diversity, without losing the concept and feel of the overall body of work. Nothing on the record feels out of place or there without purpose and knowing Swift, this was intentional. “Mirrorball,” “August,” “Peace,” and “Seven” fill the gap between darkness and light, showcasing a childlike brightness, despite the small winces of painful moments she mentions throughout them. They make the entire record feel like a smooth, soothing journey with no detours. Finally, “Invisible String” and “The Lakes” (on the deluxe edition) add an element that I think we all expect of Swift—the classic and elegant love song, draped in ornate and poetic metaphors. A little pinch of melancholy is sprinkled into each, spread out meticulously enough to never let you lose the romantic tenderness at the center of the tracks. Swift captures a myriad of emotions and wraps a single blanket over all of them to create what Folklore is.
Taylor Swift gave the world only moments to prepare for her arguably most daring piece yet. She seems to have bloomed in isolation and turned over the inside of her mind in its rawest form for all to see. The record is fluid, sophisticated, and reflective as if all her previous works have led up to this. In the past decade, Swift has come full circle, but still is opening up several new doors along the way with a fresh edginess and soul-stirring inflection. Folklore feels like an ending to the long journey of finding the part of one’s self that has been steadily rising to the surface, only daring to break free when it was absolutely ready. It concludes just as much as it introduces and while Taylor’s next artistic move may be uncertain, Folklore, having been crafted from the settled dust of her past, paves the way for endless roads ahead. It is as nostalgic as it is trailblazing, yet it waits patiently with us as we sit still with the feelings it evokes from us as listeners. Swift allows us to take her words into our most comfortable space and harbor them inside us as if they are our own.