Album: “folklore” by Taylor Swift
Release Date: July 24
Duration: 1 hour, 4 minutes
As Taylor Swift puts it in the opening line of her new album, folklore, “I’m doing good, I’m on some new sh—.” And so she is.
Swift’s surprise album released June 24 with fewer than 24 hours notice to her fans and dove headfirst into a new genre and sound. While she’s never completely operated within the bounds of the genres she’s written in (see "Red" and "Lover"), “folklore” marks Swift breaking free from both pop and country music as she tries her hand at alternative/pop indie music. And it’s heartbreaking and beautiful and haunting.
That’s not to say that there’s no trace of the "old" Taylor Swift as she embarks on this new adventure in her music with The National’s Aaron Dessner, longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff and mysterious co-writer William Bowery. Her storytelling has never been better. In fact, a lot of the lyrics just plain hurt.
Swift’s greatest superpower is her ability to take her experiences and hardships and make them relatable to the masses. On “my tears ricochet,” the only track Swift wrote alone, she sings about her departure from former record label Big Machine and the selling of her masters: “And when you can’t sleep at night / You hear my stolen lullabies.”
Despite the clear meaning of this song, the haunting lyrics and chords could easily be taken in a multitude of other contexts. This is true for dozens of her other songs, and while other artists can often do the same thing (what else is music really for?), few are able to consistently fill stadiums of fans screaming every word for years.
“Seven” transports listeners back to Swift’s childhood, where they reminisce on the good and the bad. It hits hardest when she whispers about the way she used to be: “Please picture me in the weeds / Before I learned civility / I used to scream ferociously / Any time I wanted.”
Perhaps the most intriguing stories she tells on “folklore” are the ones that aren’t her own. For the first time, this album isn’t autobiographical. Swift said she let her imagination “run wild” in quarantine.
On “the last great american dynasty” she tells the story of the “mad” woman who owned her Rhode Island mansion before her, and just at the end she relates her own experiences in the house to the former owner.
“Epiphany” bounces back and forth from Swift’s grandfather’s experience in World War II and the world’s current COVID-19 crisis where, this time, doctors fight on the frontlines: “You dream of some epiphany / Just one single glimpse of relief / To make some sense of what you’ve seen.”
The best storyline on “folklore” is a teenage love triangle that spans three songs and tells the story from each person’s perspective. The album’s lead single, “cardigan,” is told from Betty’s perspective as she recalls her relationship with her ex-boyfriend James before he cheated on her and showed up back at her door. The song is both nostalgic and triumphant as Swift croons “I knew you’d linger like a tattoo kiss / I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs / The smell of smoke would hang around this long / ‘Cause I knew everything when I was young.”
“August” tells the affair from James’ unnamed summer girlfriend’s perspective, and “betty” finishes the love triangle with James’ desperate hope in getting Betty back: “Will you have me? / Will you love me? / Will you kiss me on the porch in front of all your stupid friends? / If you kiss me, will it be just like I dreamed it? Will it patch your broken wings?”
“Betty” is whimsical and warm, calling back to every bit of hopeless romanticism that’s defined Swift’s entire career. The most alluring and mysterious part of the love triangle is that we never find out the ending — what happens to Betty and James? I don’t think we’ll ever know. Darn it, Swift.
"Folklore" feels like the album everyone hoped and knew she could always make. It feels like curling up with a cup of hot chocolate on a fall day, and in a world beaten down by a pandemic and without human contact, it feels just right.
We don’t need happy songs. Some of us just want to feel something, and what’s better to give you all the feels than a new emo Taylor Swift album?