Taylor Swift surprised fans on July 24 with a 16-track album entitled “Folklore,” bringing a new, folksy sound to Swift’s eighth studio record. “Folklore” shows Swift’s masterful ability to interweave both her own tale and tales of individuals she has never met or dreamed of. This album is a return to Swift’s roots, but lends itself to more mature and whimsy lyrics than Swift has ever experimented with.
“Folklore” opens with “the 1,” a piano-based, pop-inspired song that revisits the one that got away. Swift ponders in hindsight about the what if’s of her life and the relationship had it played out. A notable lyric Swift remarks is that “the greatest films of all time were never made,” which wistfully expresses a romance that would’ve manifested had it not just stayed in the minds of the two potential lovers. The unresolved emotional connection to another — conveyed through the song’s message and repetitive guitar strum — makes for a distinct introduction to Swift’s album.
Reminiscent of Lana Del Rey’s overall sound, “Cardigan” is bluesy and whimsical, tied together with a tapping rhythm that trails steadily through the background of the song. The corresponding music video portrays a scene in which Swift is seen struggling to stay afloat both physically and metaphorically, a feeling that immediately subsides when Swift puts on her old worn-in cardigan and feels instantly comforted. “Cardigan” describes the feeling of someone finding the beauty in an old cardigan and making something, or rather someone, feel shiny and new instead of forgotten: “And when I felt like an old cardigan under someone’s bed. You put me on like I was your favorite.”
“The Last Great American Dynasty” is the most lyrically distinct song that Swift has ever written and produced. It paints a story of Swift’s famous Rhode Island “Holiday House,” which was previously owned by American composer Rebekah Harkness and Standard Oil inheritor William (Bill) Hale Harkness. Lyrics like “And the town said, ‘How did a middle-class divorcée do it?’” and “There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen,” convey Rebekah being cast out by the town, all while relishing in her newly acquired wealth and marveling in doing the things that her neighbors criticized her for.
Swift’s storytelling is continued in the fifth album track, “my tears ricochet,” which was solely written by Swift and was the first song she wrote for the album. The song itself has a very unique start and appears to draw inspiration from the style of “Death By A Thousand Cuts” in “Lover” and “Safe & Sound” in “The Hunger Games.” Lyrically, however, “my tears ricochet” is hauntingly beautiful and intensely tragic, telling the story through the perspective of a ghost haunting the person who killed her. Swift’s isolated vocals combined with “‘Cause I loved you, I swear I loved you / ‘Til my dying day” express the fragility of a love that has ended, yet will always forever remain in her heart despite the hurt and disappointment that may have occurred during the relationship.
In fact, storytelling isn’t the only facet that Swift touches on, as teeming imagery in her songwriting and sentimental vocals strengthens Swift’s expansive range and artistry. Evident in lyrics like “And I can see us twisted in bedsheets / August slipped away like a bottle of wine” (“august”) and “It’s hard to be anywhere these days when all I want is you / You’re a flashback in a film reel on the one screen in my town” (“this is me trying”), Swift is able to interchangeably interweave her own story with the newly created ones in “Folklore.” And this is interesting that Swift revisits her personal experiences, because despite framing new stories, Swift is able to connect with the lyrics even though they may not truly represent or relate to her as a whole.
The opening banjo in “Invisible String” mixed with lyrics like “Cold was the steel of my axe to grind / For the boys who broke my heart / Now I send their babies presents” convey a recurring idea of a woman with the upper hand in a relationship. The idea of possessing the upper hand combined with her “woman scorned” motif in “Reputation” is revisited in the song “Mad Woman.” By intertwining explicit words through a weblike story, the frustration and disillusionment of being casted out are captured: “No one likes a mad woman / You made her like that.”
Instead of only portraying stories of the past, “Epiphany” brings Swift’s storytelling into the present, giving a sense of striking relatability through shared experiences of healthcare workers in the pandemic. Through the perspective of doctors, nurses and medical professionals battling the pandemic, “Epiphany” condenses their hope for a solution and offers perspective in trying to make sense of what they are seeing. The erasure of human touch due to the current health crisis and the feeling of reduced human connection is evident in the lyrics “Holds your hand through plastic now.” A great touch to “Epiphany” is the faint sound of a cardiac monitor at the song’s conclusion, driving home the message of the song and giving listeners a taste of the world in which these medical professionals presently live.
Written and recorded in complete isolation during the past four months, Swift successfully captures wistful feelings and themes of isolation in her newest album. “Folklore” truly appears to be the love child of Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour” and Lana Del Rey’s “Norman F****** Rockwell,” and the ability that Swift possesses to interchange between her “Lover” and “Folklore” narratives is astonishing. “Folklore” is one of her strongest albums to date, and reaffirms Swift’s lyrical genius, making this an album that will surely be passed on for future generations to acknowledge.
Ryan Mikeala Nguyen is a 2020-2021 Co-Copy Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.