Image: Taylor Swift. Beth Garrabrant.
Known for her intricate Easter eggs that ignite fan theories all over the internet, Taylor Swift sent fans into frenzy by dropping her eighth studio album, folklore, today with little notice. It’s been less than a year since Swift dropped her album, Lover, and it’s clear the singer has left behind the pop sounds of her last few albums. Whilst the singer has not made a full return to country, her exploration into folk music harks back to earlier albums from Swift. The highly produced pop sounds have been replaced with stripped back instrumentation and beautifully poignant lyrics. Swift manages to perfectly articulate and capture fleeting moments of love and life.
Created during isolation, Swift navigates love, fear and dreams on the record, pouring her flawless storytelling technique into a new musical exploration. And exhibiting the vast scope and depth of her musicianship. On the album, Swift has teamed up with The National’s Aaron Dessner and her longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff. Swift also co-wrote two tracks with William Bowery, who fans believe to be the pseudonym of either Swift's boyfriend Joe Alwyn or her brother Austin Swift, with some eagle-eyed fans making connections to legendary musician Joni Mitchell.
The record serves as a collection of stories and character studies, with the songs not only being autobiographical, but reference people within Swift's life, people she’s observed and people she’s merely only heard of. Whilst the album is stripped back production wise, lyrically the songs are as intricate as ever. The bouncy piano led opener the 1, recalls on past love and what could’ve been. The track navigates the same hesitation Swift explored on her 2021 song, I Almost Do. The albums lead single cardigan is what a warm hug would sound like as Swift reminisces on the sweeter moments of a doomed relationship. The accompanying music video creates a magical world in which Swift uses a piano as a teleportation device between realms. The piano is almost a symbol of her life raft, keeping her afloat and grounded during tumultuous times.
On the last great american dynasty, Swift documents the life of Rebekah Harkness, the founder of the Rebekah Harkness Foundation. In 2015, Swift bought Harkness’ Rhode Island mansion, famously known as “Holiday House”. Both Swift and Harkness were targets of criticism from the public and press, with Swift drawing subtle comparisons between the two women towards the end of the track. Swift continues the storytelling of others on tracks such as my tears ricochet, a song about “an embittered tormentor showing up at the funeral of his fallen object of affection”, her childhood friends on seven, mad woman is the tale of a misfit widow who takes out revenge on those who shun her. On epiphany Swift touches on her grandfather's experience in the military. “With you I serve, with you I fall down, down, watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out, out”.
Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon duets with Swift on their co-written track Exile. The song is one of the standout moments on the record. There’s a sweet juxtaposition between exile and Swift’s previous collaboration, The Last Time, with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody. On The Last Time, the artists document the crumbling of a relationship and the cycles of heartbreak and forgiveness. On exile, the relationship is well and truly over and the former lovers come face to face for the first time. On the textured track, the singers compliment each other in a dreamy harmonious spectrum of sound.
Swift shared to social media that the album draws inspiration from the “sun drenched month of August, sipped away like a bottle of wine.” On august, Swift reminisces on a youthful romance and the nostalgia of summer love. “But I can see us lost in the memory, August slipped away into a moment in time, ‘cause it was never mine” Swift sings. betty could be the aftermath of that romantic summer romance. This time, Swift writes from the perspective of the male within a relationship, whose summer romance was an affair. The track calls back to Swift's earlier country style, musically incorporating instruments such as the harmonica. But lyrically, it returns to naive adolescent views on love.
Banjo-driven invisible string continues the country twang. The track explores what two lovers would have been doing prior to meeting, noting similarities between their separate lives. Swift’s knack for catchy hooks and pop-melodies is present on mirrorball, before she accepts her own faults within relationships on this is me trying. Illicit affairs navigates a deceitful relationship that can not survive in the shadows. The track is a nuanced and sympathetic take on infidelity, spawning heartbreaking lyrics in the bridge such as “Look at this Godforsaken mess that you made me, you showed me colours you know I can’t see with anyone else”. Swift truly is the Queen of bridges. The minimalist penultimate track peace is at its core a love song, a love where one side feels inadequate yet is fiercely passionate and committed to the relationship. The final song on folklore is titled hoax. On the track, Swift speaks of the enduring troubles of a toxic relationship.
The breathtaking album is full of dreamscapes and ethereal vocal performances from Swift. It’s pared back. The album is reminiscent of earlier Swift tracks Innocent and Safe and Sound, even 2017’s New Years Day. There’s no flashy production, no belting high notes. Instead her vocal performance reaches new depths and tones seldom exhibited on her previous releases. Her most experimental album is built upon raw guitar sounds, cascades of piano and swelling string arrangements. Throughout the album, Swift explores the loss of innocence, something she has been fixated on throughout her career. Swift is presenting her most vulnerable side on a soul searching body of work, that has moments of climax before returning to softer sounds and emotions. This spectrum of emotions and sounds is dark yet beautiful, fearless yet pulled back, perfectly imperfect, subtle and introspective. The records unpolished nature makes it one of Swift’s most intriguing releases to date. It is authentic, real and raw. Each listen leaves the listener more immersed in the magical world Swift has created on folklore.
folklore is out now!