Artist: Taylor Swift
Release date: 24 July 2020
Label: Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift isn’t known for dropping surprise bombs. Her album releases are carefully choreographed by the well oiled Taylor Swift machine, but she drops many bombs with folklore. Announced hours before the launch, this album didn’t follow the usual “secret sessions - suspense - single - album” pattern that Reputation and Lover exploited. She dropped this album like a bomb.
"folklore" is Taylor’s much cooler “indie” record that she recorded for her peace of mind. The album is sonically cohesive, the lyricism is poetic, and the Americana imagery is very evident. The album builds up on Swift’s most apparent strength, her ability to tell intimate, engaging stories with extraordinary and ostensibly inconsequential details that resurface later in the story to wrap things up. What music the stories are set to isn't important. In folklore, she ditches her usual autobiographical narrative to find fascinating protagonists in rich debutante widows, soldiers in the frontline, abusers, and their victims.
In the last great American dynasty, she tells the story of Rebekah Harkness, who married into Standard Oil wealth and had a marvelous time ruining the last great American dynasty by swimming in champagne and gambling the fortune away. She cleverly pens lyrics that evoke vivid Americana imagery. She then goes on and relates herself to Rebekah, by self-identifying as the maddest woman in Watch Hill who now owns Rebekah’s Holiday House. The song is a majestic combination of Swift’s storytelling and Dessner’s production. She gets much more confrontative in "mad woman" where she pins the blame of protagonist's anger on the tormentor and making the protagonist a “mad woman” disliked by everyone.
"betty", "august", and "cardigan" teenage love triangle trilogy is the finest and the most delicate story Swift has narrated in her career. She tells the story of three teenagers, free from her own prejudices, almost as if she is watching the story unfold in a snowglobe. In "betty", James tries to win Betty back after cheating on her with the other girl during summer. She brings back her southern accent and acoustic guitars to give the song a country twist. In cardigan, the song from Betty’s perspective, she sings to James in a sad tone, towards the end she gets confident that James will return, reminiscent of the bridge of This Love from 1989. The song sounds like a Lana Del Rey and The National collaboration that just works. In "august", the other girl reflects over the relationship she had with James. The stories don’t use cliche teenage tropes and humanize all the characters, and are much more observational than her previous tracks. The themes of cheating reappear in "illicit affairs", where she sings about clandestine meetings in parking lots, lying to friends, and leaving no trace behind. The melancholic, reflective tone is evocative of the second half of Red (Sad Beautiful Tragic). The song has the most “Taylor Swift” bridge on the album. "exile" is a Taylor Swift song with a little of Bon Iver’s piano tune and a lot of Justin Vernon vocals. The song builds up on "The Last Time" from Red, and surpasses it as her best duet.
"my tears ricochet" tells the story of an “embittered tormentor showing up at the funeral of his fallen object of obsession”. The track is a much more mature version of look what you made me do, and hints at Taylor’s personal struggle to get control over her old music. The Jack Antonoff’s pop touch in the song is very apparent, and Taylor’s vocals work with the production to create a dramatic, but a sad image. In "mirrorball" she compares herself to a mirrorball, reflecting all the people around her, all the people she was influenced by, how she shatters into million pieces when hurt, and how she works tirelessly to make everything look perfect. In "seven", she reflects on a sweet childhood friendship/love story that slowly morphs into a morbid tale of troubled home life, and child abuse that she innocently thought could be fixed easily by playing pirates and running away with her. "this is me trying" is a confession to her love, admitting her fear, faults, mistakes, and her best attempts to fix everything she can. She comes to terms with her faults, fears, and insecurities in "peace". In the dream pop-inspired sequel to Safe and Sound, "epiphany" she hopes for peace and calm in dreams in a world full of battles, both literal and metaphorical.
All the songs in folklore slowly blend into each other, making for an ethereal listening and feature excellent storytelling by Swift. The album offers different perspectives, stories, and protagonists, but doesn't offer anything new. The writing and vocals and production fade in comparison to the first 7 songs in Red, and Taylor doesn’t experiment with her sounds much. She tells intricate stories, but the album offers nothing new. The highs in the album don’t go as high as “All Too Well”, “State of Grace”, or “Long Live”. On the other hand, the album doesn’t have any dud songs and doesn’t have any glaring flaws, or doesn’t have any flaws at all for what it’s worth.
This album combines Swift’s storytelling abilities with a minimalistic, instrumental, and folksy production that allows her lyrics and vocals to shine.