At this point, there should be very little Taylor Swift could do that would shock us. Releasing her eighth (and possibly best) album less than a year after Lover, her seventh (and possibly best) album, is one example, though. Simply put, folklore is a masterpiece of a record that exemplifies the best of Swift as an artist while reigning in just as many aspects that made her a world renowned star. Restrained, introspective and overflowing with emotional stories, folklore is as much a perfect introduction to Swift as it is a departure of her sound.
Folklore is almost as much of a sonic departure for Swift as 1989 was at the time of its release. While Lover reveled in the silence between notes, the anthemic stadium pop still filtered through the gaps. It’s difficult to say that folklore, an album conceived during the coronavirus quarantine, is a natural progression of Lover even though it further strips away the electrifying pop sounds and delves deeper into the indie folk genre.
Co-written with Jack Antonoff, The National’s Aaron Dressner and Bon Iver, folklore is an indie folk album that revels in Swift’s signature storytelling abilities. However, where the album gains its strength is in the mixture of personal stories and fictional characters that blend together so well, it seems like this is how Swift has written her songs all along (“my tears richochet”).
Stripped of the overt poppy gloss, it would be easy to write folklore off as a return to Swift’s country roots, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The piano and acoustic led songs would be just as good if fleshed out further so as to make them stadium rumbling anthems. However, as is, the album is amongst the most intimate of Swift’s lyrics, even when the story isn’t about her.
On a surface level, folklore appears to be almost too relaxed (“cardigan”). It lacks Swift pushing her vocals to their limits, anthemic choruses or any of those hooks that would make for an obvious top radio single. Instead, Swift’s relaxed vocals force attention to melody and lyricism. Minimalistic, folklore puts the story at the forefront with the soft twinkle of piano, acoustic guitar and surgically precise orchestration relegated to the most intense moments (“august”).
If there is a theme to folklore, it is to turn the tables on the fans who pour over Swift’s lyrics to decipher what she is singing about. Each song of folklore seems to dance from real stories, to fictional characters to the speculative heartbreak expected on Swift’s early releases.
Opener “the 1” retraces the lost loves we all held as young adults (“Roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool / And if my wishes came true / It would’ve been you”). Meanwhile, “the last great american dynasty” pulls at similar themes to “The Lucky One” from Red (“Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been / There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen / She had a marvelous time ruining everything”).
The twinkling piano of “mad woman” acts as a second act to Lover’s “The Man” in that it radiates years’ worth of rage from dealing with sexism, harkening back to “Look What You Made Me Do” as well as “the last great american dynasty” (“Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy / What about that? / And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry”). Meanwhile, closing track “hoax” acts as a bookend to “the 1”, diving fully into the regret and anger of those true, lost loves (“Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in / Don’t want no other shade of blue but you / No other sadness in the world would do”).
The magic of folklore isn’t that it was a surprise release, but that it was a surprising delivery. Stripped of the over-the-top glam of her previous albums, Folklore manages to be just as poignant as any past releases, with Swift the artist reigning above Swift the pop star. If there is a fault in folklore, it’s that the album is a few songs too long, but I do not envy the person to decide which to cut. That folklore manages to carry the weight of the biggest pop star on the planet and retain the ingenuity of an up-and-comer is only further proof that Taylor Swift may be the best musical artist on the planet.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and dropped his deodorant in the toilet today, the way that champions do.