Taylor Swift surprises in more than one way with new album folklore
Taylor Swift has worked on perfecting the art of the extensive album roll out in the past few years, with numerous singles, music videos hints and Easter eggs. It was therefore quite the shock when she announced on Thursday that her eighth LP folklore was coming out the next day. This type of surprise release was the last thing we expected from miss Swift, but the surprises didn’t stop there. The dreamy folk pop of folklore is miles and miles away from the almost bubblegum pop singles like ‘ME!’ and ‘You Need To Calm Down’ from her previous record Lover, which came out less than a year ago. Is Swifts first album of her thirties her most accomplished yet?
In the press release for the record, Swift explains how a lot of her plans for the summer (The Lover Fest festival tour) were cancelled because of the Covid-19 outbreak, which allowed for something unexpected to happen: the creation of folklore. Swift wrote and produced the record with The National’s Aaron Dessner and longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff. They created a record completely averse to the electronic pop productions tailor made for radio which made up large parts of her previous four albums. Instead, they serve guitar and piano driven, stripped back, folky tunes with some of Swift’s most delicate yet outspoken vocal work to date.
On the release date, Swift launched the music video to ‘cardigan’, which serves as the first single of the project. The track does perfectly set the mood for the rest of the record with its delicately dreamy atmosphere, warm vocals and exquisite melodies. It is one of those tracks that lets you in on the magic a little bit more with every listen. ‘cardigan’ serves as the first track of the ‘teenage love triangle’ which Swift talked about in a livechat around the release. The trilogy further consists of ‘august’, an epic guitar-driven journey that builds to a beautiful finale with soaring strings and melody lines that are instantly recognizable as quintessentially Swift, and the harmonica infused country and folk of ‘Betty’. All three songs tell the story of the ‘teenage love triangle’ from a different perspective.
Singing from someone else’s perspective is something Swift does often on folklore, which is quite the change for her. The stunning ‘seven’ was written through the eyes of a 7-year-old (her 7-year-old self perhaps) who sees how a friend is suffering from an unstable domestic situation. The child like innocence in the lyrics is beautifully written and hits right in the feels. On ‘mad woman’ she is a ‘misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out’, she explained in the album prologue. Through that perspective she makes points about making women mad by calling them mad with her own experiences in the music industry never far way, but more subtly put than in last year’s feminist anthem ‘The Man’.
Through tales about others and sometimes directly, Swift seems to open up about her own insecurities maybe even more so than ever before. There is ‘this is me trying’, on which she admits to her flaws and shows how she is trying to deal with her emotions in a healthier way than with alcohol. The chorus is hypnotically beautiful. On ‘mirrorball’ she seems to compare herself to a disco ball and one could not have expected this to be so emotionally poignant. Over a soaring melody and a warm bath of a production, she sings how she shows others every version of them while she can break in a million pieces. ‘Exile’, a duet with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon is one of the most heartbreaking moments on the record. It portrays two ex-lovers who have a totally different outlook on the end of their relationship. While Vernon sings about the sudden break up, Swift keeps reminding him she sent out so many signs that the relationship was not working. The ‘conversation’ they have from the middle-eight on is goosebump inducing.
It seems that times of lockdown and quarantine led to Taylor Swift making an album without any expectations and pressure in terms of radio success and creation of hype. folklore is the complete opposite of the steps towards a more poppy sound she made in the past ten years. It would also be too shortsighted to call this a return to her country beginnings, because it is way more than that. Swift created a dreamy folk pop soundscape that does her vocals justice like they have never been done before. She completely masters the art of subtlety and small gestures both in terms of lyrics and production, without giving up on her bright melody progressions. To call this her best album would dismiss the pop brilliance of 1989 perhaps a little too soon, but folklore is easily her most cohesive, mature and above all the boldest move in her career so far, which is already paying off!