In a surprise turn of events, Taylor Swift released her eighth studio album ‘folklore’ this past week. With a mix of sepia and black-and-white ‘reputation’ era aesthetics, ‘folklore’ leans into Swift’s affinity and experimentation with “indie” music. The record sees collaborations with Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) and Aaron Dessner of The National with accompanying production by Swift’s longtime producer, Jack Antonoff. A mixture of past and present, truth and fiction, it represents Swift maturing through past mistakes, and not holding back in terms of expletives either.
Swift reveals she worked with her “musical heroes” Bon Iver, Jack Antonoff, William Bowery, Aaron Dessner and more! pic.twitter.com/BuLsyxTlx0
— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) July 23, 2020
Although track five, “my tears ricochet,” was the first song Swift wrote for her new LP, the record opens with “the 1” — a stunning start for ‘folklore’ in the way Swift contemplates the haunting “What if?” of past relationships. The song feels both familiar to her older albums like ‘Red’ and new, taking on the growth she’s experienced over the years as well. (Notable line: “In my defense, I have none / For never leaving well enough alone”)
“cardigan” serves as the first technical radio single off the surprise record, with merchandise and an official music video at midnight to go along with it. It takes on a bouncy, airy melody with allusions to Swift’s past lyrical tales of old Levi jeans and downtown dive bars. With a Peter Pan nod even thrown in, it adds to the collective of ‘folklore’ tying up Swift’s life and discography in a bow of sorts.
Swift even draws inspiration from her Rhode Island house on “the last great american dynasty,” which used to belong to socialite Rebekah Harkness way back when. This is just one example of many on ‘folklore’ in which Swift channels her persona through situations, characters and environments far removed from her own life. A standout line in the second verse references Harkness’ “bitch pack,” a possible reference to the media portrayal of Swift’s infamous girl squad during her ‘1989’ era.
The one vocal collaboration on the album, “exile” with Bon Iver, adds to the indie-folk nature of the release. Despite being one of the weaker cuts here, Iver provides an interesting shift to Swift‘s tender voice that gives fans a collaboration they didn’t know they needed. Possibly the strongest track out of the bunch, however, is the wonderfully nostalgic “august.” A personal favorite of Antonoff‘s, the track succeeds at bridging the gap between “indie” Swift and the glorious pop hooks of her past albums. Lines like “For me, it was enough / To live for the hope of it all / Canceled plans just in case you’d call / And say ‘Meet me behind the mall‘” add to Swift‘s underlying narrative arc of a teenage summer love triangle.
— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) July 23, 2020
“betty,” the song that arguably stirred up the most conversation online alongside “cardigan,” serves as a continuation of the love triangle storyline in ‘folklore.’ Largely perceived as a lesbian love story by the general public, “betty” is a perfectly romantic tale of love and longing that feels like it could’ve been included on ‘Fearless’ or even Swift‘s debut album despite its explicit chorus (“would you tell me to go fuck myself?”). This fictitious storyline isn’t the only one running thematically through ‘folklore.’ Swift subtly addresses her past-and-present relationships on “invisible string” with lyrics that fans believe focus on the two Joe‘s (Alwyn and Jonas). The entirety of “mad woman” also opens up the subject of internalized misogyny through its darker, reputation-esque tones.
‘folklore’ ends on an almost-sorrowful note with “hoax,” another strong songwriting flex by Swift. (“You know I left a part of me back in New York / You know the hero died, so what’s the movie for?”). Swift‘s bridges throughout her discography have always stood out, and “hoax” is no exception. Overall, on paper, ‘folklore’ seems to contain a large puzzle map of characters and storylines that at first listen might seem overwhelming. However, it’s this blurred line between fact and fiction that makes ‘folklore’ such an exciting project, especially for longtime fans, that lets the listener’s imagination run wild. Based on our first impression, ‘folkore’ is Swift‘s strongest and most cohesive effort since ‘Red’ that successfully reinvents one of this generation’s biggest artists.
What do you think of ‘folkore’? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter at @PopCrave!