Review of Taylor Swift’s ‘folklore’
Swift surprises fans with the release of her eighth album
Taylor Swift’s new album “folklore” is most definitely unlike any other Taylor Swift album. During the coronavirus pandemic, Swift wrote the album while in quarantine. It is categorized by Apple Music as alternative music and consists of soft ballads, some acoustic instrumentation and minimal electric instrumentation. While many American University students are fans of Swift and have consistently enjoyed her music, a new side of Swift’s talent as a songwriter and as a storyteller is revealed in “folklore.”
“Folklore” is different from Swift’s past albums like “Lover” and “Red.” “Lover,” released in 2019, received overwhelmingly positive reviews from the press and was considered a more mature album from Swift. “Red,” a country-pop album Swift released in 2012, represents her early musical style: a mix of country and pop music that appeals to different audiences. “Folklore” is acoustic and shows an even more mature side to Swift with its music and lyrics. Swift writes about love in a more reflective manner than in her earlier albums, which react to the events of her life in the moment. Swift’s vocals are softer and more mellow in “folklore” than in any of her previous albums.
Some of the songs that stand out for their storytelling qualities are “the 1,” “cardigan,” “august,” “betty,” “exile” and “my tears ricochet.” Each of these songs tell stories of love and betrayal.
“The 1,” the opening track of the album, is about nostalgia for a past romance. Swift imagines what could have been had the relationship worked out. Her lyrics also reflect reconciliation, the realization that a romance was not meant to be, growing from failed romantic relationships and moving forward. Part of the song’s refrain epitomizes the sentiments: “But we were something, don't you think so?/ Roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool/And if my wishes came true/It would've been you.” The official lyric video features a background of pennies in a body of water to reflect the lyrical metaphor expressed in the refrain.
“Cardigan,” the first single released from “folklore,” is about a love triangle, a lost romance and failures in love. This song captures the feelings of falling in and out of love at a young age. With “cardigan,” Swift taps into the idea of reminiscing about your first love. In homage to the song, Swift has a cardigan for sale on the merchandise page of her website.
The song’s music video features Swift playing piano, wandering through a forest and then returning home at the end. For Swift, returning home in the video means returning to a warm cardigan.
“August” is a song about a summer romance that was not meant to be. Swift wrote the song with Jack Antonoff, who co-wrote five other songs on the album. Swift has also collaborated with Antonoff to write songs such as “Look What You Made Me Do,” “You Are in Love” and “Out of the Woods.” “august” is the second song in a song trilogy about a love triangle. The lyrics, “August slipped away into a moment in time/ ‘Cause it was never mine,” reflect a romance slipping away.
“Betty” is a song about a failed romance between two characters. The narrator wants to make things better, but the love interest wants to move on. The music video shows a side street with a field, leaves on the ground and parked cars. These images could connect to soul-searching and the desire for reconciliation. There are no people present in the video, which could mean that reconciliation is not always possible. It is the conclusion of the three-song trilogy on “folklore,” which also includes “cardigan” and “august.”
“My tears ricochet” is a song that invokes a dark mood in its tone and lyrics. The lyrics are emblematic of the song’s meaning of a dissolving partnership and mistreatment: “And if I'm dead to you, why are you at the wake?/Cursing my name, wishing I stayed/Look at how my tears ricochet.”
Swift has her own history of being betrayed and mistreated. When record producer Scooter Braun purchased her former record label, Big Machine Label Group, Swift lost the rights to her first six albums to Braun. Swift is currently signed to Republic Records and enjoys the rights to anything she has recorded since signing with the record label. It’s possible that “my tears ricochet” could be about the scandal with Swift’s former record label as told through a story of betrayal.
“Exile” is the only duet on “folklore.” It is a duet between Swift and Justin Vernon from Bon Iver. It captures a chance encounter between two ex-lovers and expresses that they are in exile from each other. Bon Iver’s soft rock musical style is a complete contrast to Swift’s pop and electro sound. “Exile” brings out the brand new alternative sound Swift is experimenting with in the “folklore” album.
To promote the album, Swift’s merchandise page on her website is selling apparel and other album-themed accessories. Some items include an “in the trees” edition of “folklore,” a digital standard album, an “in the trees” phone case, a phone stand and an “in the trees” hoodie, which all feature an image of Swift in front of a forest.
“Folklore” is Swift’s best album. The song trilogy I highlighted earlier stands out to me because no other contemporary singer-songwriter has attempted to do a song trilogy like it. I became serious about listening to Swift’s music after “Lover” was released and received overwhelmingly positive reviews. While “Lover” was a highly successful album, “folklore” shows that Swift is maturing as an artist and thinking more introspectively in her lyrics. I find it to be similar to other artists’ acoustic albums, like Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” or Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks.”
“Folklore” is number one on the album charts. It has multiple songs on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, including “cardigan,” which has ranked eighth, and “the 1,” which has ranked 23rd. For AU students, going online and being away from campus means more time to listen to “folklore” on Apple Music, Spotify or YouTube. Expect a lot of AU students to be listening to the album this fall.