2020 – Folk / Pop
Built from afar, with Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff, Taylor Swift’s eighth album, folklore, is not only a collection of beautiful, deep and cinematic songs, but also an important point and movement in the singer’s career.
On one of the most successful tracks on Taylor Swift’s seventh studio album, Lover, she sings: “But ooh, whoa oh/It’s a cruel summer.” How could Swift, a year earlier, have guessed that summer 2020 would be hell for all of us? Jokes aside, it is no secret that this year is being difficult. Since March, the whole world has locked itself in and Taylor Swift, who is “people like us,” is respecting quarantine in a “biiig isolation.” She said that, during this period of loneliness stuck at home, she likes to watch old movies she has never seen and to impose herself socially for causes in the best way she can, however, what she didn’t tell was that she was working on her eighth studio album, Folklore, which was announced by surprise 16 hours before its release.
Through posts on the internet on the morning of July 23, Swift announced that her new album would be available to everyone the following day. This news took everyone by surprise since, in addition to her releasing her last album less than a year ago, Swift gave no indication that she was working on something new as she used to. Folklore, which was defined by Swift on the internet as “Wistful and full of escapism. Sad, beautiful, tragic,” broke not only the barriers of Taylor’s release habits, which Taylor had been working on since her first album—releasing a single and announcing the album that would arrive months later—but also of her sound. Instead of announcing a pop album similar to the singer’s last three releases for 4 months from now, Swift announced a totally different album: a clever and inspiring mix of subtle and atmospheric pop, folk lyrics and alternative touch that gave a special tone in all tracks. In the end, Folklore will not only be known as Swift’s alternative/indie album, but also, as the curve point that made her move towards her best artistic phase.
In fact, both those who did not like Folklore, for saying that this is a very calm and boring album (what did they expect from a quarantine folk album after all?), and those who understand that this is one of the most important movements in Swift’s career, know that Folklore brings back what Taylor hadn’t shown in a while: her extremely detailed and well-written narrative lyrics. Folklore lyrics are inspiring, they are captivating, they make you feel every tear, every sadness and every loneliness. However, the album is not just a collection of the best compositions that Swift has released to date since the songs here only reach a level that Taylor has not reached for so long thanks to the production of Aaron Dessner, guitarist of The National, and, Taylor’s long date friend, Jack Antonoff. Together—not physically since the album was produced with each member in their own home—they made not only a beautiful and deep album, but also an exciting and atmospheric experience.
Even though Folklore has a very noticeable change in the Swift’s sound, the album opener, “the 1,” resembles the Lover opener. In the same way that “I Forgot That You Existed” appeared with a nice and low rhythm, “the 1” appears in the same way, however, even more calm and with a more adult, mature and well-written lyrics. “I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit,” she sings and completes later, “In my defense, I have none.” Right at the beginning it is clear that one of the strongest points of Folklore ends up being the lyrics that are extremely strong. “the last great american dynasty” appears a little more modern and deconstructed showing Swift singing about her former resident in Rhode Island. First, she sings, “She had a marvelous time ruining everything,” and then she takes on former owner role, “I had a marvelous time ruining everything.” While “Exile” is a beautiful and deep collaboration with Bon Iver, in which he and Swift play a clever game of phrases about the end of a relationship, “my tears ricochet” shows her in one of her most vulnerable moments with phrases about death and betrayal. “‘Cause I loved you, I swear I loved you/’Til my dying day,” she sings with angelic vocals that become unique instruments. The best and rawest way to define these tracks: a bunch of beautiful tracks that work as unique units.
However, Swift’s storytelling compositions are no longer content with just one track. During the premiere of the video for “cardigan,” Swift revealed in the chat that there were three tracks in Folklore that told a story of a love triangle where each track showed a different point of view. This teen summer story begins right in “cardigan,” the album’s lead single. While a subtle noise is mixed with a grand piano in the background, Taylor plays Betty’s role and sings calm and well-connected phrases that sow the story that will be returned later on the album. “But I knew you Playing hide-and-seek and/Giving me your weekends,” she sings and adds, “You drew stars around my scars.” Even though fans are sure that “august” represents the third person’s point of view by showing her singing about being with someone who has never belonged to her, “illicit affairs,” which has the most beautiful bridge on the album, seems to make this service better. “You showed me colors you know I can’t see with anyone else/You taught me a secret language I can’t speak with anyone else,” she sings. A little further to the end of the album, finishing this story, “betty” appears as one of the best songs of Swift. Mixing a guitar with a harmonica, Swift shows James’ vision and how sorry he is for the betrayal. “I’m only seventeen, I don’t know anything / But I know I miss you,” she says. There are still several doubts about this story, however, it is undeniable that what Taylor did here is something rare and even unique.
Furthermore, it is not only the Taylor’s lyrics that are reaching a new level of depth since several tracks here break with any generic pop instrumental she previously presented. In the dreamy “mirrorball” she is vulnerable when revealing that she feels like a mirror ball: she reflects everyone and makes everyone dance, but when she breaks, it breaks into millions of pieces. In “seven” the focus is on Taylor’s voice that sounds as raw, natural and beautiful as ever when she talks about the innocence of a childhood friendship. “this is me trying,” one of my favorites, shows her in another low moment in which she talks about how she is trying to fix a relationship. She sings while synthesizers produce a deep, beautiful and inspiring atmosphere, “I’ve been having a hard time adjusting/I had the shiniest wheels, now they’re rusting.” However, the most beautiful is “epiphany,” in which she starts paying homage to her grandfather and then the current situation of the global pandemic of COVID-19. “Someone’s daughter, someone’s mother/Holds your hand through plastic now,” she sings with a really sad voice that reaches out and makes us automatically sad. Just like Lover’s “The Archer,” everything here is just beautiful and inspiring.
In addition to all this, it is important to mention that even though Swift has made a totally unexpected move in her sonority and writing, Folklore has several trends that she had been working on even in her most recent works. As previously mentioned, tracks like “mirrorball” or “this is me trying” easily resemble “The Archer” from Swift’s previous album thanks to its well-crafted atmosphere. In the same hand, the narrative lyrics that reached a high point in Speak Now and Red become strong again, just as “Cornelia Street” did last year. Yes, it is not something entirely new for Swift, however, it is as if she really understood her strengths and weaknesses (“ME!”) and from there she created something that brought together the best of her. Another example of this is “mad woman,” which shows Swift using defeat or betrayal to stand up for a new move. Fans can easily remember “Bad Blood” or even “Look What You Made Me Do”, however, “mad woman” is stronger, more powerful and better. She still keeps her desire for revenge disguised and fair (“Does a scorpion sting when fighting back?/They strike to kill, and you know I will”) however, this track mixes a little feminism and even epiphany about understanding who really hurt you. Again, another Swift’s evolution.
In the end it will be rare to find something really bad on Folklore. The only track that ends up being a little weak is “invisible strings,” which shows Taylor in the same essence as “Lover.” Also, at the end of the album, the songs seem to opt for something even more melancholy—something that Swift is not used to doing. “Peace” shows Taylor in a raw way talking about how she is not perfect in a relationship and asked, “Would it be enough if I could never give you peace?” The last track, “hoax,” shows her struggling to forget about a toxic relationship she went through but is still attached to. As much as this track seems a little weak to close the album—mainly put next to the other closings of the other albums—this song manages to bring the whole album together in just one moment, in addition to having a very beautiful lyrics. I really hope that we can fulfill Taylor’s wish for this album: she told us these precious stories, now it’s our job to move them forward and not let them die.