‘Folklore’ by Taylor Swift — Review
Less than a year after the release of pop-bop packed album Lover, Taylor Swift suddenly released her new album Folklore, with less than 24 hours notice. The bar for 2020 is quite low, but don’t let that diminish my meaning when I say that this is the best thing to have happened to me all year.
Taylor Swift is a divisive figure in the music industry. From the feud with Kanye West to the controversy of her political ‘coming out’ last year, her decade-long career has had her trending on Twitter in the best and worst ways. But I don’t really care about that, because her album Fearless was the first album I ever bought, and she serenaded me throughout my teen years with ballads about breakups and adolescent feelings, and helped guide me through the most melodramatic of my moods. For that reason, she has my love and loyalty forevermore.
And yet, it did seem a very odd time to be dropping a new album — why now, in a pandemic, when touring isn’t an option? Why less than a year after her last major release, and why with such little publicity? What would this album bring to the table that her others hadn’t before? From the opening track, the answers to all these questions became clear: this is a new age of Swift.
Folklore is a brand new sound. Swift’s infamous shift from Country to Pop in 2014 established her as a versatile artist, capable of mastering and conquering any music scenes she fancies. Once again, we see her grasp an opportunity for something new with both hands. I’d probably describe this album, unsurprisingly, as more of a Folk album than anything else.
Folklore‘s song writing is peppered with unmistakable Swift-isms — including the colour blue, named call outs and tales of teen drama and decadence — but it also has a more sombre tone. Written in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and released just as the western world begins to take tentative steps back towards normality, the album loses the rose tinted glow from her previous work. A grounded understanding weaves its way through the tracks, replacing the dreamy pink pop vibes we knew from Lover.
Whilst she stays true to some of her song writing motifs, her lyrical talent showcased in Folklore is far superior to that we’ve heard from her before. After a very public dispute and break-up with her old record label, it’s clear that she suddenly has freedom to explore writing away from catch phrases and clichés, giving her space to cultivate her most mature work yet. As she sings in ‘Peace’, our coming of age has come and gone…
Swift’s vulnerability and openness has become an iconic feature of her song writing, and may be why her albums have connected with so many people, who can relate to her pointed storytelling in one way or another. But the vulnerabilities she has detailed in her recent music reveal more than the emotional fallout of a break up or her dislike of Kanye West. Recently, Swift’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and later a brain tumour. Swift penned a heartbreaking track to her in Lover, entitled ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’. In Folklore, she revisits the realities of family illness, this time in her haunting track Epiphany, an elegy to the victims of COVID-19. Climbing down from the golden pedestal she’d positioned herself on for her previous few albums, she grounds herself in the reality that she and so many other have faced, as she identifies strangers in hospital beds as ‘someone’s daughter… someone’s mother’. The album could be considered easy listening, if it were not for the masterful, moving poetry of her lyrics that feels like a punch in the gut when you least expect it.
It took me a few listens to single out my favourite tracks. Swift has revisited her narrative story telling style again with this album, and Folklore features the story of a teenage love triangle told from the perspective of all participants in three different songs — ‘Cardigan’, ‘August’ and ‘Betty’. Beyond this fantasy, she tells stories of real life figures such as Rebekah Harkness and her own grandfather. Picking a favourite song is more like picking a favourite character or chapter. If you want to get to know the album, but don’t want to listen from start to finish (even though you should), I recommend ‘Mirrorball’, ‘August’ (my eventual favourite), ‘Invisible String’ and ‘Epiphany’.
Overall, Taylor Swift has proved that after over a decade in the music business and more public drama than anyone can remember, she’s still got it. Her talent is still growing, there are worlds of her work lying yet unexplored, and this album marks a new beginning for her career and her fans. Speaking as both the 13-year-old Fearless newbie and the 22-year-old Folklore devotee, I cannot wait for more.