“Not alot going on at the moment,”
Taylor Swift said coyly in an Instagram caption only three months before releasing Folklore, her eighth studio album. While her fans were left believing that the songwriter was living out quarantine like the rest of the general populace, baking bread, learning TikTok dances, and cuddling with her cats, she was secretly hatching yet another chart-topper.
Written and recorded entirely remotely with the help of Jack Antonoff and The National’s Aaron Dessner, Folklore further proves that there are no holds on Swift’s ability as a writer. It is a mastery of verse and narrative sitting among an indie-folk-pop soundscape.
As odd as it is to stand in Target holding an “explicit” album by Taylor Swift, the album shows a certain maturation. In previous works, Swift would be the author of her own exposés, penning too close to personal by directly translating pages of her journal into songs. Very little was ever left to the imagination. Folklore is the crossover, her first attempt at using imagined third-party voices to play out themes instead of standing too close to the flame.
It’s a work flooded with storybook imagery of robbers, kingdoms, circuses, and superheroes; named characters who play out their own little lives in the course of the album. Swift leans largely into a world of love triangles, innocent entanglements, like a seventeen-year-old boy who had a summer fling with the wrong girl, to the matured affairs of lingering feelings held for someone who was never quite yours.
The genius is, instead of the immediate urge of vengeance and hard-feeling that these types of tracks usually bring, Taylor emphasizes the idea of true love. Listeners find themselves rooting for the lovers, hoping they end up down the line tied by an “invisible string.” However, whether that actually happens relies on their own interpretation. “hoax” caps off the album and offers two courses, is the song pointed at the old lover, cementing the reason for leaving? Or is it sung by the new lover, sour the other person chose to stay in the relationship?
“Stood on the cliffside screaming, “Give me a reason,
Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in,
Don’t want no other shade of blue,
No other sadness in the world would do…”
The choice is left up to the audience.
Folklore also plays into a much larger picture for Swift. It seems to be the capstone in an overdrawn saga since her 2016 media-dive following the leak of her phone call with Kanye West. That conflict was the cause of birth for Reputation, where Taylor took a wild turn of character, expressing fermented frustration and anger with snakeskin suits and an overload of synths. With the release of Lover in 2019, she entered into an era of happiness, finally reaching the light at the tunnel’s end.
Folklore is the reminiscence after healing. It shows awareness. “mad woman” reveals the circular conflict involved in being the sole target of the media (And you’ll poke that bear ‘til her claws come out/ And you find something to wrap your noose around), while “mirrorball” shows Swift’s internal dilemma (I’ve never been a natural all I do is try, try, try/ I’m still on that trapeze, I’m still trying everything, to keep you looking at me). In “peace” lies the last step in any cycle of release, acknowledgement. Nothing stills the air quite like Taylor coming before her lover, asking, “Would it be enough, If I could never give you peace?”
With previous albums, Swift would fill every corner of the soundscape. However, Folklore stands much different from the rest. The production acts more as a means to further emphasize the lyrics rather than layers of embellishments to capture the listener’s ear. It’s subtle, with rounded guitar pickings and soft piano blends. For any Swift fan, it is a clear culmination of talents built in every era since her deviation from country music. The melody lines hold elements of pop while the guitar techniques lean more towards folk music. There’s no purpose in trying to definitively place Folklore into any one genre, though it does undeniably strike as a singer-songwriter album. It is Swift and her voice, and somehow, it still exceeds all expectation.
With this noted, the album exists as a whole body of work. Cutting one track away from the rest severs the line that bleeds the tracks together. Folklore is a wood only traveled through by its painted trail. It’s for those in lovers’ limbo, those who’ve forgotten the warmth that winter can bring, and need a place for settling.