Upon its surprise release, Taylor Swift once again redefines herself as an artist on her eighth album, Folklore. Throughout her career, Swift has drifted from country to pop and now wanders into the realm of alternative music, proving herself to be one of the most chameleonic artists of our generation. The sixteen-track album weaves simple melodies and complex stories into modern-day folk tales to be carried on for generations. Known for her lyrical storytelling, the pandemic-produced album reestablishes Taylor Swift’s reign as one of the best songwriters of our generation.
Each song encapsulates its own unique storyline, worlds away yet eerily familiar. The first track on the album, “The 1,” reminisces over a lost love, in which Taylor ponders the “what-ifs” of the unsuccessful relationship. “But we were something, don’t you think so?” Swift remarks in the song’s chorus, hinting at the inescapable thought after a breakup of what could have been if things had worked out. Swift also draws on the ups and downs of relationships in the song “Exile.” The song, featuring Bon Iver, exposes the different viewpoints of the same relationship and the mistakes made at the expense of one another. In each ballad, Swift captures a new expression of thought about the past, moving on, and what we carry with us.
Perhaps the most impressive feat of the album is how the songs “Betty,” “Cardigan,” and “August” portray three different perspectives of the same event. “Betty” explains the failed relationship between Betty and James, while simultaneously tugging at Taylor’s country roots. In “Betty” James explains how sorry he is for leaving her for another girl and his hopes that Betty will forgive him. “Standing in your cardigan” Taylor sings, referencing the song “Cardigan,” which explains Betty’s interpretation of the relationship. While “Betty” is upbeat and lighthearted, “Cardigan” approaches the situation with more heartache and contemplation. Within the song, Betty addresses how James made her feel seen for the first time and the haunting effect James has had on her since. The most beautiful lyrics of the song, and arguably the album, are:
But I Knew you’d linger like a tattoo kiss
I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs
The smell of smoke would hang around this long
‘Cause I knew everything when I was young
I knew I’d curse you for the longest time
Chasing shadows in the grocery line
I knew you’d miss me once the thrill expired
And you’d be standing in my front porch light
And I knew you’d come back to me.
However, “August” recounts the perspective of the other woman, who remains nameless in all three songs. Despite the bitterness and regret shown about James’ cheating in the other two songs, “August” reveals the girl’s naive feelings of her time with James and thoughts that the two of them shared something special. The memories James recounts as “the worst thing he ever did” are shown to be treasured memories for this girl in her perspective of the affair and the seriousness of the relationship to her.
Folklore offers some of Swift’s most mature songwriting, putting unexplainable feelings into music. “The Last Great American Dynasty” recounts a Gatsby-like couple, Rebekah and Bill, subject to the town’s gossip. The rumors swirl of the couple’s past, divorce, and what goes on behind the closed doors of “holiday house.” Another feat of Swift’s talent is “Seven,” which draws on childhood memories to create a feeling of nostalgia. One of Folklore’s lyrical masterpieces is “Invisible String,” which highlights both Taylor Swift’s growth as an artist and as a person. “Invisible String” hints at the wonders of time, growing up and becoming the person you were meant to be.
All in all, Folklore‘s accumulation of songs and stories makes it one of Taylor Swift’s biggest accomplishments as an artist. The album’s unapologetic beauty makes it impactful and personal for many different audiences. In an effort to reinvent her image as an artist, Taylor Swift perfectly meshes her original country sound with her newer pop albums to create her alternative, stripped-down sound. As a Swift fan since her first album, I think Folklore is a career-defining masterpiece and I am eager to see where her music will go in the future.
Cover photo: GoldDerby