Our Take: 5/5 Stars
Only eleven months after the release of her eighth studio album, “Lover,” Taylor Swift dropped a full-length album titled “Folklore.” The new release was written and recorded over three months during the COVID-19 pandemic and its surprise appearance on the music scene on July 24, 2020 has had fans wonderstruck in every way. The album had over 44 million streams on Spotify on the day of its release, breaking the record for opening streams previously held by Ariana Grande.
Swift announced the new album a mere 24 hours before it was to come out, straying from her usual tactics of teasing followers with easter eggs and subtle hints months before an album release. Such an announcement was fitting for “folklore,” as it too strayed from anything Swift has ever done before.
In a seeming affinity for playing with genres, Swift leaves pop behind and makes her mark on the indie-folk scene. This genre shift into the gray area between pop and folk was crafted by a heavy collaboration with songwriter, instrumentalist and founding member of The National, Aaron Dessner.
Dessner appears on 11 of the tracks on the album as both a songwriter and producer. Alongside Dessner, Swift collaborated with longtime friend and producer Jack Antonoff. As a teaser, Antonoff tweeted, “august & my tears ricochet are my favorite things we’ve done together,” just as the album was about to drop.
Swift’s country-pop sound was not the only aspect of her music that changed but also the breadth and depth of her songwriting.
“I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing about or from the perspective of people I’ve never met, people I’ve known, or those I wish I hadn’t,” stated Swift in a post that appeared on all of her social media platforms the day the album became available to stream.
This album features a level of storytelling akin to a Pinterest mood board. Songs like “august” depict a Gatsby-esque summer romance, full of hope and longing and the anticipation of living in the moments before tragedy strikes.
The song “this is me trying” is clearly the product of three months of isolation. Amidst Swift’s carefully crafted storytelling lie lyrics which feel like glimpses into true vulnerability. Swift sings, “they told me all my cages were mental/so I got wasted like all my potential,” as a story of regret and inadequacy unfolds behind her illusory vocals.
The most ‘pop-y’ track off of the album, titled “the 1,” depicts a reflection upon a lost love, admitting that even now, the narrator wishes they had been soulmates. The track is minimal but bouncy and energetic.
Cardigan is the only single off of the album. The track is bare, featuring a piano and a soft-rock beat that carries Swift’s voice as she narrates a love story long gone all except for a cardigan which brings the main character back into the middle of a love story past.
During the YouTube Live event prior to the “cardigan” music video premiere, Swift commented, “There’s a collection of 3 songs I refer to as The Teenage Love Triangle. These 3 songs explore a love triangle from all 3 people’s perspectives at different times in their lives.”
This elaborate love triangle takes place in the tracks “cardigan,” “betty” and “august.” Each song in the love triangle depicts a different perspective within the teenage romance.
The story in “cardigan” is told from the older self of Betty as she looks back on her romance with a boy named James who cheated on her one summer.
“betty” tells the story from the perspective of James, a 17-year-old boy at the time, caught in the moments before he attempts to mend his relationship with Betty, who he cheated on the summer before. He tries to explain to her that it was, “just a summer thing,” in an attempt to win her back.
Wrapping up the torrid love triangle, “august” tells the story from the future. The ‘other woman’ reflects on her summer romance with James.
Swift sings, “so much for summer love and saying ‘us’/cause you weren’t mine to lose,” as if to express her subject’s hope in her summer relationship, yet simultaneously reveal that she knew it could not last.
Though exploring new territory within her musical identity, Swift manages to hold on to who she is: a storyteller. On the day of the album release, Swift posted on her social media platforms, “In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness.”
Swift also released merchandise to go along with the album. The 16-track album, which has been out for only a little over a month, is available on all streaming platforms, including Spotify and Apple music.