When I woke up last Thursday to the news that Taylor Swift would be surprise releasing her eighth studio album, folklore, I was instantly shocked. For Swift, this is completely out of her character. She is known for being strategic in her album planning, carefully selecting her singles, and hyping up her work for weeks prior to release. This time, Swift decided to go for the unexpected in a time where we are learning that nothing is guaranteed and maybe there is never a “right” time to release a body of work. Let’s break down what I thought of folklore (and let’s not forget she wrote this in about three months).
The album opens with “the 1,” a great introduction to the direction Swift is going with this album. I love how light and easy this track feels, all while giving us a glimpse into a more mature side of Taylor, something that was lacking from her previous album, Lover. Track two, “cardigan,” is the leading single and a piece of the “Teenage Love Triangle” set of songs Swift teased in a live chat during the release of the video. Fans believe songs “august” and “betty” are all a piece of the same narrative, told from different perspectives. This being true, I love that Swift is using her incredible songwriting ability to tell stories from the experiences of others, instead of merely her own personal experiences — something that takes incredible talent.
On folklore, Swift collaborated with long time friend and producer, Jack Antonoff. I, personally, am always a fan of Antonoff’s work, especially his previous tracks with Taylor like reputation’s “Getaway Car” and Lover’s “Cruel Summer.” Antonoff uniquely balances the essence of his production with Swift’s strategic lyrics so well on this album. Their tracks “mirrorball,” “august” and “this is me trying” are definitely my favorites on the album. Swift’s point of view is so clear here, showing her dedication to the project and the thought placed into every word on every track.
Aaron Dessner (former band member of The National) co-wrote and/or produced 11 of the 16 songs on folklore. This being their first collaboration together, Dessner’s sound shakes up the “Pop Taylor Swift” we have grown to know in this past decade. Some of his standouts include “seven,” “invisible string” and “the 1.” All inventive additions to Swift’s discography.
Tracks “this is me trying” and “illicit affairs” stand out for justified reason. These tracks lean into an honest side of Taylor we have never seen before. These songs take accountability for mistakes, whether they be romanticized or not. Swift very rarely owns up to her shortcomings and here she is, telling us, “They told me all of my cages were mental/ so I got wasted like all my potential.” I love how this suggests that not everything she does is so picture perfect, which is something that has been portrayed of her in the media previously.
This album is far from a standout though. Tracks like “the last great american dynasty,” “my tears ricochet,” “peace” and “hoax” fell short for me. Though I understand their function on this album, I would’ve enjoyed it if most of these tracks didn’t sound so similar and feel so somber. The popular track, “exile,” featuring Bon Iver didn’t hit the mark for me. I enjoyed the emotional depth of this track but, as many of the other tracks do, it feels like too long of a song.
Overall, folklore functions as one of Taylor Swift’s most personal projects. With a cancelled stadium tour that would’ve taken place this summer, it is so refreshing to see Taylor do the unexpected. Maybe this pandemic was the best possible thing for her, a chance to bring back the storytelling roots of Taylor Swift. Is folklore my favorite of her albums? Definitely not. But by finding success in country, pop and now alternative music, Taylor Swift has solidified her position as a legend in the music industry.