Taylor Swift’s new album is a cup of hot chocolate joy for our shivering, tattered souls.
In the midst of a global pandemic, folklore is the unexpected surprise we never knew we needed. Through sixteen gorgeous tracks (plus one bonus), the album takes us on a journey away from our troubles, and into an emotive world anyone can relate to. folklore reminds us of what Taylor Swift does best… telling us the most beautiful stories through brilliant songwriting.
The second the album begins, a wonderful, calming vibe is set. folklore starts with a light beat and piano tapping along. From the first lines, Taylor shows that folklore will be a refreshingly honest album, a style from her that we have grown accustomed to. “I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit. Been saying yes instead of no. I thought I saw you at the bus stop, I didn’t though.”
The album’s second track, “Cardigan” is equally as beautiful and honest. I can’t help but picture the song being written in a reclusive cabin, but like Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. Its venturing music video was released on the same day, and fits the song perfectly (I made sure to include a link below..!) The song’s chorus is one any person who has been in love can relate to, “..and when I like I was an old cardigan under someone’s bed, you put me on and said I was your favorite”.
Third comes “the last great american dynasty”. The piano accompanies us along still, as the beat gets a little hipper, a little quicker. The narrative follows Rebekah and Bill, highlighting their journey and bold traits in a way only Taylor Swift can do… toward a certain Rhode Island house on the ocean.
Next comes the gorgeous, “exile” with Bon Iver. The piano is with us once more as Bon Iver’s unmatched harmonies trace their way along the lyrics. Swift joins in on the second verse, adding her own prose and chorus with tremendous harmonies. The song builds as Bon Iver and Swift join together in an emotional duet that feels just as open as “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever”. I can’t help but feel endlessly happy for this collaboration, and the opportunity to introduce such a beautiful song into my musical library.
Throughout the album, I can undoubtedly recognize Jack Antonoff’s production and unmistakable lyrical cadence. His hand has been such a welcome friend on so many of Swift’s track treasures. The masterful folklore has a vulnerable feel that throws me back to Swift’s older albums, yet possesses the growth and wisdom of one like Lover.
“seven” brings a nostalgic summer feeling as Swift’s light vocals take us from a tree swing over a creek, to sipping sweet tea. Lyrics like, “…and I think you should come live with me, and we can be pirates. Then you won’t have to cry, or hide in the closet” allow us to feel another’s connection in the most profound of ways. It’s easy and wonderful to pick out the lyrical inspiration for the title of each deluxe edition available to order. Finding the edition’s titles feels like a glorious scavenger hunt.
“this is me trying” offers such incredible insight into the depth of work a relationship requires, personal growth, and the feeling of looking back. “I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere. Fell behind all my classmates, and I ended up here.”
“illicit affairs” makes me reminisce on the hidden encounters that graced us in “Style” and “I Know Places”. It expresses how unique a connection can be with those we love in such a profound way. “You showed me colors you know I can’t see with anyone else… You taught me a secret language I can’t speak with anyone else”. It also paints such a perfect picture of how foolish love can make us… “Don’t call me kid, don’t call me baby. Look at this god-forsaken mess that you made me… You know damn well for you I would ruin myself a million little times”.
“invisible string’ is one of my personal favorites on the album. It begins with such a relatable adventure when we’re waiting for love to come along… “Green was the color of the grass where I used to read at Centennial Park, I used to think I would meet somebody there.” The instrumentation and vocal expedition of the song is vast and beyond lovely. In typical Taylor Swift fashion, she continues to include color throughout, emphasizing feeling and allowing any listener to easily put themselves in her shoes. “Gold was the color of the leaves when I showed you around Centennial Park… Gave me the blues and then purple skies.” A standout lyric, “Bad was the blood of the song in the cab on your first trip to LA, you ate at my favorite spot for dinner” weaves the golden invisible string that leads these two souls together.
“betty” so vividly takes us back to Taylor’s songwriting and stylistic roots in the very best of ways. Beginning with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, the song reflects on an old connection and opportunities passed. Swift’s expletive additions remind us just how much her courage has grown as a songwriter as well. “But if I just showed up at your party, would you have me? Would you want me? Would you tell me to go fuck myself? Or lead me to the garden?” With a key change, and glorious “Love Story”-type of ending, she sings, “Yeah, I showed up at your party, will you have me? Will you love me? Will you kiss me on the porch in front of all your stupid friends?” Betty also welcomes some mystery, leaving us wondering if Betty is someone Swift is reminiscing, or a story told from another perspective. This unknown makes the song even more endearing.
Appropriately, “hoax” closes out the album with just a piano and Swift’s emotive vocals. Strings add such a gentle touch in all the right places. Acoustic guitar joins as well, adding subtle but beautiful layers. The honest chorus hits with, “Stood on the cliff side screaming, ‘Give me a reason’. Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in.”
Overall, folklore is a downright masterpiece. It plays like an album I could listen to forever, and never tire of. The collaborative hand of the National’s Aaron Dessner is evident and so welcome throughout. In hindsight, folklore is the type of album that seems perfect to have made in our current time. Typically, Swift’s albums have been released in grand fashion, with several cryptic hints, videos, and singles proceeding… but this album has taken us back to the basics of great music in such a stripped-down moment in history. folklore is a (Polaroid) snap into creativity and remote collaboration at its finest, a sonic photo we can look back on and enjoy forevermore.
Review by Tiffany Cuthrell, photo by Beth Garrabrant