In the quickest album turnaround time of her monumental career to date, Taylor Swift shocked Swifties and skeptics alike with the 24-hour advance notice release of her eighth studio album, Folklore.
It’s a gloomy contrast to the glittery, gleaming Lover era that occurred not even a year ago, but this album showcases her great lyricism as well as 2013’s much-adored Red. It is perhaps, her most vulnerable album yet, showing the cracks in her human armor that have, up until this point, been believed to be invisible. No song highlights that theme more than ‘this is me trying’, an open note that takes blame, expresses insecurities but somehow also shows strength (“they told me all of my cages were mental/so I got wasted like all my potential/I was so ahead of the curve, it became a sphere, fell behind all my classmates and I ended up here/I have a lot of regrets about that”). This album is not wrapped up nicely in a neat and perfect little bow. No, this album sprawls all the messy, necessary complexities of life out on the front table, unapologetically.
The opening track, ‘the 1’, reminisces on past love not in a dramatically resentful or longing way, but instead with the natural curiosity of second-guessing what could have been, in a more mature and matter-of-fact tone. “I persist and resist the temptation to ask you”, she inquires during the bridge, “if one thing had been different, would everything be different today?” Then in the chorus she admits, “but if my wishes came true, it would’ve been you/it would have been fun if you would’ve been the one”.
Released around the time of the album drop, ‘cardigan’ showcases the stripped-back, melodic elements that makes Swift shine best. Pairing lyrics of “when you are young they assume you know nothing”, to then turn around and sweetly say, “when I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone’s bed, you put me on and said I was your favorite”, proves her universal appeal will never cease.
The only collaboration of the album occurs with Bon Iver on ‘exile’. The back-and-forth accusations between the two, such as him saying “you never gave me a sign”, and Swift firing back, “I gave you so many signs”, creates the perfect imagery of a crumbling relationship due to failed communication, where neither party was solely in the wrong, though it’s irreversibly over regardless.
Taking a deeper look at how tricky attraction can be, ‘illicit affiars’ ties together the dangerous crash-and-burn effect of a love that seems so strong, yet is doomed from the start, which makes getting over it take longer than it probably should. In hindsight, it’s easier to spot the errors, but it’s blinding while in the eye of the storm, as she says with the lines, “look at this godforsaken mess that you made me, you taught me a secret language I can’t speak with anyone else/look at this idiotic fool that you made me, you showed me colors you know I can’t see with anyone else”.
That classic hopeless romanticism we expect from her then finally shows up in ‘invisible string’, with dreamy head-in-the-clouds sentiments such as, “isn’t it just so pretty to think all along there was some invisible string tying you to me”. Another, newer aspect of Swift songwriting we come to gladly anticipate of her new releases is a feminist anthem. She started the trend with the snappier song ‘The Man’ on the Lover album, and continues it now with ‘mad woman’. Dressed like a rightful power move that sneaks up on you, this track uses the criticism to further harness her greatness, instead of simply complaining about it or letting it hinder her. The unexpected yet perfectly placed use of the F-word (a Swift first!) hones in on the unfortunately common occurrence of silent anger from women everywhere, wishing they didn’t have to fight so hard to be fully accepted in society. “No one likes a mad woman, you made her like that”, she solidifies.
Folklore comes as a release of bottled-up, intense emotions that no doubt the entire world has been feeling recently in response to current events. The escapism can still be seen here, but more than anything it appears to be a sounding board of quieter, reflective emotions of various weights and types on the pain scale. Taylor Swift is a true storytelling artist like no other, but even though this alternative side is one she hasn’t even expressed until now, it makes her as compelling as always just the same.