Review of Folklore: Taylor Swift's Unexpected Album

The old Taylor is yet again dead! Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album came as a surprise with absolutely no fanfare leading up to the release. Whimsical, indie, folk-y (as the album title may suggest), and both introspective and retrospective, are all words that could be used to describe Folklore. These words could not so easily be used to describe any of her previous albums, though. Taylor Swift is yet again, decidedly different; and it’s hard to believe that such a raw record could come from one of the world’s biggest pop artists.
Folklore juxtaposes Swift’s last album, Lover, intensely. Lover was saturated with bright color, heavy bass, synth, and a distinctly pop sound. Lover was made to be played on the radio, top the charts, be toured and performed. Folklore completely shattered this side of Swift’s persona. Written and produced in the time of quarantine, largely with the National’s Aaron Dessner, Folklore inhabits a mellow space. Its softness, raw honesty and articulate songwriting was meant to be experienced in the same place that it was cultivated by: cancelled plans, and life put on hold. Folklore does not sound like, and is not, a radio project. It does not sound like it would call for the extravagant tours, concerts, and costume changes that Swift’s previous albums have. Taylor Swift has eloquently put out a record that reflects the time is was written and produced and executed it brilliantly.
Although Folklore is so starkly different from what Swift has released before, it does not deviate from what Swift has put out in the past completely. “betty,” “cardigan,” and “august,” all detail different sides and perspectives of the same teenage relationship. “betty,” details a seventeen year old boy’s, James’, attempt at winning back a girl after cheating on her. Taylor sings from James’ perspective: “If I told you it was just a summer thing? / I’m only seventeen I don’t know anything,” and reflects on the hopefulness to regain love and trust in a young relationship. “cardigan,” which also seems to speak to the same relationship, is told this time by Betty’s point of view. Betty is hurt and the tone of the song reflects that. “cardigan,” is dramatic and sounds dark; the music video reflects the same. “august,” is the last instalment of this trilogy and further dictates the same relationship. In an album heavily contrasting her previous works, Taylor Swift has returned to the youthful, relationship-centric songs that filled up albums like “Red,” or “Fearless.”
Not only is the narrative woven between these three songs a testament to Taylor Swift’s incredible song writing, but so is “the last great american dynasty,” among others. Swift plays with words and molds them to fit the spaces filled with acoustic guitar, piano, and percussion. The silence that swift chooses not to fill sits heavy, and lets us into the contemplative mindset that this record must have been written in. “the last great american dynasty,” is about Rebekah Harkness, who once lived in the Rhode Island mansion Swift resides in today. Harkness was born into a rich American family, and married into another one. Swift accurately recounts events from her life and concludes that she was “the maddest woman this town had ever seen.” Swift punctuates this story with verbose description; calling Harkness’ wedding “charming… but gauche,” and detailing strange events of Harkness’ life like “[filling] the pool with champagne,” and “losing on card game bets with Dali.”
Not only is the quality of songwriting impeccable, but the new, indie-centric sound cannot go unnoticed. Months of isolation are audible in the silence between piano notes and percussion in “the 1.”  Nostalgia hangs heavy in the air with the closing note of each track. These songs are all rooted in reflection, they elicit examinations of past relationships and life events. “seven,” takes us back to Taylor Swift’s childhood. “mad woman,” and “my tears ricochet,” takes us to past relationships. The first verse of “mad woman” opens with “Does a scorpion sing when fighting back? / They strike to kill and you know I will.” Immediately, this track is confrontational and darker than other songs that reflect on her past relationships. “this is me trying,” reveals this softer side to Taylor’s observation of her past. She takes a much less aggressive approach, and is introspective about her place in the relationship and critiques herself and her flaws. The song opens with a brutally honest “I’ve been having a hard time adjusting,” and later continues on the path of honesty by declaring that “I have a lot of regrets about that.” Softer, simple, and whimsical music highlights the lyrics with similar characteristics.
Folklore’s soothing nature and divergence from mainstream pop is a palette cleanse.  It brings us both back to a previous Taylor through beautiful and articulate lyrical storytelling, and to a new one: one more refined and mature. There is more self reflection and softer instrumentals that allow for it to be heard and appreciated. Taylor has used her time in the midst of quarantine to create something that can be appreciated and related to. Folklore has encapsulated this time perfectly and created a basis for more, different music from Taylor Swift.