With her 8th studio album, Taylor Swift returns to her specialty: crafting rich, unadulterated storytelling from her pen and paper to voice, in possibly the best burst of creative energy that has come out of these uncertain times.
folklore is Swift as everything this small-town girl wanted to see her: at her rawest, most alternative and personally unapologetic. She’s surviving the global quarantine through creating music with mellow beats and standout stories, capturing the world’s attention by invoking the magical worlds we all want to dive into. In fact, the concept of the album is escapism; by blending her personal experiences she’s dug up out of her soul through the time she’s allotted to sit with herself, and with the magic of her words, she’s on the cusp of her best era yet. Instead of getting out of the woods, she got lost in the fog, explored each nook and cranny the trees had to offer and filled her mind with the sweet stories carved into them.
The album opens with “the 1,” which sounds like a letter to a high-school boyfriend. It melodically sets the tone for the album: laid back production, minimal instruments, but Swift’s voice being as clear-cut as ever. “cardigan,” the second track and first single off of the album, shows another love note to a lover, this time with even greater production, setting the lyrical standard for the album with fan-favorite one-liners like “You put me on and said I was your favorite” and “You drew stars around my scars, but now I’m bleeding.”
One of the most intriguing tracks for me on the album is the third track, “the great american dynasty.” When the tracklist was released, I was instantly interested in those words and what she had to say and simultaneously dreading another hubristic personal comparison like Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince. Instead, I was treated to therichly told real-life love story of new-to-town-divorcee Rebekah and her heir-to-an-oil-fortune husband William. The interesting part, and more subtle nuance in Swift’s writing, is that we don’t see Rebekah’s or even the late William’s perspective on their romance, but how the people in the town that they grew up in see from an outsider’s perspective and raised the story to something of an urban legend. I thought this was a brilliant metaphor and personal connection from her, a subtle way of expressing a real-life experience through another’s story.
“mad woman” is another track I was hopeful for. While followers of Swift’s work may have thought this track would be another diss track to society in the style of “The Man,” what we received was a harrowingly personal, scathing track that is endlessly more complex and scary. Based on the central metaphor of the women burned alive in the Salem Witch Trials, Swift uses this theme to write memorable lyrics like “And women like hunting witches too, doing your dirtiest work for you,” and to take punches at a powerful man in the industry who played her like a puppet (you can get the gist of who I’m talking about).
My favorite track, “this is me trying,” shows Swift at her most conflicted and vulnerable, taking back her relatability and authenticity that the media seems to have stolen away from her. She’s a ghost in the shell of herself, quietly contemplative. The track itself has over-the-top-production compared to the rest of the tracks, surrounding a quietly assertive Swift, who is a voice like a whisper mentions that “it’s hard to feel like an open wound in a crowded room.”
folklore is made of the short stories that modern American legends are weaved out of, with Swift carefully maneuvering the needle & thread to create this brilliant quilt. She brings back the national patriotism we are so greatly lacking in these times by inspiring us to all sit around the campfire in her mind and listen to her voice, as she details in song our cacophonous past, our less-than-perfect present, and explains how we can all get to a brighter future. Overall, the album is strong in entrancing this listener in an emotionally captivating story: I feel like an intimate friend of Swift’s, going through a storybook of her life.