Taylor Swift wasn’t kidding when she exclaimed, “I promise that you’ll never find another like me!” The hook to her 2019 album Lover‘s laughably bad lead single, the statement has never reigned more true than it does today.
Gone is any trace of that pop star. In her place is a daring songwriter unafraid to explore the depths of her emotion and mastery of narrative.
On the eve of its release, Swift announced folklore, a 16 song collection of indie folk songs birthed from the imagination of an indefinitely quarantined Taylor Swift. In describing the album, Swift states, “I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing from the perspective of people I’ve never met, people I’ve known, or those I wish I hadn’t.”
This diversity of perspective and point of view enriches Swift in a way listeners have yet to hear. In reflecting on her own life, Swift thinks of a childhood friend with a difficult home life (“seven”), cloaks herself in a fable of a woman seeking vengeance on a town that has wronged her (“mad woman”), and celebrates unconditional love (“invisible string”).
Swift extends her talents beyond herself, applying her imagination to the folklore that aptly titles the record. Blurring the lines of history and fiction, Swift creates a trilogy of nostalgic tracks. These songs (“cardigan,” “august,” and “betty”) play with time and perspective, depicting a high school love triangle and its permanence in the memories of each party.
Further expanding the already quietly epic saga are songs alluding to history. On “the last great american dynasty,” Swift tells the story of Rebekah Harkness and her Holiday House, the Rhode Island mansion Swift would come to own. Like “mad woman,” Swift delicately sprinkles herself in the story, weaving her own mistakes into the fabric of Harkness’s life and story. Similarly, one of the most poignant moments on the record comes in “epiphany,” during which Swift pays homage to her grandfather while empathetically thinking of health workers working on a new kind of front line.
Much of the strength of folklore lays in the proof that overexposure and fame taint even the strongest of creative minds. In fact, the singer’s strongest musical statements were created from the privacy of her several homes across the globe. From reputation‘s “Delicate” to Lover‘s “Cornelia Street,” Swift has come into her own as a private person.
This newfound seclusion has really given Swift the necessary space to thrive in her exploration of the craft that brought her so much obsessive scrutiny and attention.
With folklore, Swift takes this isolation a step further, veiling once on the nose songwriting in freshly tinged metaphor. With the help of The National’s Aaron Dessner, longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff, and indie king Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Swift begins again.
For the first time, Swift desolves beneath the surface of these stories. The music is no longer the diary of a naive suburban girl. This is a fully matured woman collecting scattered memories and stories, weaving them together in an intricate tapestry broadcasting the emotional spectrum. At its center, as it always is with Swift, is love.
This is an album Taylor herself needed to write, but the constraints of superstardom, pressures of pleasing the masses and those who dare lock her in a box prevented that, until now. Drawing inspiration from artists like Lana Del Rey (“cardigan,” “seven”) The Cranberrys (“august,” “mirrorball”), and sprinkles of her own past work (“Safe & Sound,” “Holy Ground”) Swift amplifies her songwriting. She shatters the magnifying glass that is the modern media’s exploitative infatuation with women in power.
In this deconstruction, Swift finally sheds the image she’s been running from since 2017’s reputation. With Lover acting as a necessary palette cleanser and closure to the pop chapter of the singer’s career, folklore is a new beginning in so many ways.
Many albums of this length, including some from Swift’s discography, unavoidably include a few duds. With this album, though, not a single song is worth skipping. While the final third of the album is noticeably slower, it only brightens the spotlight on Swift’s astonishing, unparalleled lyricism. Closing the album with “peace” and “hoax,” Swift challenges listeners to think of a better songwriter in the industry today, and they’ll likely struggle to muster one.
For anyone to doubt the limitless talents and constantly impressive metamorphosis of Taylor Swift at this point is as fleeting as the romance the singer relates on “august.” Unlike that subject matter, it will take more than a bottle of wine to sip away folklore.