Taylor Swift’s eighth album, "folklore" was released at midnight on Friday, July 24, 2020, along with the music video for the single "cardigan". Swift's album came as a surprise to even die-hard fans, announced less than a day before it's release. The album strays far from Swift's image as a pop icon and is categorized as an alternative-indie work. Featuring sixteen songs, "folklore" is an album full of songs that tell stories, both Taylor's stories and those of characters. By now, "folklore" has broken the 24-hour streaming record on both Spotify and Apple Music for a female artist.
As someone who has a lot of nostalgia associated with Taylor Swift's music, I was ecstatic to have "folklore" walk alongside me to start my senior year, especially with all the uncertainty that my future holds. From dramatic performances of "Our Song" in my living room to seeing "1989" live, I'm only about a Twitter fan account away from full Swiftie status (although it is important to note that time spent as part of a fanbase is no measurement of legitimacy as a "real fan"- we don't gatekeep around here).
Seeing the announcement of "folklore" when I woke up that Thursday morning kept me buzzing with excitement for the rest of the day. Looking at the art and knowing the titles of all the songs had me a little concerned though. Titles like "my tears ricochet" and "this is me trying" paired with black and white pomotional photos already shone through with a sense of melancholy. A very sudden transition from the upbeat pop and sunset colors of the previous album "Lover", but I still had to hear it for myself.
Cardigan - The Single
Released alongside a music video filmed via social distancing, "cardigan" is the second track on "folklore". Opening in a cozy room, Taylor plays the piano as the lyrics "When you are young they assume you know nothing" (a personal favorite of mine) are sung, gold glows from the piano, opening a portal to a neverlandish green forest where the song continues. Stepping through the piano bench leads Taylor into a wide expanse of crashing ocean waves, where she clings to her piano to stay afloat. Ending back in the initial cozy room, Taylor- soaking wet from the water- puts on the dry cardigan with the final line "And when I felt like I was an old cardigan/ Under someone's bed/ You put me on and said I was your favorite".
A song about a love that was once comforting but has now been lost fuels the bittersweet nostalgia of reminiscing on the good and bad of young love. As the album was released, Swift announced that these songs were not only her own stories but stories born from visuals that created characters with their own perspectives and narratives. This idea shines clear not only in "cardigan" but throughout the entirety of "folklore".
The Teenage Love Triangle
Speculation about connections between songs is nothing new to Taylor Swift fans. The announcement of three completely intertwined songs of a love triangle left fans to piece together that three of the sixteen songs were related. Weeks after the initial release, most fans (including myself) are extremely confident that the triangle is formed between "cardigan", "betty", and "august".
Between these three songs the story of a summer affair is told from all three perspectives. "cardigan" the story of someone who was cheated on, "betty" the story of trying to win someone back, and "august" the story of being "the other woman". Each song brings a separate and distinct shift in the mood and musical stylings of the album.
The overall tone and themes present in "folklore" are reflected by the current state of our lives. Incorporation of the trying times the world faces such as in "epiphany" haunts the album with a harrowing sense of reality. "Something med school did not cover/ Someone's daughter, someone's mother/ Hold your hand through plastic now". Much like the single "Only The Young" featured in Miss Americana, "epiphany" details the struggles of growing up in our current worldly state.
Songs like "epiphany", "this is me trying" and "mad woman" have a deep lyrical contrast to songs on the album such as "betty", "invisible string", and "peace", but have a similar musical theme. The unmatched lyrical storytelling that Swift possesses does not stop with "folklore", and its balance of anecdotal stories, fictional stories, and the stories of others creates a sense of unity in differing perspectives. For an album built around storytelling Swift plays to her strengths, and it doesn't go unnoticed by fans.
It's commonly theorized that the reason artists like Taylor Swift make it so big with singles is because of their ability to tell detailed anecdotal stories through their songs. The personal aspect of these songs makes listeners feel as if they are close friends with the artist, creating the grounds for such committed fanbases. "folklore" is notable not only for its lyrical power and storytelling but interestingly enough, its vocabulary.
It took me quite a while to pick out a few favorites off of the sixteen song album, but I knew I would love "the last great american dynasty" from even just hearing the title. Although it's not quite what I expected, "the last great american dynasty" tells the story of Rebekah Harkness, the previous owner of Swift's Rhode Island mansion. It's not a favorite song for many, but I really enjoyed how the musical elements differ from a majority of "folklore".
Rebekah's story in the song is of her 'ruining' the last great american dynasty (standard oil) that she inherits after her husband dies. How she threw elaborate parties, blew all the money, filled the pool with champagne, and overall "had a marvelous time ruining everything". Towards the end of the song, we learn how the house where all this occurred was bought by Taylor and how she then had a marvelous time ruining everything herself.
Another undeniable favorite of mine has to be "invisible string", a sweet story of a true love that was meant to be all along. My friend now swears it would be a perfect first dance song for a wedding (although that completely depends on your taste). Believed to be Taylor's own story of her current relationship with Joe Alwyn, "invisible string" is wholesome and nostalgic in the best way.
My final favorite song is probably "seven" (although "my tears ricochet" was a close contender). A nostalgic song about how summers were spent when we were young and love for a close childhood friend. For me, the song means a lot about the bittersweetness in growing up. Forgetting things that used to be so important, learning how to survive in the adult world, wondering if life will ever be as beautiful as you saw it to be when you were young.
The Lakes - Deluxe Edition
"Bold was the waitress on our three-year trip/ getting lunch by down the Lakes/ she said I looked like an American singer" a line from "invisible string" alludes to the bonus track available on the deluxe edition of "folklore". "the lakes" which is now available to stream without having to buy the deluxe CD.
"the lakes" is a sweet love song about running off to the lakes to relax away from the pressures of life. Filled with elaborate vocabulary and soft metaphors, the delicate musical elements matched with charming lyrics are very pleasant and ranks "the lakes" high up on my list. With the mention of a lover being her muse and watching wisteria grow, the song creates imagery of a cottagecore-esque mountainside and is overall a perfect addition to the energy of "folklore".