After a long hiatus from music, international superstar Taylor Swift gifted the world with a brand-new voice, a brand-new album, “Folklore.”
The album, written and recorded in its entirety during the shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, is Swift’s eighth studio album and is simultaneously a stark turn from her typical style and return to her roots in indie and singer-songwriter music. Many of the tracks don’t feature much in the way of thick instrumentation but rather strip Swift’s presentation down to just her, the piano, and occasionally a guitar or some light percussion. The album dropped suddenly on July 24 without much warning at all, but it certainly took off.
The approximately hour-long album has 16 tracks all with very personal, almost poetic lyrics. In the opening track, “the 1,” she starts off with the line, “I’m doing good/I’m on some new “sh*t,” signaling her return to music after leaving the limelight. The album takes a journey into Swift’s psyche that we haven’t seen before. Like many young artists, she is boxed into record deals and producing music that will veritably sell very easily or be played constantly on the radio. Swift’s approach in this album seems to leave that all behind. She’d rather go back to telling personal stories, the reason she wanted to be a musician in the first place. Swift’s next few tracks in “cardigan,” “the last great american dynasty,” and “exile” all tell very clear stories, and definitely the standouts of the album. The first chunk of the album from “the 1” to “tears ricochet” is very story oriented. That is not to say they follow a very clear arc between them, but they are the flagship tracks on the album. Many of the tracks following amount to other love song formats with the exception of “betty.” “betty” is something else.
As far as composition goes, the album takes similar ideas from track to track creating an overall unified sound. Swift tends to stay in the lower part of her voice, creating a speech-like register that is extremely easy to listen to while not being mind-numbing. Swift also uses the piano in economic ways, whether the piano be entirely acoustic or have some minor effects applied to it. The change in timbre specifically in the piano and piano-like sounds is usually tied to the structure of the music which is a refreshing take on the indie/folk music genre.
The themes of the album are widely applicable, and Swift’s particular style of lyric writing is engaging. It allows the listener to take a trip right into Swift’s psyche and her thoughts as she comes into her own as a modern singer-songwriter with fame and the world in front of her. These come through particularly strong in “exile” and “betty.” The former features indie/folk singer Bon Iver in conjunction with Swift singing a duet, a lament to lost relationships. The defeated pain in Swift’s voice and the lush bass sound of Iver carry the emotional message that it’s quite difficult to move on from relationships. The latter is a love letter to a classmate named Betty and the death of their close friendship. Swift has stated that the narrator in the song is intended to be a heterosexual boy speaking to Betty but that hasn’t stopped LGBT youth from running with the track. Swift has often taken a stance on LGBT rights, and even by admitting that “betty” is about a boy singing to a girl, she has also stated that LGBT fans are more than welcome to interpret the song however they like for them.
“Folklore” is an album that everyone should check out. It has a track (or a few) for everyone. The album is eclectic to the perfect degree and is welcome surprise from Taylor Swift. We can only hope her style continues to evolve in this direction in the future. “folklore” receives an A-plus rating.