Taylor Swift’s album announcements are a big deal. They usually feature months of hidden social media clues to drum up excitement as fans eagerly conspire about the next era of her career. folklore though, was announced just hours before its release. This is Swift’s ‘surprise’ eighth album and its lack of promo was not the only change to Swift’s approach.
Produced throughout lockdown in her Los Angeles home and in collaboration with The National’s Aaron Dessner, Folklore sees a raw and earthy side to the popstar as she revises a more matured approach to her acoustic roots on a soft folk album.
folklore as its title suggests, is brimming with stories. It creates a campfire atmosphere of plucky guitars and urban legends. ‘the last great american dynasty’ tells the true story of Rebekah Harkness, a 1950’s controversial socialite and previous owner of Taylor’s home. “Holiday House sat quietly on that beach. Free of women with madness, their men and bad habits. And then it was bought by me,” sings Swift as she begins to mirror herself with Harkness.
‘invisible string’, with its soft and romantic lyrics over plucky guitar chords, anecdotes Taylor’s relationship with partner Joe Alwyn. “Isn’t it just so pretty to think, all along there was some invisible string tying you to me.”
Swift confirmed that three of the album tracks follow the different perspectives of a fictional, teenage love triangle and (the ever eager) fans were quick to decipher that ‘cardigan’, ‘betty’ and ‘august’ tell the tales of breakups, summer romances, and high school affairs.
‘betty’, boasts simple, twangy guitar strings and a country-style harmonica. This combined with the pop production royalty of Jack Antonoff, makes for a similar, yet more polished sound to her early albums when she first ventured into pop.
On an album dominated by breakup songs ‘exile’ with Bon Iver, is the most chilling track. Gone are the glitchy soundscapes we have come to expect of Justin Vernon. Instead ‘exile’ returns each musician to their folk roots with delicate vocal harmonies, low piano chords, and clever allegory. The vocal pairing is reminiscent of ‘The Last Time’ featuring Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, from her fourth album, Red.
However unlike Red which had an extensive marketing campaign (featuring red trainers, pizza offers and numerous singles and videos) folklore was as much a surprise for her record label as it was for everyone else. You can sense this element of freedom in her writing. Swift is unrestrained on folklore, which is refreshing and adds to the emotional motif of tracks. She received backlash for simply mentioning the fact she drinks on 2017’s Reputation. Taylor is a 30 year old woman, who can drink and swear if she wants to.
The record is missing an obvious ‘sell out’ single that would connect with the charts, but equally this is one of Swifts most consistent records. With slow piano, guitar, and the occasional orchestral accompaniments, combined with raw vocals and intricately carved narratives, folklore is Swift’s indie record that is much cooler than yours.