Favorite Track: "exile (feat. Bon Iver)" Least Favorite Track: "mirrorball"
At some point, most musicians stray away from their comfort zone and dip their toes into the chilling pool of change. Although Taylor Swift doesn't dunk her feet into an ocean on her eighth studio album, folklore, she seems to strike a clean balance between feeding her fans, her artistic passions, and mainstream music as a whole.
Swift is no stranger to change. By the time her sweet sixteen came, she was one of the most renowned country singer-songwriter in the mid 2000s; appealing to everybody to middle aged women and adolescents alike. Obviously Taylor’s music has gone through a major metamorphosis since then, becoming most likely the world's largest popstar for the first half of the 2010’s. And although her mainstream popularity didn’t fade over the last five years, her reputation was hindered by the fact that whenever anyone heard the name “Taylor Swift”, most of Generation Z thinks of an artist that writes music for preteens who are starting their first middle school relationship.
Talent shines brighter than ideologies though, as Swift pivoted into the new decade with the understated indie-folk balladry that conceived folklore. Between the airy soundstage and instrumental bareness of the record, it's sure to be a staple for pumpkin picking and flannel-wearing families during autumn. A majority of these tracks seem have been pulled from a similar place and I think it's a safe assumption that Swift spent much of quarantine studying and drawing inspiration from indie-folk greats, like Father John Misty and Fleet Foxes; trying to soak up all of the subtleties and themes of their creations. I have to say, Swift executes this exceptionally whilst putting her own whipped cream and cherry on top.
The opening track “the 1” exhibits an upbeat tone, with a quiet electronic clap in every measure as a refreshed and composed Taylor Swift sings “I'm doing good, I'm on some new shit.” It's not a bad start, but it was predictable for her standards. However with the next handful of tracks, a couple of things came to fruition for me. First off, Taylor Swift can really sing. The way she opens up and closes off words in an abrupt fashion makes every note emotionally fluent and special. The second is more important though, and it's the fact that Taylor Swift’s greatest strength in her music is her Kendrick Lamar esque storytelling. The type of storytelling that shines brightest when paired with the quietly peaceful sounds of folklore, and that's why it's a special release and a milestone in her career.
In that handful of songs that created my epiphany, “exile (feat. Bon Iver)” is not only the best of this bunch, but it has become my favorite song in all of her discography. Backed by a minimalistic but deep piano piece, Bon Iver and Swift pull together this dramatic and vivid song, both of them mirroring each other's lyricism while maintaining this internal dialogue of one person thinking about the other. Bon Iver is the only feature on this record and it happens to be one of my favorite features of 2020.
We do have a few duds in the track listing, with “mirrorball” and “seven” being underwhelming deep cuts. Lyrically Taylor is bland and plain boring on both of these tracks, just two throw-aways that shouldn’t have made it to the already long track listing. This segways to what is one of my very few gripes with this album; there are points throughout songs that I feel her lyricism is weak and childish. Don't get me wrong, her writing is steps above previous work, but in almost every song there is one of those basic “overly romantic lowest common denominator” sort of lines. It pulls you out of those grey and mythical woods that Swift builds up, and taints the experience of the album enough to mention.
At the midpoint of the album, I see the record broken up into pieces that I think Taylor did intentionally. Starting with “august”, she explains herself idolizing her new love, even talking about herself losing her virginity with him; a very lovey dovey song. Then you have “this is me trying” and “illicit affairs.” The first shows her giving the relationship her all, the second showing that she wasn't enough because the man cheated on her. “invisible string” is a metaphor for herself being a puppet to the man she was in a relationship with. Proceeding it is the villainous “mad woman”, it's a song straight out of a villain's introduction. Her imagery is dark, depressing, and sometimes disturbing; It's really refreshing and I’m impressed that she made a song like this. The final quadfecta of songs are backed by ethereal synth leads, saturated acoustic guitars and self-realization lyrics by Taylor that I like to call the “Reflection Stage”. It's another example of why indie-folk records are as loved as they are; Mixing dark, pointed lyricism in front of sparse, breathtaking instrumentation.
More than anything, folklore is a testament that over fifteen years into her career, A thirty year old Taylor Swift is finding ways to create music in a unique way on her own terms. From the glitz glam of 2019’s Lover to the unknown, twisted woods of folklore, the icon proves to be a versatile inspiration to all consumers of her music; and I bet that sixteen year old Swift couldn’t be prouder.