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Taylor Swift Stuns With Surprise Album ‘folklore’ – A Track-by-Track Review

On July 24, 2020, Taylor Swift, the queen of Easter eggs and meticulously-planned album releases, dropped her 8th studio album folklore out of literally nowhere. She announced the album just mere hours before she dumped it on us, completely breaking the internet in the process. And what do you know, this is almost definitely Taylor Swift’s best album yet.

She finally, finally, went indie/alternative. Oh, and explicit. Something I’ve been wishing and hoping she would do for years now. This is the album for the people who have loved her slow, underrated tracks like “Safe and Sound”. On Lover, she channeled multiple different sounds. But here, she just has one sound, and it’s beautiful. It is so different from her usual style, both in terms of sound and story/lyrics. But it is still very Taylor in all its essence. And I cannot believe she made an album this good simply because she was bored in quarantine.

So here’s a track by track review of probably the greatest Taylor Swift album of all time:

the 1

Right off the bat, she’s swearing, “I’m doing good, I’m on some new sh*t.” She starts off with a cute skip-in-the-step “the 1”. But once you pay attention to the lyrics, its anything but cute. A song about how different her life would have been if any of her past lovers had been ‘the one’. But instead, it all ended in nothing but heartache and disappointment. Immediately, you know this album is about to be very different from everything she’s put out in the last ten years. It’s only the first song, but I’m already hooked onto this indie-woodsy aesthetic.

cardigan

The lead single of folklore, it is one of the three songs in a teenage love triangle trilogy. This one tells us the story from the perspective of the girl who was cheated on. She’s older and wiser now, and she’s looking back at the time spent with said person. It resembles Lana Del Rey — that’s the first thought I had while listening to this track. I say this because immediately you hear the voice tone and softness you’d normally associate with her. And the music is also just like that. This song has a very complex structure bursting with imagery and color from a cache of flashbacks that refuses to fade.

the last great american dynasty

Lyrically, and perhaps, generally, too, this is easily the best song on the album. Storyteller-Taylor Swift is the best Taylor Swift, and this song proves exactly that. Here, she digs into the real-life story of Rebekah and Bill Harkness, a mid-western middle-class divorcee and the heir to the Standard Oil fortune, respectively, who caused a scandal with their marriage about 70 years ago.

So why is Taylor Swift writing about a scandalous marriage story from over half a century ago? Well, she now lives in their Rhode Island home. This is Swift at her best giving us juicy storytelling as well as a little piece of history. Suffice to say, I had a marvelous time listening to this.

exile (feat. Bon Iver)

This is one of my absolute favorite songs on the album. And, dare I say, her best collaboration ’til date. I never ever expected Taylor Swift to collaborate with Bon Iver, but boy am I glad that she did. This song is a complex introspection of different perspectives of a break-up. Both Swift and Justin Vernon’s (from Bon Iver) voices blend together perfectly to produce one of the most beautiful bridges I have ever heard. And the music production is just as stunning. During the bridge, both of them are singing together, and, coupled with a beautiful score, they drive this tear-jerking ballad home. I especially love when Vernon goes, “You never gave a warning sign,” and Swift croons, “I gave so many signs,” right after.

my tears ricochet

Only Taylor Swift can turn her devastation of losing the rights to the masters of her first six albums into a heart-wrenching metaphor about a woman watching as the man, who destroyed her attends, her wake. “my tears ricochet” is again, a testament to how brilliant Swift is as a songwriter.

She has a history of giving her most significant and emotional songs the track 5 slot, and this time, it’s no different. The haunting score that reminds me of reputation, the pain in her voice, the chilling lyrics — all of it packs into this beautifully-named song. Again, I feel the need to stress that this album was made during quarantine simply because she was bored. Regardless, each song is just a masterpiece in its own right.

mirrorball

This song is so pretty. I know, a weird adjective to describe something you can’t really see, but the moment the song begins, you’ll understand what I’m trying to say. “mirrorball” is a soft, soothing, alternative-pop record that has some of the best musical elements on this album. This song has strong The 1975 vibes. One of Taylor Swift’s favorite lyrical themes is her complicated relationship with fame and attention. But she has never explored it this way – in such a glittery, shimmery, soft way. It is one of my favorites from folklore.

seven

This song is poetic, nostalgic, sad, whimsical and folky all jammed into one. It tells the story of a young girl who feels desperate and helpless when it comes to protecting her deeply traumatized best friend. Loss of innocence is one of Swift’s most persistent obsessions, and “seven” is one of her best reflections on this idea — “And I’ve been meaning to tell you, I think your house is haunted, your dad is always mad and that must be why.” It’s unlike anything Swift has ever done before and evokes the sadness of growing apart from the unapologetic nature of childhood friendships perfectly. If you came to this album looking for some folk, this is the closest you’ll get to it.

august

The second song to the love triangle trilogy I mentioned earlier. This time, it is from the perspective of the mistress. Compared to “cardigan”, this song is more hopeful. It is fast-paced and has a lot more instrumentation. It is a daydream of the best kind, with spot-on production and one of the best bridges of the album. “august” is hopeful yet sad. It is about having, loving, cherishing and losing: “To live for the hope of it all, cancelled plans just in case you’d call, and say, ‘Meet me behind the mall’, so much for summer love and saying ‘us’, ’Cause you weren’t mine to lose.” It is from the perspective of the mistress, so you know it’s going to crash and burn. But my oh my, it’s such a beautiful song.

this is me trying

This is also one of my favorites. It’s ethereal and soothing and tragic and a little sinister all in one go. Taylor owns up to her failures, mistakes and insecurities with a naked vulnerability that is refreshing and a bit jarring. I’m getting strong “This Love” from 1989 vibes, and personally, it is one of the more underrated songs in Swift’s repertoire, so I’m not complaining. Again, the songwriting is genius, and the lyrics “They told me all of my cages were mental, so I got wasted like all my potential,” deserve recognition of their own. Its almost as if she’s saying that people never believed her or said that all her barriers/problems were only in her head. Which led to her wasting all of her potential.

illicit affairs

This song has some of the most nuanced songwriting in Taylor Swift’s discography. If you ever want to understand what sets her apart from the rest of her peers, listen to this song. This song is extremely powerful and chilling, and it is amplified in the bridge when she asserts, “Don’t call me ‘kid’, don’t call me ‘baby’, look at this godforsaken mess that you made me.” It is extremely heartbreaking, but then again, isn’t that what Taylor Swift does best?

invisible string

After a lot of heartache, we land on “invisible string”, which is simply an ode to her longtime (and frankly, incredible) actor boyfriend Joe Alwyn. There are so many callbacks and Easter eggs of her previous works. You can hear nods to “Bad Blood”, “Delicate” and possibly “Daylight”. While most of the songs on this album are based on imagery or, well, folklore, this song is about the various experiences that led to her finally connecting with Joe Alwyn. And it is light and breezy and beautiful — not in an obnoxious way.

She contemplates the possible role of fate in bringing them together, but she is grounded in the realization that this belief in fate is a precious illusion — “A string that pulled me out of all the wrong arms, right into that dive bar, something wrapped all of my past mistakes in barbed wire, chains around my demons, wool to brave the seasons, one single thread of gold, tied me to you.”

mad woman

This song has parallels to “the last great american dynasty”. The story of a vengeful widow taking revenge on the town that cast her out is an obvious metaphor for the misogyny she has long been on the receiving end of. It can also be seen as a sister to “The Man” from her previous album.

In this song, she explores the different ways in which men induce anger and madness in women through abuse and then leverage sexist tropes and structures to publicly chastise them for behaving angry and mad. It will empower you, and will also make you mad. She’s angry, and she’s beyond done taking people’s sh*t, and you can hear that in this record, but it also sounds like freedom. And it is all credit to her amazing songwriting and storytelling talent.

epiphany

It might be an unpopular opinion, but this is one of my favorites too. And lyrically, this song is unmatched. Taylor has managed to go from chronicling her grandfather’s PTSD from his service in the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II, to a tribute to the brave medical professionals and first responders on the front line of the COVID pandemic. And all of this was done in a span of two beautiful verses. This song is slow and calm and just so soothingly sad. It is a beautiful chronicle of two completely different, yet seemingly-similar, struggles.

betty

The final song in the teenage love-triangle trilogy, this time, is told from the perspective of the guy who cheated — a man named James. He clearly regrets what he’s done and is completely shouldering the blame on himself. He is left feeling guilty, ashamed, and heartbroken that she has moved on, since he was hoping to reconnect with her after his mess, as Swift sings, “the worst thing I ever did, was what I did to you.”

We don’t know if she forgives him, but it still hurts listening to his perspective. This is a refreshing callback to Taylor’s country roots, and it feels like a mature cousin to “fifteen”. I love this song. And it concludes the trilogy perfectly. Also, and I know it is from a male perspective, but in the immortal words of Gina Linetti, does anybody get a little bit of a gay vibe?

peace

This song is different from all the others in the sense that the power completely rests on Taylor’s raw vocals. The instrumental is kept to a minimum. “peace” perfectly captures the ambient dread of feeling your partner slip away, of wondering whether love can be enough. There are parallels to “The Archer” — a frankly underrated Taylor Swift’s song in my opinion — and “Call It What You Want”. Swift’s vocals are so crisp, that guitar riff is so stunning, and these lyrics are so gut-wrenchingly vulnerable. A perfect song, through and through.

hoax

Usually, when Taylor ends an album, it ends on a light, almost hopeful, introspective note (see “New Years Day” and “Daylight”). Not this one. “hoax” explores a toxic relationship in a manner that is subdued, insightful, and mournful, as opposed to angry. Instead of reveling in all the ways that love has made her stronger, happier, or more whole, Swift deconstructs everything she knows and leaves a bleaker picture about how maybe even the best of relationships hurt, as she sings, “Stood on the cliffside screaming, ‘Give me a reason’, your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in, don’t want no other shade of blue but you, no other sadness in the world would do.” It is not one of my favorites — probably the only song that I might not play after one or two rounds — but it’s still beautiful in the most tragic sense. And a sad, but perfect, way to end the album.

Final thoughts

This album is special. It is an ode to all the underrated gems that went ignored to make room for some of Swift’s pop hits. I was truly left speechless once I finished listening to it and had to just sit and process it all for a second. This is the album I’ve waited for her to make for years, and I cannot believe she produced this gem while she was sitting at home with nothing to do. The rest of us laze around and try to find the motivation to finish our work, while Taylor Swift goes and makes what is almost definitely the best album of her career.

We definitely need to take a moment to acknowledge that had it not been for the entire world going into quarantine, we might never have gotten this masterpiece. folklore is an album for the ages. And it’ll age like fine wine. Every time you listen to this record, it’ll be a new experience. A soft, warm hung amidst the chaos that is life at the moment. It is a collection of stories that get passed down from generation to generation – just imagine telling the story of “the last great american dynasty” years down the line? What a tale to tell.

Taylor Swift has outdone herself in every way possible.

I truly cannot stress enough how incredibly beautiful this album is — both in terms of songwriting and storytelling. And it is just such a delight to be able to experience this magic in all its unabashed glory. Taylor Swift has outdone herself in every way possible. I laughed, cried, listened with rapt attention as I gained a piece of history, experienced the magic of teenage love and heartbreak, smiled and screamed all in the span of 16 songs. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

It might not be the most popular record she’ll ever put out, but it’ll definitely be the one people come back to the most — I most certainly will.

You can listen to folklore on Apple Music and Spotify (and all other streaming platforms). Or you can buy the album here.

Featured image via Instagram

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I’m a 19 year old Journalism student from Mumbai currently studying in the United Kingdom. A certified feminist, I’m not afraid to express my opinions. I stand up for what I believe in and fight for the voices that cannot. I love to read books and binge watch movies and tv shows and keep up to date with pop culture. Listening to music is my go-to comfort idea. I’m also an avid cricket fan and love a good game of badminton.

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