Taylor Swift retires her rainbow sequined blazer and exchanges it for a beige cable knit cardigan as she escapes into a melancholic cottagecore-inspired fantasy world.
Swift's eighth studio album, "folklore," is an ode to her deep-rooted imagination. She experiments with a new alternative sound accompanied by haunting lyrics that shy away from her traditional pop-influenced form of storytelling.
As a result of being in isolation the past few months due to COVID-19, Swift meticulously produced an album containing 17 songs. She teamed up with Jack Antonoff, who is no stranger when it comes to Swift's albums, The National's Aaron Dessner, William Bowery and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, who is featured on her fourth track, "exile." Unlike her past albums that dive into her past and current romances, Swift retells the story from the perspective of people “she's never met, people she's known and those she wishes she had never met,” according to her statement.
“the 1”: Swift’s vocals accompany the piano and guitar strum slaps in a song that muses over a past lover on what they could have been: "Rose flowing with your chosen family, and it would’ve been sweet if it could’ve been me."
“cardigan”: Alongside the album, Swift released a music video for "cardigan.” Before the album dropped on Friday, Swift wrote in a live chat that three songs within the album were intertwined to tell a story from different perspectives about a love triangle. There’s speculation that the love triangle is seen through the songs“cardigan”, “august” and “betty”. "Cardigan" is speculated to be told from Betty's perspective about James, her lover who cheated on her. In the story, Betty alludes to herself as the cardigan and says, "You put me on and said I was your favorite." But she then sees right through his manipulative character as she says, "I knew you'd miss me once the thrill expired."
“the last great american dynasty”: This song recounts the story of a Rhode Island mansion that was once owned by Rebekah Harkness, an heiress to Standard Oil. In the first upbeat song in the album, Swift draws parallels between her and Harkness as they have both been scrutinized by the media, but this song shows Swift's growth as it seems not to bother her anymore as she ends with, "I had a marvelous time ruining everything."
“exile (feat. Bon Iver)”: "Exile" is the pinnacle of Swift's storytelling through songwriting. She captures the irreversible moment two partners involved in a romantic relationship realize they can no longer move forward as one. Swift alludes to the relationship as a film she has seen before but didn't like its ending. Justin Vernon, who is known for his falsetto vocals, exchanges them for a deeper sound in his duet with Swift in this dark and eerie song that captures heartbreak so well with, "You're not my homeland anymore, so what am I defending now?"
“my tears ricochet”: This haunting song, which includes a choir of voices in the background, doesn't seem to be about a specific person but rather many people who have betrayed Swift, including Big Machine Records, her former record label. Swift strips the story to its flesh and bone, as she creates the setting at a funeral, singing the chilling lyrics, "You wear the same jewels that I gave you as you bury me." As seen with other songs, Swift seems to draw a parallel between this song and "Look What You Made Me Do," where she mentions that the "old Taylor" was dead, and in this song, we are at her wake.
“mirrorball”: In this late '80s-inspired track, she compares herself to a disco ball as she spins in her highest heels shining just for her lover, putting up a facade to please them. But when Swift breaks, she will break into a million pieces, just like a disco ball.
“seven”: Throughout this track, Swift experiments with different vocals, almost giving off a "Mazzy Star" and "The Cranberries," vibe. In reference to her past, Swift creates a storyline in remembrance of a childhood friend who was stripped from their innocence as she sings, "And I've been meaning to tell you / I think your house is haunted / your dad is always mad and that must be why.”
“august”: Back to the love triangle. In this upbeat ballad, "august" is presumably set in the perspective of "the other woman," whom James had cheated on Betty. And it's no surprise that Swift, who is a master at placing Easter eggs, would put this track in the middle of "cardigan" and "Betty." Although it’s happy melodies disguise the sad lyrics, the song recalls a summer love that was never meant to last the season as she sings, "August sipped away like a bottle of wine / 'Cause you were never mine."
“this is me trying”: In this track, Swift conveys her raw, honest feelings in what seems like a page ripped from her diary as she says, "So I got wasted like all my potential." In some points throughout the song, there are times where it's hard to hear what she's saying as her voice starts to echo behind the instruments, as she pleads that she is trying to repair her past regrets.
“illicit affairs”: In this declaration of forbidden love, Swift details the rush of energy followed by grief that comes with infidelity. Unlike other songs where it feels like Swift is whispering, you can hear Swift's strong, passionate vocals as she explores the affair and sympathizes with them as well as she sings, "And you know damn well / For you, I would ruin myself / A million little times."
“invisible string”: In this song, Swift seems to allude to the past relationships that guided her to her current partner, Joe Alwyn, a British actor. A string instrument accompanies her vocals, as the themes of time, love and heartbreak are brought in as she ties it all together as she sings, "hell was the journey but it brought me heaven."
“mad woman”: In the album's prologue, Swift explained that "mad woman" was about a "misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out." Like "the last great American dynasty," It draws a connection between Swift and the heiress, as they were once despised by many. The gentle piano and soft tambourine play behind her strong vocals that are filled with emotions as she evokes the anger felt by the widow, as she sings, “No one likes a mad woman / You made her like that."
“epiphany”: In what sounds like a choir, Swift references the current pandemic as she describes the trauma loved ones have had to face as they say goodbye to their loved ones who passed from COVID-19 through a plastic covering. In the last 50 seconds of the song, if you listen carefully, there's a sound that closely mimics the one of a heart monitor.
“betty”: On the final track of the presumed love triangle, the song that sounds like it could belong in Swift's country album, "Fearless," is from James' perspective. What's interesting about this narrative is that Swift doesn't give James a gender, which leaves many to question who this song is referring to. Throughout the song, James recounts the naive rendezvous they had with the other woman, as Swift sings, "Slept next to her, but / I dreamt of you all summer long." But as heard in "cardigan," Betty does not fall for his apologies and promises.
“peace”: Swift shows maturity in this track as she pours out her heart in an apology to her lover for her past troubles as she asks, "Would it be enough if I could never give you peace?"
“hoax”: In the final track of this tale, Swift ends with a melancholic song that uncovers the hopelessness that was felt in a relationship. In her past albums, the color blue has been an underlying symbol that's often used in reference to her lover. In this lullaby, her gentle voice is often covered by the piano as Swift tells the story of what seems to be a toxic relationship that she seems to want to hold onto as she says, "Don't want no other shade of blue but you / no other sadness in the world would do."
Swift's surprise new album has officially become the indie-record much cooler than hers. “folklore” has broken the global record for first-day album debuts on Spotify by a female artist with 80.6 million streams, according to Chart Data.
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