While stuck in quarantine, many people decided to relax and unwind, but Taylor Swift decided to take an entirely different path. Shocking the world, the singer-songwriter revealed on July 23, 2020 that she had written an entire album during lock-down and would be releasing it at midnight. She later revealed that this new album would be titled “Folklore.” Even more shocking, however, was how very different this album would be compared to Swift’s previous work.
While Swift’s older albums have been centered around her own trials and tribulations with life and love, “Folklore” focuses more on the stories of others. Swift explained in a personal essay that she chose to write “from the perspective of people [she has] never met, people [she has]known, or those [she] wish [she] had not.” Not only is the subject of her writing different, this album is a huge step away from Swift’s usual sound as well. Swift has been viewed both as a popstar for the majority of her career, and a country music star before that. “Folklore” is decidedly not pop or country, but can only be described as indie or, as Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield says, “goth-folk.” Many are calling “Folklore” Swift’s best work to date, and it cannot be denied that she has taken her song writing to a whole new level for this album.
Swift tries to tell as many stories as she can over the course of the sixteen-song album. From the tale of the rich widow Rebekah Harkness in “the last great american dynasty” to the story of a bitter and angry stalker at his obsession’s funeral in “my tears ricochet.” “Folklore” notably does not have as many bubbly and happy love songs as Swift’s previous albums, with “invisible string” being one of the few notable exceptions. This album instead takes the listener down more quiet and introspective paths, and seems to be introducing a new era of Taylor Swift.
Swift takes many chances to experiment in “Folklore,” and this can be seen most clearly in what Swift calls the “Teenage Love Triangle.” Rather than limit herself to one song, Swift creates a full storyline with three separate ones. “august,” “betty” and “cardigan” tell the story of James and Betty’s ill-fated summer romance after James cheated. Each song explores a different person’s perspective, from James’s regret in “betty,” Betty’s contemplation of their relationship in “cardigan,” and the other woman’s experience with James in “august.” The songs are all tinged with bittersweet nostalgia, and one or two of them might even trick a listener into thinking that they are happy songs if not for the rather depressing lyrics. The storyline is compelling and showcases Swift’s talent for song writing and story-telling in general.Releasing “Folklore” in the midst of a global pandemic was a huge risk, but it has definitely paid off for Swift. Critics and fans alike are calling the album one of her best, and she has been praised for using her time in quarantine so creatively and wisely. Billboard called “Folklore” “a song writing tour de force,” and The Independent has decided that the album is “unconventional” and “brilliant.” There is no question that “Folklore” will go down as one of Swift’s best and most unconventional records, and one can only imagine what she will do next.