Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Over the last three months of lockdown, everybody seems to have had their own quarantine project, and ten-time Grammy Award winner Taylor Swift, is no different. However, whilst we, the common people, baked bread and ran 5Ks, Swift was writing and producing her eighth Studio Album, folklore, which she announced and dropped within 24 hours, complete with a music video she directed.
folklore is a huge pivot for Swift, in more ways than one. Sonically, it is completely different to any album she has released before. Whilst Swift has often hinted and dabbled in different genres, we haven’t seen her dive headfirst into a completely new style of music since her radical pop pivot, with her smash hit 1989 back in 2014. Furthermore, commercially, Swift’s album releases have always been preceded by carefully manufactured campaigns of teaser singles and easter eggs to generate hype, never like the sudden drop of folklore we experienced last night. This shift symbolises not only a new phase of Swift’s career, but is also a testament to her longevity as an artist, where fourteen years into her career she is still surprising us.
folklore utilises what has long been Swift’s greatest asset: her confessional, almost diary like, style of songwriting. Even the most begrudging of Swift listeners will be forced to admit to her skill with the pen, and in folklore this talent is on full display. Jack Antonoff’s production across the album is designed to reflect this talent, and is pared back and simple, especially compared to Swift’s previous albums often underwhelming displays of pop extravagance. Meanwhile, The National’s Aaron Dessner co-writing credit on 11 out of the 16 tracks has sharpened Swift’s already whip-smart lyrical sensibilities to the finest knife point. Swift has the ability to write songs that are intensely personal, and yet feel incredibly universal, and folklore displays this talent in a way that she hasn’t fully utilised since her fourth studio album Red.
Unlike Red, folklore is incredibly sonically cohesive, each song fits together like a puzzle to create a story that takes multiple listens to understand. Whilst her last few albums have explored the mythology that has been constructed around Taylor Swift, folklore explores the stories Swift tells herself. From teenage infidelity, to mad women, to childhood memories, folklore explores the stories that make us. These are pivotal moments in our life we talk about over and over until they become an intrinsic part of who we are. This introspective pouring over of self and identity is an album that perfectly suits this quiet quarantine moment, and yet also has a timeless quality to it that I’m sure will endure long past lockdown.
Whilst there are a few songs that feel more like old-style Taylor Swift, especially the country infused ‘betty’, Swift has not returned to country, but instead has decided to strike out in indie folk and the result is truly excellent. Music snobs may hate to admit it, but the biggest pop star on the planet has managed to produce an album with lyrics that cut through you like Phoebe Bridgers, with storytelling reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens, and even a beautiful Bon Iver feature that will convert even the most doubtful of listeners to her new style. This is a version of Swift that has unmistakably spent the last fourteen years refining and honing her talent, and has gotten over her aversion to swearing along the way.
A minor criticism I would have of folklore is that whilst there are no misses on the album, there are no major swings either. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as you can easily picture every single song on the album being somebody’s personal favourite. Swift has managed to produce a very long album, yet no song feels unnecessary, no song standing out as a dud, or one that should have been discarded. This has previously been an issue for Swift, where some of her albums have hovered on the cusp of greatness, with all-time great songs being held back by weaker tracks.
Ultimately, this is Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album, and the fact that she is managing to surprise us this far into her career is truly terrifying. From country queen, to pop princess, and now indie darling, Swift is a master of reinvention, which has kept her relevant in a way many of her old contemporaries have failed to. Personally, I rate this album five stars, and I challenge even the most radical of Swift haters to listen to folklore and not find at least one song that hits in the way only a Taylor Swift song can.
– Emma Ingledew
Featured Image Source: Still via Taylor Swift // YouTube. Director of Photography: Rodrigo Prieto