Review: Taylor Swift incorporates vivid storytelling in surprise album, ‘Folklore’

Republic Records

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Republic Records

On Friday, July 24, Taylor Swift released her eighth studio album, Friday, July 24." Folklore," which she made in isolation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, leaves Swift's previous pop genre, and moves toward an indie folk genre. "Tonight at midnight I'll be releasing my entire brand new album of songs I've poured all of my whims, dreams, fears, and musings into," Swift said when she announced the album on social media on July 23.

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Taylor Swift released her eighth studio album Folklore on Friday, July 24, just 11 months after her previous album, Lover. Swift created the 18-track album in isolation amid the COVID-19 pandemic with production from Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff and Swift herself. Swift released the album as a surprise and announced it on social media less than 24 hours before the release on July 23.  Folklore departs from the more mainstream pop sound of Swift’s three previous albums and is an indie-folk record driven by pianos and guitars. The album incorporates vivid storytelling, whether it is from Swift’s point of view or someone else’s.

“In isolation, my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness,” Swift wrote on social media upon the release of the album. “I’ve told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder, and whimsy they deserve.”

The stories that Swift tells include the story of Rebekah Harkness, the previous owner of Swift’s Rhode Island mansion, and what Swift calls her “Teenage Love Triangle.” The Teenage Love Triangle shows throughout three songs, “Cardigan,” “August,” and “Betty.” Each song is told from a different point of view: Betty narrates “Cardigan,” James narrates “Betty,” and an unnamed girl narrates “August.”

Starting off the album with “The 1,” Swift remembers her past loves where her wishes would have “come true,” resulting in a life with her ex-lover. With a nostalgic feel and a relaxing tune, “The 1” is a perfect opening for Swift’s album.

Cardigan,” the lead single of the album, was accompanied by a music video directed by Swift and produced by Jil Harden. The music video was released on YouTube alongside lyric videos for each song on July 24. “Cardigan” is part of Swift’s Teenage Love Triangle in Betty’s point of view. “Cardigan” describes how Betty felt before and after James cheated on her, and how she felt like an “old cardigan under someone’s bed.” “Cardigan” has a somber, melancholic tone featuring a piano arrangement.

Swift’s next track, “The Last Great American Dynasty,” tells the story of Rebekah Harkness, the previous owner of Swift’s Rhode Island mansion. According to Swift, the song is about “a misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out.” Swift also alludes to her arrival and various adventures in the town. “The Last Great American Dynasty” parallels with Swift’s “The Lucky One” from her Red album, which told the story of an unnamed Hollywood star who moved away from the limelight. This track has a much more upbeat tune compared to the other “Folklore” tracks, yet still fits in perfectly with the others.

Exile,” Swift’s only collaborative song in the album, describes two ex-lovers seeing each other following a break up from each of their respective points of view. “Exile” has been compared to Swift’s 2012 collaboration with Gary Lightbody on the track “The Last Time,” as both songs describe the downfall of a relationship. Justin Vernon’s, Bon Iver’s lead singer, rougher voice, and Swift’s smoother voice mix perfectly together to make this song a masterpiece. The mix of Vernon and Swift’s voices, as well as the emotional and meaningful lyrics, make this song one of the best of the album.

“Folklore departs from the more mainstream pop sound of Swift’s three previous albums and is an indie-folk record driven by pianos and guitars. The album incorporates vivid storytelling, whether it is from Swift’s point of view or someone else’s.””

— Amanda Hare

My Tears Ricochet” was the first song that Swift wrote for “Folklore” and may be one of the saddest tracks of the album. The song is believed to be about Scott Borchetta’s betrayal when Swift left Big Machine Records for Republic Records. The song shows an ex-lover or friend wanting to get revenge by continually “tormenting” her.

In “Mirrorball,”  Swift references the children’s nursery rhyme character “Humpty Dumpty” to describe just how fragile she is, and how drastic it is when she gets hurt emotionally.  She also did the same thing with her 2012 song “All Too Well,” and her 2019 song “The Archer”. She describes this part of her character in “Mirrorball” by singing, “and when I break, it’s in a million pieces.” In this song’s analogy, a disco ball, it is impossible for her to be fixed, however, she sees herself as the same person she was before she was broken. 

Seven” is about one of Taylor’s childhood friends from when she lived on a Christmas tree farm in Pennsylvania. Her friend is referred to as having a rough home life. Throughout the song, Swift reassures her friend by suggesting they move far away to be distant from the stress of home. Taylor reflects back on her past innocence, and how she thought the problems could be easily solved.

August” is the second part of the Teenage Love Triangle in “folklore.” This song is from the point of view of the girl who James cheated on Betty with. The girl talks about her relationship with James, and how she felt it was never really at the full potential it could be. She was living in a moment full of hope, but James refers to their relationship as “just a summer thing.” 

This is Me Trying” is similar to Swift’s track “Afterglow” from her 2019 Lover album and “Back to December” from her 2010 Speak Now album. “This is Me Trying” shows Taylor accepting the blame for past relationship issues and trying to repair them. Swift also touches on her life in isolation, and how she has been affected. She talks more in-depth about her personal life and struggles with life in the eye of the public in her 2019 Netflix documentary “Miss Americana.”

Illicit Affairs” is believed to be about Swift’s current boyfriend, British actor Joe Alwyn. At the beginning of their relationship, the two kept it a secret. Taylor also shows this in her songs “King of My Heart” off her 2017 Reputation album, and “Cruel Summer” off her 2019 Lover album. This song is an addendum to their love story collection.

Invisible String” is a simple yet beautiful love song that is believed to be about all the things connecting Swift and her boyfriend Joe Alwyn. The lyrics in this beautiful song are not only catchy, but meaningful. Taylor makes several references to her and Joe’s lives without detracting from the melody.

The elegant tune of “Mad Woman” is a wonderful contrast to Swift’s more angry lyrics which depict the view that just because a woman gets angry she is labeled as “mad.” Many fans speculate that this emotion-filled song may be about ongoing disagreements with a certain music executive while others believe it is more about Taylor’s feminist views.

Epiphany” is an emotional tribute to the front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lyrics such as “something med school did not cover, someone’s daughter, someone’s mother” are meant to show listeners the difficult situations doctors and nurses have been facing with the large amounts of COVID-19 related deaths. This song’s powerful lyrics and lovely tune express the pain of many throughout this pandemic in just a 5 minute track.

Betty” is the final song believed to be about Swift’s Teenage Love Triangle. This song, with its mellow tune and catchy lyrics is believed to be from the perspective of  James who is singing about missing “Betty.” In the song, James cheated on Betty and regrets it, missing her greatly. James contemplates on what Betty’s reaction would be if he showed up at her party to talk to her. Despite Swift’s assurances that the love triangle was an imaginary one, many fans are speculating as to who Betty, James, and the other girl really are.

Peace” is a mellow tune where the lyrics are given the ability to really shine without standing completely alone. The simple melody allows for the words to fully sink in as Taylor talks about moving on, growing up, and even having children. Fans speculate that this song is Taylor’s response to how many see her constantly being around her boyfriend resulting in not letting him have some peace.

Swift continues her theme of mellow and emotional songs with “Hoax” in which she talks of a faithless love and the pain that it brings. Lyrics such as “your faithless loves’s the only hoax I believe in” and “you knew the hero died, so what’s the movie for” give this tune its power. This song strongly concludes the album and leaves you wishing for more.

Swift brings her fans into a new genre with folklore and excels in it, with more than 1.3 million sales on the day of its debut. The album is masterfully made with complex lyrics paired with wonderful tunes.