Reviews by mars
Taylor Swift’s folklore review: Swift continues to evolve into uncharted territory - and does so gracefully (9.5/10)
“You gotta step into the daylight, and let it go,” Swift peacefully delivers on the closing moments of 2019’s Lover. An album defined as “a love letter to love,” Lover picked up where 2014’s 1989 left off - halted by the wrath and clandestine love hidden within 2017’s reputation. What Lover delivered was both Swift’s final album in her twenties and a look (and natural wonder) of where the country-turned-pop superstar would head next as she entered a new decade of her career. Songs like “False God” and “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” showed a more mature side of the singer-songwriter, the latter serving as the best foreshadowing of what was to come.
Folklore (released July 24, 2020) was announced by Swift a mere 16 hours before release, a completely atypical move from the woman who has single-handedly driven the traditional pop release calendar for the last decade. Taylor Swift has introduced each of her last three eras by dropping a wide appeal, often polarizing lead single to expose the public to a new era - almost always a red herring of what was to come. With an additional single or two between then and the album’s release as well as omnipresent brand partnerships, Swift guaranteed long-lasting recognition. Nonetheless, 2017’s “Look What You Made Me Do” and 2019’s “ME!” led to some disappointment that was never turned during the campaign rollout (last time I will ever mention the tragedy that is “Cruel Summer” never receiving a full single treatment). This now stands in striking contrast to folklore’s release, an album that fully benefits from being kept a secret - even from her label and friends until moments prior to the Thursday morning announcement.
Folklore marks Swift’s boldest sound yet - a venture away from the bombastic pop that has defined her career for the last six years and into indie-folk. Long gone is the electropop-infused “You Need to Calm Down,” the innocence of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” In some way, folklore sounds like the body of work that Swift was born to create.
This is the culmination of all that Swift has learned from each of her previous efforts, a victory lap of sorts for one of the biggest stars of our time. It makes full use of her best skill: most notable in her country days - not the heartbreaking experiences, but her intricate storytelling. Swift's unique ability to transform the most mundane of life experiences into a vivid, imagery-filled depiction of falling in love, disappointment, and fear is what makes Taylor Swift who she is; think “All Too Well” and Speak Now. From pop, Swift mastered melodic structure and the art of an impeccable hook; think “Out of the Woods” and “Delicate.” All tied together with a golden string is folklore, which may also be her strongest vocal performance yet.
The album finds Swift truly embracing her gift - her ability to effortlessly convey such personal emotion through elaborate, heartfelt imagery. In fact, rather than the music begging the questions of “which ex-boyfriend is this song about” and “is this song meant to trigger this feud,” these stories are personal without touching on “Swift the celebrity.” Sonically, folklore is a strong advancement from the widespread genre hodgepodge of Lover, focusing on intimate vocals and softened production. Lyrically, the album dives deep into Swiftian history, where Taylor pays homage to her prior work - “bad was the blood of the song in the cab on your first trip to LA” in “invisible string,” alluding to her 2015 #1 single, “Bad Blood;” “In my defense, I have none for never leaving well enough alone” in “the 1” alluding to 2019’s “ME!”
Folklore finds Swift in a new comfort zone - a world of history and fiction: a tale of the philanthropist Rebekah “Betty” Harkness, former owner of Swift’s Rhode Island mansion in “the last great american dynasty;” a teenage love trilogy exploring heartbreak, loss, and lust in “cardigan,” “august,” and “betty;” an exploration (and gorgeous allusion to 2020’s frontline workers and medical professionals) of her grandfather’s experience in World War II in “epiphany.”
Swift has learned from her past and matured both personally and musically. On the heart-wrenching duet of “exile,” featuring Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Swift effortlessly depicts the tension of two former lovers reuniting after a painful separation. The subtle harmonies and contrast between Vernon and Swift’s tones further exemplify the disparity in accounts of why things came to a tragic end. On “mad woman,” she further explores the inequity seen in 2019’s “The Man,” but this time in an even more bitter, self-aware nature.
The album shines brightest in its marriage of orchestration and lyrical content, which is best seen on album highlights “seven” and “my tears ricochet.” The former dives deep into a nostalgia-filled recollection of childhood while the latter is a one, two punch of a tormentor showing up to the tormentee’s funeral - a topic one never would have expected to arrive on an album by the woman who yelped “spelling is fun” just one year ago.
Where folklore will push Swift, her career, and her music is yet to be seen; nonetheless, this is the album that Taylor Swift was born to make as an artist - a perfect amalgam of her greatest strengths as she took her biggest risk yet - and boy, does it pay off.
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NY-based, 26-year-old, music-obsessed and loves to write about it.