Image courtesy of of Vulture
By Noelia Veras
Just as 2020 was seeming to be a time of unrelenting fear and hopelessness, Taylor Swift announced the launch of a brand new new album, folklore. Swift’s eighth studio album was announced on social media on July 23 and was released at midnight on July 24. Fans and critics were shocked at the announcement, mainly because of how unexpected it was and the fact that Swift herself said she had only started the process of creating this album in the beginning of quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Traditionally, Swift has worked on albums for at least a couple of years, fine-tuning and perfecting every detail. This album is so impressive because it lacks the time and space that the other albums had, and yet, it is an incredible body of work. The album folklore is an exceptionally long one, sitting at 1 hour and 3 minutes and containing 16 songs, although the vinyl, CD, and cassette versions contain an extra song called “the lakes.”
The album was made during a time of isolation due to the pandemic, and Swift still managed to get talented and dedicated artists to work on the record with her in collaboration, although from afar. Well-renowned and respected Aaron Dessner from the band The National produced and helped write 11 of the 16 songs on the album, with some help from his twin brother Bryce, also from The National.
Bon Iver, specifically members Justin Vernon and Rob Moose, collaborated with Swift on the album, Vernon helping with lyrics and Moose helping with viola and violin instrumentation. Bon Iver was a feature in the fourth track on the album called “exile.”
Jack Antonoff helped out with the album as well, as he produced and helped write a few songs. When announcing the album in a post, Swift thanked all of the collaborators, mentioning a man by the name of William Bowery who helped with two songs. Fans noticed that Bowery was largely an unknown musician. Many speculate that William Bowery is a pseudonym for her current boyfriend Joe Alwyn, as the two have been spotted at the Bowery Hotel and Alwyn’s late great grandfather was a composer named William.
The opening track on the album, “the 1,” was produced by Dessner and is nostalgic, focusing on an ex-lover whom the speaker of the song longs for, but is content with not having. The song expresses that “the greatest loves of all time are over now,” and that “the greatest films of all time were never made,” perpetuating the idea that perhaps the relationship was great but it was not made to last. A resonant lyric describing the futility of this passionate love affair says “we never painted by the numbers, baby, but we were making it count,” highlighting the spontaneity and even chaos of the relationship that the intended speaker of the song will never forget.
The second song on the album is named “cardigan,” and was produced by Dessner. The music video for the song was also released at midnight on July 24. The music video has mystical undertones elevating the folkloric complexion of the album. The imagery of the video hyper focuses on nature and musical creativity. The most haunting scene in the video follows Swift desperately clinging to a piano in a turbulent body of water as the song plays over saying “I knew you, tried to change the ending Peter losing Wendy. I knew you leavin’ like a father, running like water,” emphasizing a message of extreme loss, but then ending with recuperation and a reunion as the song says “I knew you’d come back to me.” The song, and largely the whole album, employs the piano and strings, creating a more contemplative space for listening; a space reminiscent of Swift’s album Red from 2012.
Another stand out song is the fifth song on the record named “my tears ricochet,” also produced by Dessner. The song opens with soft but dreamy vocals and is a take on resignation and residual bitterness. Many hypothesize that the song is about Scott Borchetta, the founder of the label which Swift was previously signed to, Big Machine Records. When Swift left the label Borchetta teamed up with record executive Scooter Braun to keep the rights of Swift’s master recordings. This betrayal cut Swift deep as Braun and her were very close and she felt she could trust him. Swift highlights the major theme of betrayal in this song when she says: “Even on my worst day, did I deserve, babe, all the hell you gave me? ‘Cause I loved you, I swear I loved you ‘til my dying day.”
Antonoff’s sad pop touch is noticeable most in the song “mirrorball,” on the album, which discusses Swift’s ever-changing persona and her consistent longing to please people. This struggle to keep relevance and maintain this career of entertaining the masses is best exemplified when she sings: “I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try. I’m still on that trapeze, I’m still trying everything to keep you looking at me.”
The second to last song on the album is called “peace”and is inadvertently a love song. Dessner’s hand in the song is clear as there is an unquestionable emphasis on instrumentation in the background, especially the guitar. Swift addresses her downfalls in relationships. She compares her lover to the ocean and refers to herself as fire when she sings “I’m a fire and I’ll keep your brittle heart warm if your cascade, ocean wave blues come.” She addresses the fact that her relationships are usually public and that people assume that “love’s for show,” but she denies this sentiment as she says, “but I would die for you in secret.”
Undoubtedly, folklore is a great release for Swift. Already the album and individual songs off of it have been trending on Twitter with extremely supportive comments. Singer Maggie Rogers included as she Tweeted “there is no better feeling in the whole world than being a fan. all my favorite musicians just gave me a sense of hope back. from the bottom of my heart, thank you @taylorswift13 @aaron_dessner @boniver.”
Additionally, 1.3 million copies of the record were sold in just 24 hours and people are speculating that it may not only be nominated for but win Album of the Year at the Grammys. So far, folklore has broken Spotify records, and USA Today has even called it her best album yet.
Swift has on multiple occasions been canceled by the internet and disregarded because of her age as being “washed up,” but folklore shows Swift’s unbelievable artistry and impressive ability to reinvent herself and change with the tides of entertainment’s ever-changing landscape.