Album Review: Taylor Swift’s folklore

A song-by-song review of Taylor Swift’s latest indie-folk album release

Taylor+Swift+released+her+surprise+album+of+the+summer%2C+folklore%2C+Friday%2C+July+24.

By Tatum Elliott

Taylor Swift released her surprise album of the summer, folklore, Friday, July 24.

Tatum Elliott, JagWire editor-in-chief

The surprise release of folklore by singer-songwriter Taylor Swift was one of the defining moments of summer 2020. Now that I’ve listened to it more than I’d like to admit, I’ve gone through song-by-song and recapped my thoughts on this indie-folk endeavor. 

the 1 

The opening track of folklore, “the 1”, establishes the acoustic sound and story-driven narrative of the rest of this album impressively. Compared to later tracks, “the 1” is bright and upbeat; it communicates a sense of innocence that is fitting for the first track of an album. The lyrics of “the 1” focus on one central question: what if? The reflective nature of the song is consistent in folklore’s succeeding tracks, and as a whole, I really enjoy “the 1” for its lighthearted nature.

cardigan

Of all the songs on folklore, “cardigan” stands out as the best fit for a wide audience while retaining the character of folklore, so I’m not mad at it being the lead single. “cardigan” is also the introduction to a fictitious teenage love triangle between Betty, James, and an unnamed girl. In “cardigan,” Swift focuses on the erosion of a happy relationship from Betty’s perspective. On its own, “cardigan” is nice, but paired with the other two love triangle songs, it’s even better.

the last great american dynasty 

“the last great american dynasty” picks up with the story of a “middle class divorcee” that had fun wreaking havoc on a quiet Rhode Island town. Needless to say, “the last great american” dynasty is fun, fast-paced, and catchy. The one con of “the last great american dynasty” is it might move too fast; I can see people missing the quirks that make this song truly special.

exile ft. Bon Iver

Months after the release of this album, “exile” remains one of my favorite tracks from folklore. The vocals of Bon Iver’s lead singer Justin Vernon and Swift blend together beautifully, as Swift and Vernon recount the same breakup from completely different perspectives. As Vernon sings “‘Cause you never gave a warning sign,” Swift echoes back with “I gave so many signs.” This song isn’t happy, but its exploration of point of view keeps me coming back to it. 

my tears ricochet 

“my tears ricochet” is probably one of the saddest songs in folklore. No matter how one interprets the song’s meaning, the lyrics are an emotional bludgeoning. Swift hits hard with “You had to kill me but it killed you just the same” as she illustrates the scene of her own death. Listening to “my tears ricochet” is not for the weak of heart, but as far as sad songs go, it’s great.

mirrorball

This might be controversial, but “mirrorball” is where folklore starts to fall flat for me. The concept of someone trying to win the attention of others without ever letting anyone truly see them is compelling, but the mirrorball metaphor feels repetitive and contrived. I wish I could get on the “mirrorball” bandwagon, but for me, it’s a bit of a disappointment. 

seven 

“seven” is a tough song to truly listen to because it references some pretty serious topics, like child abuse, but there’s also a peaceful and reflective side to “seven” that helps give reprieve from some of the song’s darker lyrics. Overall, “seven” isn’t a song I want to hear often, but I’ll give Swift credit for thinking critically about childhood and making a beautiful song out of it.

august 

The second installment of the love triangle plotline, “august” is about the summer affair Betty’s boyfriend had from the perspective of the other girl. This song is everything Swift does well wrapped up in one song, and unlike “cardigan,” “august” is just as strong on its own as it is in the context of the love triangle trio. The lyrics are beautiful, the vocals are stripped and emotional, and as a result of these stylistic techniques the song stands out as one of the best from folklore

this is me trying

I have tried to get behind “this is me trying”, and I just can’t. As is the case with “mirrorball,” I feel like “this is me trying” as a concept is something I would like, but due to its droning tone and middling lyrics, it just doesn’t meet the same standard that other songs on this album set. 

illicit affairs

“illicit affairs” is best described as a pretty song, both lyrically and instrumentally. The story itself isn’t anything particularly original, reflecting on a secret relationship and repressed feelings, but with lyrics like, “You taught me a secret language/I can’t speak with anyone else” the story doesn’t need to be groundbreaking. 

invisible string

The concept behind “invisible string” is probably my favorite of the entire album, as it explores the idea of soulmates and fate. The instrumentals for this song are perfect, as the invisible strings themself create an airy and happy mood. “invisible string” is another Swift love song I’ll have on repeat for the rest of my life.

mad woman

From the name alone, I knew I’d love “mad woman.” Not only does Swift address the problems behind labeling women as “mad” or “crazy,” but she also humanizes these women and sheds light on the circumstances they’ve been put in, “And you’ll poke that bear ‘til the claws come out/And you’ll find something to wrap your noose around.” All in all, it’s an underrated track.

epiphany 

“epiphany” is another track that I find myself skipping. “epiphany” is four minutes and 50 seconds long, and when I listen to it, I am aware of every second. While the sense of atmosphere in “epiphany” is beautiful, it’s yet another song that requires a specific mood. 

betty

This might be my boldest take, but I wasn’t blown away by “betty”. The third act of the love triangle plotline, “betty” is about James’ (Betty’s boyfriend) perspective. In “betty”, James confesses that he had a summer fling with another girl, but that his heart was still with Betty. The story is adolescent, which makes sense since James is “only 17,” but compared to “cardigan” and “august”, the lyrics lack the same nuance. It was nice to hear a bit of Swift’s country origins in this song, though, and I can see why it’s a fan favorite. 

peace

Of all the songs in folklore, “peace” was definitely the grower. At first, I wasn’t obsessed with the overall sound and structure of the song, but months later, I really enjoy listening to “peace” when it comes on. “Would it be enough/If I could never give you peace?” is one of my favorite lyrics from the entire album, which is high praise. 

hoax 

I’ve already talked about how I think “my tears ricochet” is one of the saddest songs on the album, but “hoax” is definitely the saddest song on the album. “hoax” reflects on a situation in which someone can’t let go of a person who’s hurt them and all of the conflicting emotions that accompany it. Almost perfectly, Swift translates these feelings to lyrics, “Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in.” The song is a favorite of mine, but it’s absolutely heartbreaking. 

Closing Thoughts

folklore has proven that it was one of the only good things to emerge during the COVID-19 pandemic. Swift has outdone herself lyrically, and her maturity as a storyteller is evident in this album. Swift was once defined as a girl who could only write songs about the boys she dated, but folklore is evidence enough that Swift is as talented a songwriter as they come, regardless of her relationship status. Though folklore had some songs that sunk to the bottom, there were just as many that have risen to the top and stood the test of time. I’d recommend folklore to anyone who has an appreciation for storytelling, simplicity, and sad songs. 

 

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