Taylor Swift – Folklore
Taylor Swift is the master of reinvention. As one of the world’s biggest artists, she has never ceased to surprise both fans and critics alike with carefully crafted shocks in genre and style. Over the past 15 years, there’s been country, crossover, pure pop and now, with only 24 hours’ notice, oozing indie-folk in the form of eighth album Folklore. Swift is also a masterful storyteller: from first love to revenge and facing media scrutiny head-on, it’s never merely songwriting. Away from the spotlight and less than a year after releasing Lover, the artist emerges from isolation with a new chapter of tales. It’s undoubtedly her rawest and most poetic diary entry to date.
Previously unexplored scope and score are underpinned by visual influences and imagery. The synth-pop and glossy productions are gone temporarily; 2020 has been a hell of a long year if you consider that previous single The Man was released in February. Instead, Swift’s softly sung “stream-of-consciousness” imagines third-party character arcs over sombre down-tempo piano and acoustic guitars, unusually highlighting her lower range and raspy vocals. There is the hallmark theme of relationships, this time introspective through fictionalisation, tinged with grey areas and regret – be it ghostly questions from beyond the grave in My Tears Ricochet or wistful lead single Cardigan, which involves a teenage love triangle spanning three of 17 tracks. Betty nods to Swift’s high school hits, even equipped with a familiar key change, whilst Invisible String opens with a country twang… but this is not that album. There are no catchy singalongs in sight, and it’s surprisingly satisfying. The album is low-key in terms of partnerships too, mostly featuring longtime co-writer Jack Antonoff alongside clear influence from The National’s Aaron Dessner. Exile is the only vocal collaboration, an emotional Bon Iver duet that perfectly fits the genre with layered, spine-tingling harmonies.
The musical style is cohesively impressive but it’s the deeply reflective lyrics that mark this as a career best. They’re escapist, filled with cinematic references that match rich narratives and melodrama, with witty lines like “If I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake?”. It won’t be long before more hidden metaphors and decoded Easter eggs surface too.
Who cares about this being radio and stadium-friendly? Folklore is an understated, sophisticated work of genius best enjoyed alone and repeated. Fantastical yet authentic, distanced yet intimate, dancing across time yet timeless; writing in lockdown has surely unlocked the vastest freedom. It’s Swift off the beaten track and lost in the woods. It’s impossible to know if this reinvention is here to stay, but even that isn’t relevant: the real issue is how it can someday be topped. However, if Taylor Swift has proved anything thus far, it’s that she’ll find a way to surprise us.
Photo: Beth Garrabrant
Folklore is released on 24th July 2020. For further information or to order the album visit Taylor Swift’s website here.
Watch the video for Cardigan here: