Album Reviews Features

A Track-By-Track Breakdown of folklore: The Quarantine Album We Never Knew We Needed

Taylor Swift REALLY likes to go all out on her album promotion cycles. Like, to the point where she creates “Easter Eggs” in her music videos, Tweets, and Tumblr posts for her fans to decode, creating a never-ending rabbit hole to spiral down into, MONTHS before there’s any single releases or an album announcement. This time, those countdowns were off the table and Taylor did the unthinkable. SHE DROPPED AN ALBUM WITH LESS THAN 24 HOURS NOTICE. The blasphemy!

Even to the most dedicated of fans, folklore was a complete surprise. According to Pitchfork, Swift’s record label, Republic Records, was also unaware of the release until just a few hours before the announcement. On July 23, Swift informed the world bright and early that her eighth studio album, folklore, would be arriving at midnight.

According to a press release from Republic Records, folklore sold over 1.3 million copies globally in 24 hours. It was streamed over 80.6 million times on Spotify, which broke the record for first-day album streams by a female artist and it was also the highest streamed pop album on Apple Music on its first day of release—with over 35 million streams.

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A specific breed of Taylor fans have debated for years when and if she would ever loosen her grip on the need for commercial success, and folklore may have never come to fruition if it weren’t for forced quarantining and months of isolation. But alas, it arrived.

Swift has woven in and out of the industry like a chameleon, changing her sound and aesthetic just for the hell of it (or maybe to see what genre she could dominate next). It may be hard to believe to the casual listener that this is, in fact, the same person that wrote and released “ME!” a little over a year ago. However, it’s no surprise to the fans who’ve been holding out for the songwriting that came to life on Taylor’s earlier releases, which were arguably watered down over the past three-ish years of Swift’s career, taking a backseat to the contemporary production choices that catapulted her into superstardom.

Though the production on folklore is far more stripped down and simplistic than recent projects, it’s certaintly at the caliber of intricacy that we’ve seen on previous releases—specifically, Taylor’s work with Max Martin. But this time around, she decided to work with Aaron Dessner & co. (all remotely), who’s primarily known for their work in The National. Jack Antonoff, who may as well be Swift’s official creative partner at this point, also left his fingerprints on folklore. 

Check out Emma and Kristin’s full breakdown of folklore track-by-track. (Hint: it’s long. Better get a glass of wine and settle in).

1. “the 1”

Emma: “the 1” is the perfect gateway into the folklore forest. Lyrically, it’s familiar Swiftian territory: pining over lost romantic possibilities. Sonically, it’s a restrained opener, tiptoeing into a lyrical universe that hints at the richness to come. Other album openers like “State of Grace” and “Welcome to New York” are enveloping and colorful, jolts of aesthetic that transport the listener straight into the worlds of their respective albums. “The 1” follows in the tradition of Lover’s “I Forgot That You Existed,” another minimally produced song that bids adieu to the previous album’s ethos and steps into the next one.

The special effectiveness of this track is that its musical tentativeness matches its lyrics. “We were something, don’t you think so?” Swift asks in the chorus, right after begrudgingly admitting “I guess you never know, never know.” It’s hard to write so discerningly about the blurriness of doubt and indecision, and not surprisingly, Swift nails it. It’s the Libra anthem of the album, a distinction I am qualified to make as a Libra.

But before we move on, let’s just put our high school English caps on for a moment and examine the poetry of “roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool” and “rosé flowing with your chosen family.” The alliteration, the assonance, the internal rhyme….

Kristin: We love classifying T.Swift songs as libra anthems! I too, am a Libra, and I have to agree with Emma’s statement about “the 1.” Taylor’s opening tracks on previous releases are always hit or miss for me, so I was wondering where it was going after the opening line: “I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit.” What initially sounds like a song where she’s contemplating with dismay where a failed relationship may have taken her, it eventually turns into a positive trip down memory lane, looking into the past through the rearview mirror with a smile (but never without a ridiculous amount of overthinking).

There are people in our lives, romantic partners and platonic ones, who, at one point, may have been the person for you. They certainly could have been in your life forever, but shit happens. They taught you important things about the world and yourself, and it’s okay to close the chapter. This is a completely different mindset than “I Forgot That You Existed” was, no? Also, it’s interesting to note that she repeats a line in this song from Me! (“I never leave well enough alone.”) – (“In my defense I have none / for never leaving well enough alone”).

2. “cardigan”

Kristin: The problem for releasing visuals for a music video whose song has been released yet is that the viewer’s brain automatically has some sort of preconceived idea of what the song is going to sound like, even if it’s unintentional. The video, though beautiful, feels a little too Little House On The Prairie meets Lord Of The Rings, that one still image of the video really threw me off to what the song was going to sound like.

Regardless of that, I stand with my argument after my first listen of “Cardigan” that it’s one of the best songs Taylor’s ever written. In a parallel universe, we would have seen this as a lead single for an album, and it will never not make me wonder how it would have been perceived. I can definitely hear a bit of Lana Del Rey in this song, but it has the qualities of what makes a Taylor song great. Side note: “Cardigan,” along with “August” and “Betty,” are three tracks connected to each other: more on that later.

Emma: Although The National’s Aaron Dessner produced “the 1” as well, the portal to the universe of Indie Rock Dad Taylor is fully opened on “cardigan.” Track two is a highlight of the production chemistry between the unlikely duo. However, though the title (and accompanying cutesy marketing campaign) would have to be sacrificed, I think this song would have been stronger without the post-chorus “cardigan” moment. It dulls the glow of the chorus, one of the only true hooks on the album, and feels clunky both in image and delivery.

But like the best of her catalog, “cardigan” is an exercise in melancholy and memory. Echoing her magnum opus “All Too Well,” “cardigan” is bursting with imagery and color from a cache of flashbacks that refuses to fade. The glowing through-line of the song, “when you are young, they assume you know nothing” also hints at a running folklore theme: sometimes, your youth is when you know the most. Though it’s not as obvious as some of her other storytelling songs, “cardigan” has a clear-cut thematic arc that gives the deluge of imagery direction.

3. “the last great american dynasty”

Emma: Here, we see Taylor accomplishing the most appropriate of quarantine activities: penning a multilayered history of her own home. Storytelling-wise, this track is reminiscent of Red‘s Kennedy-inspired “Starlight,” telling the story of socialite Rebekah Harkness who called Swift’s Rhode Island home her “Holiday House.” Would Rebekah be proud of her successor’s star-studded Fourth of July pow-wows, complete with inflatable slides and Victoria’s Secret Models in matching one-pieces?

Though the production is a bit papery, after the lushness of “cardigan,” it’s for the best that it refuses to be cinematic. The lyrics ooze of wealth and romance—heavy production would have made it kitschy. It’s a good choice by Dessner, allowing Swift’s reintroduction into third-person songwriting to be the focus.

And just like in “The Lucky One,” Taylor inherits the mad woman’s plight, conflating herself with Rebekah in the final verse. They’re the women who ruined that quiet stretch of Rhode Island with their excess and chaos, much to the chagrin of narrow-eyed onlookers.

Kristin: Like Emma mentioned above, I’m a little thrown off with this song being the third track on the album, but Taylor hardly does anything on accident. This song took me a few times to really grow on me, considering the dissonance between it and the previous two tracks. But the classic storytelling that Taylor has been known and loved for shines super bright on this song. I love that she was able to tell such an interesting, unknown story in a catchy, melodic, and fun way: and it reminded me of some of my favorite songs she’s released in year’s past—does anyone remember the way “The Lucky One” told a similar story?

Taylor’s ability to personify classic female tropes is something that I feel is underappreciated, though evident in songs like “Blank Space” and “Mad Woman,” and I look forward to it being a continued topic she writes on in the future.

4. “exile” – ft. Bon Iver

Kristin: I was just as surprised, if not more, to see that Bon Iver would be featured on Folklore. Not only does it seem like Taylor is “too mainstream” for him, but even more so because he has worked so closely with Kanye West in the past. Thankfully, we are all adults here, and there was no need for contention (I would assume).

I do have to say that this song let me down, and it’s taken a handful of listens for the song to grow on me. I’m not a massive Bon Iver fan, but I’m familiar enough, and hearing his voice opening the song with such gravel, raw, in-your-face effects threw me for a loop.

The rest of the song is significantly more enjoyable sonically, though I’m not entirely hooked on its lyrical content until the end of the song while we hear Justin and Taylor’s voices harmonizing together. The lyrics clearly juxtapose the dueting of voices, depicting a real-life argument, which gave the song that extra layer of life to it. I also found it interesting that I prefer this song over others that feature a male counterpart, i.e. “The Last Time” ft. Gary Lightbody and “Everything Has Changed” ft. Ed Sheeran (I guess I have to mention the mess of a song that is “End Game” ft. BOTH Ed and Future here).

Emma: “Exile” is a tragic lost-love duet that follows the same pattern as its 2012 sister (RE: “The Last Time”). The male vocalist takes verse one, Taylor sings verse two, and the bridge and choruses are echoey call-and-response tearjerkers. Bon Iver and Swift’s voices blend beautifully, especially on that string-laced bridge and outro. The highlight of the track is when he wails “You never gave a warning sign,” and she responds “I gave so many signs.”

The chorus talks of movies with sad endings and lost homelands, reminiscent of the “Death by a Thousand Cuts” bridge: “Our songs, our films / United we stand/ Our country/ Guess it was a lawless land.” folklore is about imagination and fantasy; it’s about the stories we can’t help but retell, and it’s about daring to revise tragic endings. I have a feeling that, like the rest of us, Taylor has watched a lot of movies in quarantine.

The lyrics are some of the more forgettable ones on an album, and I was holding out hope that the Bon Iver feature would be a moment of successful sonic experimentation. Instead, the production plays it safe. This track seems like a popular favorite so far, and I have a feeling it’s one that will grow on me. But at the moment, I find it to be a little disappointing.

5. “my tears ricochet”

Emma: It’s a textbook track five: a gloomy, synthy, Jack Antonoff tearjerker. This time, though, it’s an actual funeral march.

I love how this song plays with the ethos of reputation (“The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now…why? ‘Cause she’s dead!), but doesn’t shy away from genuine tragedy of betrayal. And there are some pretty clear nods to Swift’s public battle over her masters with Big Machine: the “stolen lullabies” lyric is the most obvious, but “You wear the same jewels that I gave you/As you bury me” is the most heartbreaking. Lyrically, “my tears ricochet” is one of Swift’s strongest showings on the album, and maybe ever. It’s so much more vivid than predecessors like 2008’s “You’re Not Sorry;” the funeral imagery is a little melodramatic, but not for this album. Not for Taylor Swift.

When it comes to my personal reactions, I think my most controversial take on the album might be that “my tears ricochet” underwhelmed me. Maybe it’s because I don’t currently feel deeply scorned by anyone, but I don’t find this production very exciting. It’s a little sluggish; usually, Jack Antonoff tracks are guided by this pulsing energy, and this song doesn’t find its legs until the bridge.

Kristin: Jack Antonoff not only tweeted “Track 5” with no context, but he also said in a following tweet that “My Tears Ricochet” and “August” were his favorite things he’s ever worked on with Taylor. This was a pretty big statement in itself, minus the fact that Taylor has been notorious for putting the saddest songs on each album at track 5 after “All Too Well” started the pattern on Red. After a couple listens, this song may sound like a scorned lover haunting her husband in the afterlife for something horrible he’s done.

But after analyzing the song a few times, it’s easy to recognize that it has parallels to Taylor’s relationship with Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun. Compared to the way Taylor has written about her public feuds in the past, “my tears ricochet” feels like a much more mature, sophisticated way of weaving in themes of her drama into a song without it sounding petty (RE: “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”).

Taylor is super self-deprecating in this song—one of my favorite songwriting traits of hers—and the relationship between admitting her failure to “go with grace,” while simultaneously embracing and accepting her anger is fascinating.

6. “mirrorball”

Kristin: This was my initial reaction to “mirrorball” during my first listen and I’m going to stick with it: “mirrorball” sounds like it was made by The 1975, Clairo and Taylor in the 90’s. I got major “Roadkill” (The 1975) and “North” (Clairo) vibes to this song and to say I’m obsessed is an understatement. The way that Antonoff’s voice just echoes every so slightly during poignant moments of the song was a **chef’s kiss** PERFECT production choice.

This song was a clear favorite for me after my first listen of Folklore, and it has a lot of sonic qualities that remind me of “Treacherous,” which is AN UNDERRATED TAYLOR SONG!

It’s hard to believe that someone as successful as Taylor Swift would feel the anxieties, imperfections, and imposter syndromes that so many of us “average Joes” feel on a daily basis, but I think that’s the beauty of it. Vulnerability and insecurity don’t care how many Instagram followers you have or how many album sales are under your belt: when trying to impress someone (and the entire world), there’s always a nervewracking feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Emma: Ruminating on the curses of fame and reputation is a Swiftian staple at this point, but she’s never done it quite like this. “Mirrorball” recalls The Cranberries and John Hughes prom scenes and sounds just like it’s titular object looks; glittery, reflective, and romantic.

What’s so special about this track, also produced by Antonoff, is that it addresses both the personal and the public. My first reading of this song was that it explored the plight of a superstar who occupies the center of the metaphorical room. It’s a cursed position, but it’s in her nature; she’s “still trying everything to keep you looking at” her.

It’s refreshing to hear the lyric “I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try” escape Taylor’s mouth. “Effortless” has never been a word often used to describe her or her career; you’ll hear “calculated” much more often.  I’d argue “mirrorball” is the most lyrically complex track on the album, and the sweet nostalgia of the production keeps the song from feeling unwieldy.

7. “seven”

Emma: “Seven” is a haunting rumination on childhood love that’s so tragic, it evokes Bridge to Terabithia. Please tell me I’m not the only one who sees that deep level of sadness in this one. “And I’ve been meaning to tell you/I think your house is haunted/ Your dad is always mad and that must be why”…absolutely chilling. Loss of innocence is one of Swift’s most persistent obsessions, and “seven” is one of her best reflections on this idea. This track also contains the closest thing to an album title reference: “Just like a folk song, our love will be passed on.”

I think this one is a stunning addition to the record, but I can see why some have relegated it to the “filler” category. The production is restrained, and even though “seven” and “mirrorball” both last for three minutes and twenty-nine seconds, “seven” feels like it whizzes by in a couple breaths. Even so, it was one of my favorites after my first listen. It’s unlike anything Swift has ever done before and evokes the sadness of growing apart from the unapologetic nature of childhood friendships perfectly.

Kristin: If anyone was anticipating this album to ACTUALLY have a folk feeling to it, “seven” is where the sounds are evident the most. The way that the song builds melodically and lyrically reminds me a lot of a Fleet Foxes song, which is something I wouldn’t have expected to hear coming from Taylor…ever. I have to admit that I’m not entirely sold on this song, I particularly don’t enjoy the way that she is singing on the first few lines of the track: but it quickly transitions into a warmer sound about 45 seconds in.

Despite the way that the song is made sonically, I love the lyrics a lot: Taylor does a spectacular job of telling stories from a child’s point of view, even though the song similar to this one on Lover (“It’s Nice To Have A Friend”) was not a fan favorite…to say the least. It continues the themes that are developed in folklore about the beautiful naïveté we all have as children and how it’s lost as we grow up.

8. “august”

Kristin: Oh man oh man…am I absolutely in love with this song. Not only is this sound exactly where I want Taylor to go for the rest of her career, but I also love the lyrics so much. It’s one thing to look at this song with a “I miss our love” viewpoint, but also seeing it from the POV as the second song in the trio that makes up “Cardigan,” “August” and “Betty” gives it an entirely new life.

There’s something so beautifully sad about the feeling of gaining, having, and losing hope that a romantic relationship is actually going to work out for you. There’s a sense of invisibility we have as kids and teenagers, jumping into love and relationships with no fear of getting hurt because we’ve never experienced it before. The power of possibility hangs in the air, like the humidity of a hot August day.

“Back when we were still changing for the better / wanting was enough / for me it was enough / to live for the hope of it all / cancel plans just in case you’d call.”

Emma: “August” is just…A-grade, trademark Taylor Swift. It’s got a little “Tim McGraw,” a little “All Too Well,” a lot of youth, regret, nostalgia, and memory. I resent comparisons of this track to “Getaway Car” and “Cruel Summer,” though. Folklore is a beautiful album, but that kind of effortless, lush pop song is nowhere to be found here. “August” doesn’t belong in that category because frankly, it doesn’t measure up. It’s soft and youthful, not full of synths and scandal. That buildup-and-release right before the outro, though, makes me almost reconsider. It’s the cottagecore version of “he looks up grinning like a devil.”

This one’s an easy standout, and the one moment where I think Jack Antonoff’s production nails it on this album. “Mirrorball” is up there, but “august” has the unmistakable Antonoff momentum while “mirrorball” slogs a bit. The bridge and outro are immaculate. This one’s a pure daydream.

9. “this is me trying”

Emma: In my mind, “this is me trying” exists in the same universe as “mirrorball.” It’s ethereal yet defeated, gleaming yet tragic. I go back and forth on which one I think is more successful. The lyrics here are stronger, and the production has a richness that a lot of this album is starving for. I think this one’s more raw than “mirrorball” but lacks a little bit of the magic.

Like a couple other tracks I’ve mentioned, this is one I’m really excited to grow into. The writing is sharp, and it’s the only moment on the record where you hear Jack Antonoff’s signature sounds. It’s a good choice to keep it short too; any longer and it would have been heavy. And that bridge is a highlight; it feels so desperate and guttural. This is a depressed overachiever anthem, and I’m very here for it.

Kristin: This song took a few listens to resonate with me, but once it did, I wondered why it took so long. I think that this song easily could have been on reputation. The sentiment about feeling stuck through a continuous cycle of trying to improve yourself, please the people around you, and find self-acceptance definitely feels like themes she explored on that record.

It weirdly also feels like a sequel to “The Archer,” an underappreciated track off of Lover. While I would guess that this song specifically is written from Taylor’s POV and personal experiences, it’s interesting to see that she uses that high school trope again that she explored heavily on Lover (“I was so ahead of the curve / the curve became a sphere / fell behind all my classmates and ended up here”) translates to “I tried to overachieve in every facet of my career and be more successful than my counterparts and it resulted in an unexpected breakdown.”

10. “illicit affairs”

Kristin: One of my favorite things in life are those serendipitous moments where reoccurring themes that you’ve either read, watched, listened to, or learned about appears in different forms. While I can’t say that “illicit affairs” is about a middle-aged man having an abusive relationship with an underage girl, this is what I took from the song.

This is probably how I hear it because the last book I read, “My Dark Vanessa,” has these exact same themes and I could hear the story being read in my head as I heard the song for the first time. Even down to the points where Taylor sings about how “what started in beautiful rooms / ends with meetings in parking lots.” While my take on this song may be completely inaccurate, hearing a song and understanding it can have multiple meanings says a lot about Taylor’s storytelling abilities.

Emma: I get the sense that this song is fairly underrated, and I’m here to counter that narrative. Have you heard this bridge? Play it right now. Play it again. “Don’t call me kid/ don’t call me baby/ look at this godforsaken mess that you made me/ You showed me colors you know I can’t see with anyone else.” That melody is an absolute gut-punch.

A lot of tracks on this album have lyrics that meander, deepen, and wallow. “Illicit affairs” is classic Taylor in that it’s tight, restrained, and follows a predictable train of momentum. This track is articulate, and when you factor in that bonafide “Dear John” bridge, it really steps up it’s game.

Side note: this song is a total vocabulary flex. I thought “clandestine” was the thesaurus highlight of this song until I heard “mercurial.” It totally works, but I find it to be a little funny she breaks out the heavy-hitter adjectives right after “at least I’m trying.”

11. “invisible string”

Emma: After ten tracks, it’s a sigh of relief to sink into a song that’s both undoubtedly unbiographical and emotionally uncomplicated (though still profound). For a topic as weighty as “you are my soulmate,” a little humor goes a long way. The image of teenage Taylor reading in Centennial Park, waiting for her prince charming is extremely charming, though not quite as charming as sixteen-year-old Joe Alwyn working at a yogurt shop in London.

Even better, Swift slips two of references to her own fame in the track, and they’re wittier than any others that have come before. “Bad was the blood of the song in the cab / On your first trip to LA,” she sings to open the second verse. It’s funny to imagine Joe with a “what have I gotten myself into” expression as he has to come face-to-face with his girlfriend’s omniscience in an LA cab. It’s even funnier to imagine that waitress not remembering the name of that American singer that Swift reminded her of.

Kristin: Has Taylor ever released a love song that isn’t explicitly about just that? None that I can think of, until “Invisible String” came along to bless our ears. “Invisible String” is a beautifully crafted song that comes to life through ethereal, fairly-like melodies and smart, witty, and relatable lyrics. Nobody is above holding onto that tiny sliver of belief that somewhere, our person is out there waiting for us, tied by some invisible connection.

While most of these songs are probably imagined characters that Taylor spent hours of her quarantine days developing while the rest of us made bread, it’s obvious that “Invisible String” was inspired by Taylor’s experiences and the journey that brought her to beau Joe Alwyn. Is there anything more quintessentially Taylor Swift than imagining her as a teenager in the park reading a book, dreaming about the day where she finally meets the person she’s been waiting for?

12. “mad woman”

Kristin: Taylor’s continual interest in writing about the “crazy lady” trope comes into full force on “mad woman,” a song that is probably another about Scooter and Scott. While at first or second listen, this song could be yet ANOTHER one about Kimye, but I would beg to differ. Based on this album alone, I would assume that Taylor’s no longer interested in keeping that feud alive, though it is crucial to note that she announced that this album would drop the same day as Kanye’s supposed new album was also supposed to drop (spoiler alert: it didn’t).

Regardless of that whole situation, that I would be happy to never talk about again, “mad woman” seems to sum up the way that Taylor has been perceived in the controversy surrounding Scooter Braun buying her masters. Even when she came to battle with the RECEIPTS about this issue, she was still being labeled as the crazy, untamed, aggressive woman in the argument versus two white men. Need I say more?

Emma: Do you ever just want to shake someone? TAYLOR! Where was this lyricism during the reputation era? Where was this Lady Macbeth? Maybe all it took for the absolute icy rage that is “mad woman” to come to life was her feud with Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun. This girl wants those masters.

There’s an eerie witchiness to this one, and even a sexiness, one that reputation laid on a little too thick. I loved reputation, but there is something about “mad woman” that evokes rage in a way “Look What You Made Me Do” never could. The way she throws prechorus lyrics over her shoulder is absolutely haunting: “Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy/What about that?”

On my first listen-through of the album, the lyrics of this one made me sit up and listen more than any other. But on repeated plays, the sharpness has dulled. Overall, I think “mad woman” is a necessary lyrical addition to the Taylor Swift lexicon, even if the production is a bit underdeveloped.

12. “epiphany”

Emma: Swift’s attempt at COVID-timeliness arrives in the form of the ultra-dramatic “epiphany,” although verse one is basically a recap of Dunkirk (Haylor shippers: there’s nothing to see here). The second details doctors trying in vain to save their patients (“something med school did not cover/someone’s mother, someone’s daughter”). While the verses ruminate on violence and chaos, the chorus dials into deep breathing and camaraderie.

The bridge brings a necessary moment of clarity and introduces the idea of “epiphany” as that single golden glimpse of hope to make the work worth the struggle. Though the ethos of the song is actually quite profound, it’s not easy to find. It’s muddled under a sluggish, simplistic melody and underdeveloped imagery. Swift has aced every foray into fictional storytelling thus far, but hearing her sing from the point of view of a twentieth-century soldier on the brink of death feels unnatural.

Kristin: This song completely wrecks me. First off, can we talk about how it easily could have been a song on The 1975’s album that dropped a few months ago? I would LOVE to hear them do a recorded version of this. Second off, the clear references to the COVID-19 pandemic in this song shattered me to pieces.

Emma hinted above that there is some sort of disconnect that’s going on in the themes of the song, and I have to agree. I’m not entirely sold on how Taylor connected her grandfather’s experience fighting in WWII with the heroes fighting in the frontlines every day during this pandemic, but the beautiful thing about life is giving everything a try. I would argue that this song is one of the best that has come out during the pandemic that’s about the pandemic. Hauntingly beautiful, hard to listen to, and completely sobering.

13. “betty”

Kristin: The third and final song that makes up the trio with “cardigan” and “august” is here with “betty,” a sonic throwback to the earliest of Taylor Swift songs and the more mature, cool cousin to “Fifteen.”

Rather than singing from the point of view of an anxious teenage girl waiting to go on her first date with a crush, “betty” is sung from the male perspective, though it’s not entirely clear that that is the case, which makes it that much better. The song follows the protagonist, only referred to once as “James,” is hoping to reconnect with Betty after he had a summer fling with another girl (in this case, the subject singing in “august”).

The lack of clear gender roles in this story is a whole new angle that Taylor has not delved into in the past, despite the style of the track sounding so familiar to old school Swifties. Many Taylor fans from all corners of the internet beg to believe that the track is “Queer canon.” It took me some time to warm up to this track. Not particularly because of the sound, as it is very reminiscent to some of her earliest work, but because it is such an outlier compared to the rest of Folklore.

Emma: I have to step back from my critical lens again on this one. I had goosebumps twenty seconds into my first listen of “betty.” Maybe it was my utter shock that I was hearing harmonica on a Taylor Swift song. Maybe it was the descending acoustic guitar reminiscent of Speak Now’s “Never Grow Up.”

In an album that is both a return-to-form and a step forward, “betty” exemplifies both directions. There’s nothing more Fearless era than imagining the internal monologue of a seventeen-year-old boy arriving on his lost love’s doorstep to win her back (complete with a “Love Story” key change at the end). But the production is more Bob Dylan than contemporary country, and eighteen-year-old Taylor would never be caught dead uttering the lyric “would you tell me to go fuck myself?” so casually. And dare I say…considering the august-cardigan-betty love triangle concept, “betty” dances around queerness in a much better way than “shade never made anybody less gay” did.

 There are much stronger lyrical moments on the album, and some might find the twangy production to be a mere novelty. But just as “epiphany’s” elements cruise past each other and never quite meet to create a song with a sense of purpose, “betty” has the exact opposite effect.

“peace”

Emma: The successor to “Delicate” and “Cornelia Street,” “peace” is another example of Dessner’s more simplistic production choices amplifying Swift’s sharp-as-ever lyrics. In it, she sings that she can never give her partner a simple, easy life, promising to take care of him forever to make up for it.

The second verse almost feels improvised. Her vocals are a little off-kilter and wandering (“give you my wild / give you a child”), but I think it works so well here. We rarely hear Taylor stray off the pop-melody path, no matter what the production choices are. But “peace” is almost conversational, and her vocals shine. On first listen, it faded to the background, but I’ve fallen more in love with this track on time I come back to it. “Peace” is as sweet and reassuring as the life she assures her partner that they’ll never have. It’s similar to “invisible string,” but it’s a little more raw.  I adore this one; it’s another lightning strike from Dessner. It should’ve been the final track.

Kristin: I can’t agree with Emma more that this song should have closed the album, though I have heard from multiple sources that “The Lakes” is the true closer of the album (Taylor always does us dirty with these bonus tracks). While Emma relates this track to “Delicate” and “Cornelia Street,” I have to say I hear parallels with the messaging from “Call It What You Want” as well as “False God.” I’ve said time and time again that CIWYW should be referred to as Taylor’s best love song ever, but I think “Peace” is giving it a run for its money.

The simplicity of the messaging and the production of this song—which was built around the “pulse” that Justin Vernon created—equate to the beautiful message that love is really f****** hard. And it is definitely hard for people to admit they are difficult to deal with in relationships…let alone with a person who’s arguably one of the most famous on the planet. I can’t give you peace, I can’t give you solace, but I’ll give you everything else.

16. “hoax”

Kristin: Although there are ZERO songs on folklore that I genuinely dislike…”hoax” is a track that I think could have been scrapped on this project. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the song, and I actually really enjoy the piano on this song and would like to hear the instrumental version of it.

I just think that there are a couple stragglers on every T.Swift album that she could have left on the cutting room floor during the final rounds of editing—(RE: “So It Goes” on reputation and “Daylight” on Lover). I think it’s hard for any artist to create an album with 16 songs that are all 10/10, so I certainly don’t see it as any type of failure by any means. Is it weird that it gives me Twilight vibes?

Emma: This minimalist lovelorn ballad feels suspended in time. It’s a devastating ode to “faithless love,” “hoax” plays like a ghostly waltz. Lyrically, it calls back to Speak Now’s bombastic “Haunted,” which might be the absolute inverse of its production. Melodically, it’s airtight. The lyrics are beautiful, but unfocused. 

Though “hoax” has an atmosphere of intimacy, it feels generic, like any number of singers could have this song on their record. Though writing outside her personal experience has served her well for the rest of the album, “hoax’s” lyrics resist her usual specificity. They’re poetic (“My only one/ My smoking gun / My eclipsed sun / This has broken me down”), but feel underdeveloped.

It feels sinful to criticize a track like this one, especially because if it was on any other Taylor Swift album, it would be a standout. But on folklore, it feels repetitive, indecisive, and simple. The competition is tough on this record, though; “hoax” is objectively beautiful regardless.

folklore is, first and foremost, a masterclass in pop lyricism. It’s also Taylor’s adult reintroduction into trying on the perspectives of fictionalized characters, dipping into imagined pasts and presents, and creating a lyrical universe beyond the pall of tabloid fodder. However, I resent the idea that this type of writing can only exist in the world of Aaron Dessner, sepia tones, and lowercase song titles. 

folklore isn’t an aesthetic finish line for Taylor; it’s a genre to try on, just like she did in reputation. The arguments that folklore is Taylor’s best work are justifiable, but not if they’re steeped in the notion that “indie” music is somehow more of a “valid” genre of music. While I’m certaintly estactic to see people in these spaces giving folklore a spin because of its collaborators, it’s also infuriating knowing that it’s getting these chances solely because of it. Taylor’s skills as a bonafide lyrical genius have been rooted in her music since the beginning, just cloaked in whatever genre she tries on for an album cycle or two.

Emma’s favorites:

  • betty
  • cardigan
  • august
  • illicit affairs
  • mad woman

Kristin’s favorites:

  • mirrorball
  • my tears richocet
  • august
  • cardigan
  • the 1

 

folklore is available to stream on your favorite platform now.

1 comment

  1. Your messages definitely helped me through my breakup. About a year and a half ago my boyfriend of four years and I broke up and I desperately wanted him back, and because of some of the advice you had given, I was able to! Time went on and things were back to the way they were, and were not together anymore, and it’s okay. I wouldn’t have been able to go through the realization process had I not read these, as well. Your messages were very beneficial to me, though I don’t need them anymore, they were always appreciated. Thank you so much!
    for help purpose ( mag1an@protonmail . ch )– Jenae

    Like

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