TAYLOR SWIFT FOLKLORE ALBUM REVIEW & ANALYSIS


In the midst of what was set to be the cruelest summer yet, Taylor Swift's Folklore came along and saved it for us all. She made the surprise announcement on July 23 about the album being released just a few hours later that night at midnight - which of course was so exciting to look forward to! 

I've been a huge fan of her music for the past twelve years and she has influenced so much of my life and music taste during that time. I was initially going to share my full review right when it came out, but I wanted to fully process everything about it and give more than just my first impressions. There is so much depth to this album, so I really wanted to do it justice for this review and analysis. I never dedicated a full blog post to one album review before, but I have so many strong thoughts on this album that I need to share! 



"I'm doin' good, I'm on some new shit..." is the first line of the album's opening track "the 1" - which is never how I could've expected a Taylor Swift album to start, but if this year has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected. That lyric perfectly sets the stage for the theme of this album, but also for what I hope becomes of this new chapter in her career.

Folklore was released less than a year after her seventh album, Lover - which is unheard of when it comes to her album releases. The majority of her albums were released exactly two years apart, even down to the month. Everything about her release cycles were very calculated and followed a certain pattern year after year since 2006. In the age of streaming, the music industry has shifted considerably past the need for new releases to follow a set schedule with more artists thriving under spontaneity. The prime example of this is Ariana Grande, who in many ways is now the blueprint for releasing whatever she wants, whenever she wants. During less than a six month period between 2018 and 2019, she released two full albums - Sweetener and thank u, next - which I don't know has ever happened before when it comes to mainstream pop music. Both ended up being critically acclaimed best selling albums (and her best, in my opinion) and 2019 ended up being the biggest year of her career thus far. I have been curious to see who would start to follow this pattern of quick music turnarounds, and I'm so happy Taylor has. 



"Before this year, I probably would've overthought when to release this music at the 'perfect' time, but the time's we're living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed. My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world. That's the side of uncertainty I can get on board with."

-Taylor, when announcing Folklore

Folklore was made during quarantine in just a couple of months, largely in collaboration with The National's Aaron Dessner and frequent co-writer/producer Jack Antonoff. It's incredible that she was able to write such an intricate masterpiece of an album in such a short period of time - I would've believed her if she said it took years for her to make something like this. It is a major departure from her past three album releases, with her exploration of indie, folk and alternative pop/rock genres. In many ways it reminds me of Red in terms of the songwriting style, but there are subtle lyrical references to a lot of her past work. 

As a whole, it is a deep self-reflection of her life, with songs that look back at her childhood, high school years, twenties, and up to the person she is today. Her authenticity and true talent shines in a way like never before on this album. Many of the songs are written from a third-person perspective told through different characters that she is passing along the story of - hence the title folklore. 



The second track, "cardigan", is the album's first single that had a music video corresponding with the album's release. Even after two weeks and dozens of listens later, it's so hard for me to choose what my top favorites are, but currently "cardigan" is my favorite - and even in my ranking of top 10 songs from Taylor ever. 

Taylor has mentioned that "cardigan" is a part of a love triangle storyline that includes her songs "august", "illicit affairs" and "betty" - however, as a stand-alone song, ever since my first listen I have felt that "cardigan" is directly related to and is a reflection of the entirety of 1989. Also, if you're familiar with "Heather" by Conan Gray, I can also feel "cardigan" being written in the context of that storyline too.  

She described "cardigan" as being about "lost romance and why young love is often fixed so permanently in our memories" - which is also the overall theme of 1989. So many of the lyrics connect to multiple songs from that album and many of the visuals from the video reference it as well. In particular, I have noticed this song references "Style", "This Love", "Wonderland", "Out of the Woods", "How You Get The Girl" and "Clean" multiple times.  I view "cardigan" as being a reflection on that time of her life now that she's older and can look back on everything with more clarity. The music video is also so stunning and one of her best she's ever released. The scene where she's drowning in the ocean with nothing to hold onto but her piano is one of my favorite scenes from any music video.

So many of the lyrics stand out to me from "cardigan", but I love the line "tried to change the ending, Peter losing Wendy" which is referencing Wendy leaving Peter Pan and the fantasy of Neverland behind to go back home to grow up. The entire third verse at the end of the song is one of the greatest she has ever written, in my opinion. 



"the last great american dynasty" is about “a misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out,” as Taylor wrote in the liner notes. She tells the true story of Rebekah West Harkness, who married into the family who founded the Standard Oil Company. Her and her husband lived in what they called "Holiday House" in Rhode Island, which we find out later in the song that Taylor lives in now.  It's one of the most detailed songs Taylor has ever released, sharing the history of all the antics Rebekah go into after she inherited and blew threw all of the money, how she was viewed as the "maddest woman this town has ever seen," and who had "a marvelous time ruining everything". This is another one of my favorite songs, it's such a fun story that captures the spirit of Folklore perfectly.

"exile" does for Folklore what "The Last Time" does for Red - both of which are criminally underrated songs on their respective albums. This is the only duet on Folklore, featuring Justin Vernon of Bon Iver on vocals. In the first two choruses, Justin and Taylor are sharing their own sides of the story - but as the song builds at the bridge, they start to go back and forth with each other almost like they're arguing - their harmonies at the climax of the song are the highlight for me. 


One of the greatest songs on the album, and of her whole discography, is track five - "my tears ricochet". The storyline is one of the darkest on Folklore, but the lyrics are so powerful. This song is about, "...an embittered tormentor showing up at the funeral of his fallen object of affection," as Taylor stated in a YouTube comment about the song. After she proclaimed in 2017 that the "old Taylor" is dead, could this song be the follow up with the hypothetical funeral? Regardless of that, "my tears ricochet" is everything that songs like "Bad Blood", "Look What You Made Me Do", and "The Man" weren't for me. I'm going to tie the twelfth track, "mad woman", into that as well, because they are similar in that regard. Both convey the same message that she was trying to get across in those other songs, but in a much more mature, eloquent and badass way. So many of the lyrics from "my tears ricochet" stand out to me as some of the best on the entire album - but I particularly love "when you can't sleep at night, you'll hear my stolen lullabies," which is indirectly referencing all of the drama with Scooter Braun, Scott Borchetta, and Big Machine Records. 



The next three tracks are much lighter and flow together beautifully - "mirrorball", "seven", and "august". "mirrorball" has a glittering and ethereal sound that feels like it could have been a part of the 1989 era. Jack Antonoff's production and guitar paired with Taylor's vocals just sounds so light and dreamy. At the time of writing this, "mirrorball" have been on constant repeat for the past few days. One of my favorite lines from the song is, "I can change everything about me to fit in". I'm hoping this song has a music video one day, because it has so much potential to be brought to life visually!

"seven" is a reflection on her childhood friend, how innocent their life was back then, and how formative those years are. The line, "and just like a folk song, our love will be passed on," is one of the most important lyrics of the entire album and pulls the ties the Folklore theme together. Overall, this song is just so cute and is one that I have stuck in my head all the time since it was released. She also sings about Pennsylvania, which I love since that's where I'm from! 

"august" is a summer love song that also ties into "seven" in that it is a reflection of her younger self as a teenager. Jack Antonoff said recently that this is one of his favorite songs he and Taylor have made together and I completely agree with that. They have made so many of my favorite songs together since 2014 and "august" is such a standout track that I know will one day be remembered as a highlight from her discography. The bridge of this song is another one of my favorite parts from the album too. Out of any song on this album, I'm most excited to hear "august" live one day!



"betty" and "illicit affairs" are a part of the love triangle storyline that I mentioned earlier in the post. "betty" details the aftermath of the story told in "august", but from the perspective of a high school boy named James. I don't feel strongly either way about "betty" or "illicit affairs", but the style reminds me a lot of Taylor's early music, particularly Fearless and Speak Now

"this is me trying" and "peace" have many parallels to "Afterglow" and "False God" respectively, both of which are from Lover. Considering how closely these albums were released, it makes sense that this would continue to follow many of the same feelings and storylines. 

"invisible string" also closely resembles her song "Lover" in that they are two of the most beautiful love songs she has ever released. The lyrics show acceptance towards everything that has happened in her past, the good and the bad, and that it has led her to her to find her happily ever after with "a single thread of gold" tying her to someone who was once just a stranger. Lyrically I would say that "invisible string" is stronger than "Lover", but both are so heavily connected that it's hard to choose which I like better. She references several of her older songs in "invisible string", which goes to show how far she has come during that time. So many lines from this song stands out to me that I love but one of my favorites is "cold was the steel of my axe to grind for the boys who broke my heart, now I send their babies presents" and of course I love the chorus, "and isn't it just so pretty to think, that all along there was some invisible string tying you to me."



"epiphany" is definitely the most emotional song on the album. The first verse is about her grandfather's experience in World War II and the nurse that saved him in Guadalcanal in 1942. The second verse seems to be an ode to the nurses working during the COVID-19 pandemic and those who have been taking care of her mother during her cancer treatment, which she opened up about in "Soon You'll Get Better" last year. In times of violence and uncertainty, she singing about the hope to find peace of mind while dreaming - "only twenty minutes to sleep, but you dream of some epiphany, just one single glimpse of relief, to make some sense of what you've seen". 

"hoax" is the closing song for the album, which is a quite solemn ending to Folklore. This isn't typical for Taylor's albums, as they usually end on more of a hopeful note - but it also isn't surprising given the circumstances this album was made under. "hoax" is a song about sadness, heartbreak, confusion, and acceptance. In these uncertain times, maybe it's trying to say that the hope we are all searching for right now is found within the process of acceptance.



Folklore has 16 tracks on the standard edition - which is quite long, but is roughly the length of her past two albums, Reputation and Lover. However, the biggest difference between them for me is that Folklore doesn't feel like it drags on in some parts like the others do at times - none of the songs feel like filler. Folklore is some of Taylor's best work yet, which I continue to realize more and more the longer it's out. The first time I listened to it, I was literally in tears the entire time and those strong emotions I have for this album still hasn't gone away. I truly haven't loved one of Taylor's albums all the way through this much since 1989 came out six years ago. She is continuously outdoing herself and reinventing her style with each album release. 

A lot of great music has come out of 2020 so far, but out of all the new releases, Taylor Swift's Folklore is one of the greatest I have heard in a long time. In my opinion, Taylor Swift is one of the greatest songwriters and storytellers of this generation and if you didn't already believe that, let Folklore be sixteen more reasons why.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to subscribe so you never miss a post and leave your thoughts in the comment section below! I'd love to hear what you think of the new album! 

-Melissa

Photo Credit: Taylor Swift & Beth Garrabrant

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