Last Friday, Taylor Swift dropped a surprise album titled “folklore.” Just as surprising, is the new direction she took with her music. The record has a cottage-core aesthetic: presenting themes of simplicity, nostalgia, melancholiness, and mythology. Each song comes with a story that carries universal messages we can all relate to in different ways, and the only one who knows the true meaning behind it all is the source herself.
“Folklore” is a balance between mature seriousness and childlike imagination, as well as a balance between painful heartbreak and humble graciousness. The sound is enchanting and bewitching, while also incredibly soothing and slow. It’s the type of music you want to listen to while sipping a hot cup of tea on a rainy day, curled up in a cozy cardigan, reminiscing about the old days. Truly fitting to its name, “folklore” feels timeless.
The album artwork is black and white: presenting Taylor in the middle of the woods, surrounded by trees, immersed in nature. She wears simple and loose-fitting clothes. Her expression is neither smiling nor frowning, but observing. The photography captures the solitude and modesty of the music.
Taylor Swift started out as a country artist who always leaned on the side of pop. She was best known for publicly trashing ex-boyfriends in her angsty younger years. Fans adored her honesty and fierce bravery, unapologetically pouring out her feelings to the whole world. Her second album “Fearless” was one of my favorites, reflecting her fiery character. I remember seeing her live in concert during this “era.”
Not just an angry woman, Taylor also embraced a “fairytale vibe,” as you can see in her concerts, many songs, and music videos. In a time when female musicians faced more pressure to be masculine in order to sell music, Taylor presented herself as traditionally and gracefully feminine. While Britney Spears had embraced the trendiness of jeans, Taylor made it popular for ladies to wear skirts and dresses again. But it was more than her outfits — Taylor was not afraid to call herself a hopeless romantic who made falling in love her first priority, even if that meant suffering through unbearable heartache.
Her fourth album “Red” is a fan favorite, as she clearly attempted to break free from country and dabble into both pop and indie. Unfortunately the album failed to reach its potential and I believe this is because she was caught between three different genres. “Folklore” draws many parallels to “Red” if you let go of the country and the pop, and solely focus on indie.
And then came her pop debut with “1989,” which was inspired by 80s pop music. This was the point in which I started losing interest in her — catchy songs, but a little generic, and very, very overexposed. Critics had slammed her for writing too many love songs, not being progressive enough, and avoiding politics. So she responded by turning her music, as well as her entire persona, into something that the critics wanted her to be. “Lover” was also a good album, but a little too flat. Trying a bit too hard to be fun and colorful, fans know that Taylor shines best when she expresses her deep emotions rather than forcing herself to be likable.
And so begins a track-by-track review!
11. the 1
“You know the greatest films of all time were never made.”
Really nice piano melody. This is about moving on but looking back and wondering how it would have been if you stayed together.
“A friend to all is a friend to none, chase two girls and you lose the one.”
More beautiful piano. After feeling used and discarded by someone, you find someone who actually appreciates you for who you are, and makes you feel special.
3. the last great american dynasty
“She had a marvelous time ruining everything.”
Every song is a story but this one especially feels like a tale, with names and everything. The tempo becomes more upbeat and hopeful but the feeling is still melancholy.
4. exile (ft. Bon Iver)
“I gave so many signs.”
This song makes me cry! Very sad, dark, and depressing!
5. my tears ricochet
“I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace, and you’re the hero flying around saving face.”
The sadness continues as this is also a tear-jerker.
“I’ll show you every version of yourself tonight.”
My heart really hurts after the previous two songs, so this is refreshing.
“I was high in the sky with Pennsylvania under me.”
This is nostalgic, charming, and adorable. It brings you back to the feeling of being seven years-old again, which you can feel at any age.
“cause you were never mine.”
This captures the feeling of August, when easy summer days have ended and life becomes more serious again.
9. this is me trying
“They told me all of my cages were mental, so I got wasted like all my potential.”
The title says it all. Very bittersweet.
10. illicit affairs
“You taught me a secret language I can’t speak with anyone else.”
This really captures the sadness of forbidden love.
11. invisible string
“Gold was the color of the leaves when I showed you around Centennial Park.”
The string instruments used in this song is so pretty. It’s a peaceful song, appreciating a strong connection you had with someone. Difficult to tell if it makes you happy or sad.
12. mad woman
“Does a scorpion sting when fighting back?”
Another great piano melody. I kept waiting for it to get louder at the end but it didn’t — I think this captures the feeling of anticipating a strike that never comes which drives you even more crazy. One of my favorites!
“And some things you just can’t speak about.”
I believe this song is about death and disease. It’s a great song but personally I found it hard to listen through all the way, probably because it’s too upsetting. My heart is already feeling so heavy as we approach the end of the album.
“You heard the rumors from Inez, you can’t believe a word she says.”
This is a really, really, really good song! It sounds like she is singing through the perspective of someone named “James” which is probably a guy but could also be a girl. Super cute and heartfelt, very farm-core, heavy nostalgia vibes.
“All these people think love’s for show, but I would die for you in secret.”
She’s saying that her love is strong, but so strong that it will always come with problems and never bring peace. Is that enough? The melody is extremely minimal and you are mainly hearing just her voice.
“Don’t want no other shade of blue but you. No other sadness in the world would do.”
Very delicate song, very blue.