Songstress Taylor Swift surprised fans when she released her cozy eighth studio album, “folklore” on July 24.
The 16 track record is starkly different from Swift’s previous albums with its indie-folk vibe and cohesive, detailed narrative. Swift, who recorded the album in isolation, said in an open letter to her followers on social media that inspiration for the record came through spontaneous imagery that piqued her curiosity.
Swift said a tale becomes folklore when it’s passed down, whispered around and sung about, implying the reason for the album's naming in the letter.
The singer’s characters and their stories are a blur between fantasy and reality. The boundaries between truth and fiction are almost indiscernible. This causes speculation to become fact overtime, according to the letter.
“In isolation my imagination has run wild and this is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness,” Swift said in the letter. “Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history and memory. I’ve told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder and whimsy they deserve. Now it’s up to you to pass them down.”
Swift’s co-writers for the album are Aaron Dessner from indie-rock band The National, ‘musical family’ member Jack Antonoff from indie-pop band Bleachers, Justin Vernon from indie-folk band Bon Iver and William Bowery, according to Swift. Bowery is rumored to be Swift’s British beau Joe Alwyn.
Swift's decision to choose successful indie musicians as co-writers foreshadows the album’s intended genre. Although Swift’s co-writers are all men, “folklore” is another form of proof that female musicians have no boundaries. Swift continues to reflect this sentiment by successfully transcending various genres, showing that relatable music is based on good storytelling, her best musical skill.
The album cover is in black and white like Swift’s “Reputation.” She didn’t speak on the meaning behind the songs on her sixth studio album because she said the record was self-explanatory. Swift most likely decided to have a second colorless album cover to urge listeners to paint their own interpretation of the album’s theme, connecting with the record’s title.
Swift is in the woods, supposedly gazing at the sky, on the album cover. The artwork mirrors her commentary on the album in which she said the record can be perceived in diverse ways such as someone’s secrets written in the sky for all to behold. The woods symbolize her isolation, which in reality was her studio during quarantine, where her imagination gained control and crafted her most creative album yet.
I didn’t bat an eyelash when I learned “folklore” surpassed 1.3 million global sales on its release day, according to Republic Records. Swift is notoriously known for setting ground-breaking records in the music world since the release of her self-titled album in 2006.
I expected Swift to traditionally delve into her vivid, creative storytelling on this album. However, “folklore” embraces a different dimension of narration Swifties aren’t familiar with receiving from the songstress. This is seen by looking at the track titles which begin with lowercase letters instead of uppercase letters. Indie musicians often break the capitalization rule as an implication of individuality and straying away from social acceptance.
Swift’s second song on the track list, “cardigan,” greatly exemplifies her unusual storytelling on the album. The songstress uses a mundane object, an old cardigan, as a metaphor for a young woman who often felt abandoned. Eventually, she finds a confidant who values her only for the presumed lover to part, leaving her to wonder how their relationship would be if he stayed. In the refrain Swift sings, “And when I felt like I was an old cardigan / Under someone's bed / You put me on and said I was your favorite.”
The second song on the track list, like most of the songs on the record, sounds like it’s a stripped down version of an original tune. Swift’s voice is very delicate and undeniably husky over the mellow piano sound. This effect can persuade any listener to believe Swift recorded most or all of the songs without common music electronics that inevitably categorize songs into the genre of pop. It’s the sonic rawness and mundane details of songs like “cardigan” that make the album pure, indie gold. Swift chose “cardigan” when she shot her first music video for the album.
Songs such as “exile,” featuring Justin Vernon, “my tears ricochet,” “mirrorball,” “seven” and “august” include echoing lyrics and subtle, synth-pop elements. The tunes resemble a warm, mellow and pleasingly haunting sound that feels like they’re playing on a vintage record player or old voice recorder.
Swift’s song “betty” is the most unique of all her new tunes because it directly epitomizes folk and folklore. It continues the songstress’ pattern of a cohesive narrative throughout, but its blatant directness of Swift’s vision for the album makes the song an outlier.
The intro of “betty” begins with a harmonica-like sound which emphasizes the folksiness of the album more than any other song on the record. Further, the song is fueling the most speculation. Some fans said via twitter that the tune is ‘queer,’ theorizing that Swift is singing about liking a girl in which the feelings aren’t reciprocated. Some Swifties theorize “betty” is one of three songs about a love triangle. Fans said “cardigan” and “august” are the other songs told from the point of view of the remaining characters involved in the love triangle.
Swift continues to show new facets of her music abilities while upholding the title, in my eyes, as one of the greatest lyricists of this generation. Whether you’re a loyal Swifty, occasional supporter or new fan, “folklore” will indefinitely leave you feeling serene and ready for fall.