While not up to the standard set by T-Swift’s best writing, folklore still manages to remind that she is as keen an emotional observer as ever.
The presentation, in both its marketing and its media representation, of Taylor Swift’s latest has taken up more space than the music itself to an extent that it harkens back to her 2017 album rollout, when the tongue-in-cheek bitterness of Reputation’s lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” was met with ambivalence at best and derision at worst. Only now, the public seems ready to embrace the image that Swift is pushing: a return to the Americana origins of her career, but tempered with moody black-and-white imagery and fictitious — rather than autobiographical — songs. Starting with her 2012 classic record, Red, each Swift album has been marked by prominent aesthetic and stylistic shifts. Red leaned into the sounds of contemporary rock and pop, while 1989 delved deeper into pop history with its heavy emphasis on synths. Reputation came next, and remains Swift’s most obvious attempt at top 40 domination. But the intense love for folklore suggests that this may be what people have always wanted from the singer-songwriter: romanticism, introspection, and youthful nostalgia.
Bonus track “The Lakes” has to represent the height of folklore’s wild romanticism: “Those Windermere peaks look like the perfect place to cry.” The song’s folksy lyricism and acoustic instrumentation are stressed and overt — and the clearest musical corollary to the feeling created by the album’s plethora of alternative artwork (a total of nine different covers to collect). folklore was also recorded by Swift and her collaborators in isolation, under COVID-19 lockdown, and as has been the case with just about any music released over these last 10 months, one can credit “these unprecedented times” as an easy explanation for its existence. Yet folklore’s marketing has trended more toward an implicit recollection of the sounds and subjects that Swift has staked her career on, which frames the album as a conscious form of escapism — a move away from this unfamiliar reality. Even the song “Epiphany,” about dying loved ones, doesn’t really register as a reflection of the present, given the generality of its lyrics. The track also happens to be one of folklore’s most gorgeous; its spare arrangement includes just Swift’s vocals with ominous orchestration and piano, slowly building the melody throughout each verse, a simple structural tact that gives the lyrical content more weight. The album progresses through the strength of its instrumentation and its melodies, but it excels with its lyrics. Swift is a great songwriter, and while folklore might not live up to the standard set by her best writing — expectations not helped by efforts to accentuate a supposed internal narrative — the songs here serve as appealingly low stakes reminders that Swift is as keen an emotional observer as ever.
Published as part of Pop Rocks | Q3 2020 Issue — Part 2.