With its clever lyricism and gentle melodies, folklore is an album for the ages
by Pratheeksha R. Naik, Contributor
The COVID-19 lockdown has been a trying time for the best of us. Some took time off to take it slow, or learned a few new skills. As for American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, she released her 8th studio album folklore on July 24. It has 16 songs on the standard edition and 1 additional song on the deluxe edition. The album was a pretty straightforward release, which came across as a surprise as previous releases often involved clue-dropping.
Written and recorded entirely in isolation, Swift has let her imagination run wild with stories inspired from her acquaintances, family and even random characters from her dreams – the ones with repeating visuals, the ones that piqued her curiosity. What most strikingly stands out in the album is the love-triangle between 3 teenagers – Betty, James and the girl whom James chose over Betty. “cardigan,” written from Betty’s point of view, was also the first single Swift released as a music video (also shot in isolation) alongside the album. The song is a slow ballad where Swift voices confidence and occasional sadness. It boasts catchy lyrics that make great social media captions, along with a bleak reference to Peter Pan and Wendy. On the contrary, “august” is the other girl’s point of view – simple lyrics with a plethora of interpretations that gradually grows on the listener. At this point, one may wonder what does James feel after all? The answer to this question lies in the track “Betty”. Performed acoustically with a guitar, the song has upbeat vocals and a tempo that picks up the pace as suspense unravels in the chorus and bridge.
The next character in Swift’s album is a misfit widow made an outcast from her town – Rebekah. In the song “the last great American dynasty” Swift narrates how Rebekah “had a marvellous time ruining everything” as the previous owner of Holiday House in Rhode Island currently owned by Swift. A clever progression can be noted when Swift takes over as the protagonist of the song.
When it comes to vulnerable songs, Ms. Swift is specifically quoted time and again for her lyrical mastery. “Exile” is a duet with Bon Iver, and consists of a dialogue between a couple moving on from a broken love. The echoes alongside the singers’ vocals accompanied by a piano are absolutely enchanting. “hoax” could leave the listener bawling their eyes out and “illicit affairs” is the opinion of a mistress who didn’t choose to be one, who was lied to. With lyrics like “You taught me a secret language I cannot speak with anyone else,” there’s no other song on the album that gives me chills quite like this one.
Taylor takes a moment to reminisce about her grandfather Dean, who fought in World War II. In this regard, “epiphany” is a soulful rendition. Swift also takes a moment to address different forms of abuse/violence and the impact it has on women and children through songs like “mad woman” and “seven.” The former is an upbeat vocal track demonstrating how women are too easily labeled as crazy even under exceptional circumstances. The latter is a powerful song discussing the helplessness of a child in an abusive household. Eventually, in the song “this is me trying,” Taylor attempts to make peace with her past self and years of gossip while subtly shedding light on the importance of mental health.
This album couldn’t be more significant as nearly a year ago, Swift had given a public statement on how Scooter Braun and Scott Brochetta wrongfully owned the rights of her first six albums. Swift throws light on her feelings in “my tears ricochet” which is a soul-wrenching performance. The pain is felt in Swift’s voice as she sings with metaphors like “I can go anywhere I want but not home” and “stolen lullabies.” These songs draw a line where Swift starts personalizing her songs and writes them as she has experienced them. “Invisible string” is a parallel to “Delicate” from Swift’s 2017 album, reputation, and sonically similar to Red’s title track. She draws inspiration from different colours marking significant memories in her present relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn.
It is interesting to note Swift’s ascent as she describes that time – initially “curious” and eventually “wonderful.” Up next, “mirrorball” speaks to her family, friends and fans who saw her true self amidst all the gossip. It is a metaphor of a disco light ball shedding light on a dance floor where Swift tiptoes to avoid attention. There are instances where Taylor tries to reminisce about her “roaring 20s” in “the 1,” an upbeat song about how she has been accused of being a ‘serial dater’. Finally, in “peace” Taylor tries to make harmony with herself as she weighs off self-doubts. I give her brownie points for vocal variety at places where her voice tones down and softens to sing sensitive queries.
All in all, folklore is primarily an acoustic album as it is mainly co-produced by the National’s guitarist Aaron Dessner. Hate it or like it, there’s no denying that Swift’s storytelling skills have the ability to stand out even in areas she’s never explored before. This is worth mentioning because for the very first time, she has an alternate explicit album released. folklore stands as a progressive idea and a new feather in her hat. In reference to “We are never ever getting back together” from the album Red, Taylor finally has that cool Indie record. I look forward to seeing Taylor go on tour for both Lover and folklore simultaneously as soon as safely possible.